By Michael J Edwards
“Marvin said to me when he first heard the music, “If you give me that I’ll do the whole album.” I said to him, “That’s a great idea Marvin, but you know Berry and co. will never go for it?” He turned around as he was walking to the door, with that Marvin Gaye look and he whispered, “We won’t tell them.”
The Dood: You say you’re a simple person, so let’s talk about your body of simple work. Let’s start by talking about your classic unrecognised 1976 album release, “Musical Massage”.
Leon Ware: It has oddly enough turned out to be a classic. I say oddly enough, because I didn’t do with this what I should have done. I’ve never really performed this album. I’ve only performed maybe two to three songs out of it. The reason is because, to be perfectly honest, a bit of sadness I get from this. (Leon studies a vinyl copy of Musical Massage)
The Dood: Is it because Motown didn’t promote it enough?
Leon Ware: It was not because of what Motown did or didn’t do, but because of what I didn’t do! I was so angry and so disappointed that I didn’t look at the big picture. I finished this album right after “I Want You,” which was a platinum album. It was one of the first platinum albums they had out of Motown in 1972. Anyway when I found out what they wanted to do with this album, which was give it to Marvin, I didn’t want to do that. If Marvin had have said to me, “Hey Leon, I want to do this album?” I would have said yes in the second; I wouldn’t even have had a second thought, I would have said it’s yours. That’s how much I loved that man as “A Man!”
But the way they (Motown) presented it to me after they gave me a friendly greeting – Lianne (Record Exec) said, “Me and Berry (Gordy) listened to this album all night; actually we haven’t been to sleep. And we totally feel that this will be Marvin’s next smash.” Believe you Michael and Manos (photographer), when those words came out of the ladies mouth I was so hurt, I was so disappointed. Because she looked at me and said, “What’s wrong?” I said, “The first thing that is wrong is that as you both were listening to this, didn’t you forget just one thing?” She said, “What? I said, “The writer and the artist that you’re listening to! Couldn’t you have thought, hey, as you we’re thinking about this, maybe we should give the guy who did this a call?” (Chuckles wryly)
Then she said, “You know how Berry is?” I said, “I know how Berry is?” – Berry was my first producer at seventeen years old in 1957, BEFORE Motown existed! – Okay, It’s a long story. But at that moment I stood up, I said, “I don’t want to do this. Lianne said, “If you don’t want to give us the album, we’re not going to promote it.” They had to put out, but they didn’t have to promote it. And I turned and I said to her, “If you’re going to do that to me, then I’ll commit amnesia! The company is paying me a lot of money to write; not a little bit but a lot of money to write songs. I’ll go out to the beach, sit there and wait my year out, and you’ll still have to pay me.” She said, “You wouldn’t do that?”
Michael, one of my stupidest moves in my life was going out to the beach and writing for a year and a half and not turning anything in, and just waiting until my contract was up. I still look at that as probably one of the dumbest moves I could have made, because I could have written myself another album in a week and a half! It was just the idea of what they wanted to do. When I go back over it, I probably would do the same thing anyway, because when I go back over it, the same issue still sticks out. If you’re going to do something to someone at least have the respect to give them a call. (Laughs gently) Wouldn’t you say to yourself, “Hey, this guy did all this shit, maybe I should give him a call, right!”
I feel very strongly about that. I also feel very strongly that it wasn’t the very best move I could make in my lifetime – because like my father said, “In your lifetime there’s got to be some moves you make that when you look back, you say I messed up.” You say I fucked, I was wrong; or you can say it just wasn’t the right move to make. When I look in the mirror I smile about the one thing he said I would smile about – I was following this (Leon points to his heart).
The Dood: You were married to Susaye Green for a while?
Leon Ware: I’ve been married four times…Susaye Green was my second wife; that didn’t even last three months. Her mother was so against us getting married and Susaye was not ready at the time, she wanted to be a Raylett. She was a Raylett for Ray Charles and several years. As marriages go, I think the dearest phrase I made many years ago, sitting at dinner with my wife Carol and some friends of ours, I looked across the table and I said to her (Carol), “I look in your eyes and that’s what I want to see my last breath.” She cried, I cried; I love her so much! We’ve been together thirty-eight years, thirty-two of them married, six of them she was my mistress.
The Dood: Getting back to the composition of your “Musical Massage” album, did the tracks just pop out one after another or was it a longer process?
Leon Ware: My gift is how prolific I am; I can write five songs a day and all will be different. The thing that I’m proud of is that all of the songs that are written by me, such as “I Want You”, all of my work; you cannot sing one of my songs over the other. In other words I don’t copy myself. I am extremely strict about that. One, because I was told by a friend of mine many years ago, “Leon you’re too talented to copy yourself.” Not that I was doing it, but it was the issue of there were some friends of mine that had insulted our friendship by taking an ideal of mine, calling it their own and then have other people stop them halfway through and say to them, “Shit, that sounds very much like Leon!” (Leon leans back and belly laughs) They were so guilty; they had to give it up throughout the process of recording. I coined a word for it and the word is “Resenvy.” People that you work with that claim they love you, but they actually resent you, and they envy you at the same time. I call the act “Resenvy.” It’s resentment and envy at the same time.
The Dood: It would be in the dictionary soon if you use it long enough.
