LEON WARE / “Inside My Love”
There is so much danger in success, especially when it comes from a different direction than the one you want to go in. Consider Leon Ware. Leon who? Right. That’s precisely what I mean. He’s primarily known as a songwriter/producer, not because he can’t sing or perform, but rather because his major success has been behind the scenes. In an interview, Leon Ware reflected on his early years:
I grew up in Detroit, Michigan and I was the "baby" of 11 children - I won my first music contest playing the piano and singing at 3 1/2 years old, I was blind for two years of my life from 4-6 from a slingshot wound that I caused myself. I went to the same school for the vision impaired that Stevie Wonder later went to. I think I wrote my first song when I was nine years old and joined up with a group in school that included Lamont Dozier (The Romeos) when we were about 14 and did that for a few years but we never released a record. After that I did my first record in Detroit which I wrote and produced with Pat Lewis, a song called "Warning." I left Detroit for New York where I pursued a record contract in '60 and landed with ABC/Paramount, but the album was never finished or released. Returned to Detroit and in '64 had my first genuine hit with the Isley Bros entitled "Got To Have You Back", then I returned to NY for a while and eventually moved to LA in 1967. In LA I worked as a writer producer for Venture Records and wrote and produced the Righteous Bros on their last album together at that time called "Souled Out". I continued writing with various writers and one in particular, Bob Hilliard. In '72 just as I had my first million sellers with "I Wanna Be Where You Are", you probably know the rest.In this era of high consumption, the popular audience is trained to buy an image and not to ask questions about the ingredients, thus we have a very low consciousness concerning whatever it is we think we like at the moment. Leon Ware wrote or co-wrote “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” (made famous by Quincy Jones), “I Want You” (the Marvin Gaye hit), and “Inside My Love” (a great vehicle for the Olympic voice of Minnie Riperton). Insiders know who he is and if you’re over 25, no doubt you have heard his music. As hip as the originals are, here we present Leon Ware covering his own music. Three tracks are taken from a session at the internationally known Netherlands venue, Paradiso, and broadcast on Dutch television. For this session with an international band, Leon Ware invited vocalist Carleen Anderson and rapper/vocalist Michael Franti to join him. Carleen Anderson is from a huge extended family of singers descending in part from James Brown’s vocalist Vicki Anderson. The Anderson clan also includes Carleen’s cousin Jhelisa Anderson. Carleen makes her home in England and is better known in Europe than in the United States. Michael Franti is known as the leader of Spearhead and as a major spoken word artist. The decision to include Franti on this session was not an obvious choice but turns out to be an inspired addition, particularly on “Inside My Love,” his huggable baritone adds all kinds of attractive testosterone to the recipe. Franti and Carleen not only balance each other in their contributions, they also give this an up-to-date sound that keeps this from being a boring, by-the-numbers nostalgic trip down memory lane. Additionally, the backing band including live strings and a DJ on turntables is right on the one—solidly in the pocket in their groove and sensitive in their sonic accents. This concert is a brilliant example of merging the best of old school and new school. It's old school songs sung with new school touches (i.e. rapper and turntables). But or me the most important aspect is that everything is done live, mixed by the musicians listening to and responding to each other. If you look at the video you can see the improvised interactions. There is a joyfulness suffusing this set, a genuine enjoying of each other. Because it was transmitted at a low rate, the sound quality is not the best and in terms of fidelity is no match for the original studio recordings, nevertheless the music itself is wonderfully fresh. I particularly enjoy the interactions between the three principles, plus the broadcast is beautifully photographed. Enjoy. —Kalamu ya Salaam Still working Marvin Gaye junkie that I am, when I think of Leon Ware, the first thing I think of is the I Want You album, of course. As the story goes, Leon was nearly done with most of the material that eventually became I Want You when Marvin heard the tracks. Marvin fell in love with the themes Leon was working on and Leon agreed to collaborate with Marvin. From there, Leon and Marvin worked together until they came finally completed Marvin's third consecutive masterpiece. (I Want You came right after Let's Get It On, which came right after What's going On.) The second thing that comes to mind is a tune from a few years later, "Why I Came To California." I don't know why I like the tune so much; truthfully, it has the slightly cheesy sound of a sitcom theme song or something. Maybe it's because I came to California myself...twice. Maybe it's the prosaic nature of the chorus. I mean, "That's why I came to California" sounds more like the title of a What I Did On My Summer Vacation term paper than it sounds like the name of a song. Whatever the reason, I've always liked that tune. I remember hearing it for the first time and thinking, "Wow. This is the cat that did the I Want You album with Marvin." Anyway, that's that. I should mention too, that as I've been typing this, I've been listening to (and sort of watching) the Leon Ware concert Kalamu linked to above. He's right—these are some hip remakes. I'll admit that I didn't know Leon Ware wrote either "Inside My Love" or "If I Ever Lose This Heaven," and, I didn't know he'd done so much production work. I thought of him as primarily a solo artist who happened to work with Marvin that one time. I'm glad he's still going strong. Whether it's been primarily behind the scenes or not, my man is still working some 30 years later. In the world of pop music, that's an unqualified success. —Mtume ya Salaam that is why we do BoL Yep, Mtume, that's Leon Ware and they do a hip live version of "Why I Came To California." My man Leon is like one of them old family members, say you mama's brother, uncle Fred, who was a serious somebody in his day and can still hold his own today. Through no fault of Fred's, most of us are simply not aware of his musical contributions, we just see him sitting around talking shit in a soft voice and drinking a beer at the family reunion. He had moved out to Cali and we only see him every now and again, and then one day you're somewhere and somebody pulls out an old Lp and you look at the fine print and guess whose name is on it, or guess whose voice wafts from the speakers? Who would have guessed it? You know that old skool song you like so much, that's Fred! —Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, August 13th, 2006 at 12:45 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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