Leon Ware: Hopefully some of the stuff I do will be worth somebody mentioning close to a dictionary, especially when it comes to certain items. (Smiles)
The Dood: Can you give us your thoughts on your good friend Marvin Gaye and the “I Want You” album which you wrote and Marvin vocalised so sublimely?
Leon Ware: I was asked a question actually just before I came out here, in an interview in America for a radio station; and the question was, “Did I think I made the right decision when I gave Marvin an album which turned out to be a classic?” I immediately said, “Not only did I think I made the right decision, I was hoping for the year and a half (It took us 13 months to complete the album), I kept hoping that Berry (Gordy) will walk-through the door and say, “What the fuck are you guys doing?” Because me doing a whole album on Marvin Gaye – until the album was out, I always thought even at quality-control that it would be pulled.
But they did still hold on to it. When we did come to quality-control, Berry listened to two-thirds of the album and there are about forty people in the room… He gets up, and he doesn’t say anything, and there are few people in the room who are laughing because they know Berry a little better than I do. Berry turns around, he’s still got this look on his face and he looks over at me; and he has this real strange way of speaking, he said, “Leon, how the fuck did you do that!” He didn’t ask me what I did, he asked me how. Marvin was sitting right next to me, and I turned to Marvin and I said, “I didn’t do anything it was Marvin!” Marvin said to me when he first heard the music, “If you give me that I’ll do the whole album.” I said to him, “That’s a great idea Marvin, but you know Berry and co. will never go for it?” He turned around as he was walking to the door, with that Marvin Gaye look and he whispered, “We won’t tell them.” (Leon laughs)
As it was, that was probably the only album that Marvin did where he had a little bit of controversy because we were saying things that nobody was saying. It was appreciated by the ladies and I would say to have close to 100% approval coming out of the door was just really rare. It’s all history now and I’m glad we did it. Like I said it wasn’t a case of whether I was unsure about making a decision, I was very sure and praying that nobody fucked it up! (Chorkles) As it is now with me going on seventy-three and having done this when I was in my early thirties; I feel honoured to still be here man. To still be here, to still love the work – it’s interesting that they call what I do work, when I love it so much!
The Dood: Tell me about this album i’m holding, “Taste of Love” released in the UK via Ralph Tee’s Expansion Records.
Leon Ware: That was the first album on my label (Sling-Shot Records). But my label has never been promoted; it’s never been fully addressed as a label. It was just that a lot of my peers were doing their own label, and I met this gentleman around the same time.
(At this juncture Ralph Tee, founder of Expansion Records enters the room)
The Dood: Mr Ralph Tee?
Leon Ware: Mr Ralph Tee was and still is – as I said to somebody in an interview – he is one of the few people that will be in my life forever because, even when we were not on the same page as far as what I do, he’s always been there. When I speak his name, the people in this country (UK) that know him; he is known, appreciated and respected as a man that truly loves the art form; the business of the artists i.e. the record business. It’s not that I look at him as if to say that some people don’t do this or something don’t do that – Ralph to me is more than that; because he’s a person that if he picks up your record it’s because he loves it. And I don’t think he impresses upon me as somebody who is doing it for the money. And a lot of people over here know him for that and respect him a lot for that because it’s not… In fact I don’t know of many people like you Ralph, do you come from Mars or something! (Laughs all around)
We missed each other on our first meeting, which was in Needham, when actually I was the MD for a tribute to Marvin (Gaye) sometime in the early 90s.
Ralph tee: I was there! I was at the show!
Leon Ware: I know, that’s where we met. It was sometime in the early 90s. Coming back from Holland about 10 years ago, I came up with this line – people start off as a fan, then they become a friend, then they become a part of your family. Because there is a manifestation that does happen like that where you not only call someone and you ask them how they’re doing business-wise, they know your wife’s name; they know your son’s name. There are about four people in Holland that are is about as clear to me than anybody I know on the planet and responsible for the only real video I have of my whole career. If you look on You Tube, there’s a video on there is that was done in Holland at the Paradiso in 2001. It was all done by four fans, not agents, but four fans.
So I put such – reverence on people that love the music; I don’t care what they’ve got in their pocket, and he (Ralph) also knows that to. This business is taking care of me very well financially at times. I’m not worried about it, but I’m concerned that we’ve manifested to a place where they giving music away. As I said, there are a lot of things that are happening in this day and age that trivialise, cheapen and give the young artists of this era were wrong set. I mean this is an art form that should be looked up to, loved, and anybody that is doing it for their life should look at it as a service that you can’t pay for. It’s an un-payable service and the money I make from time to time or the way that I live, I’ve said to people that I ate chords and melodies for a couple of years before I ever ate anything. I was very full, I was thin but I was very full! (Laughs)
The love still carries me; it’ll be the one thing that I live for that makes everything that I do okay as far as I’m concerned. Because where we are now in terms of how they treat the arts, not only music, but from movies to dances to literature to novels; I mean we’re coming to a place where…It’s gonna come back because I think the idea that they’re forgetting what to tell kids, will make them dig deep as opposed to running around in a circle. You’ve got a lot of brilliant minds that are being dumbed down because the society or the world that were living in they see that…
The Dood: Their creativity is being stifled.
Leon Ware: It’s being stifled, it’s being misunderstood, and if you come through a present man’s A&R door with something really rich or a really good song, he wouldn’t know it. They wouldn’t know the difference. I do feel that within the whole business, the leaders are getting tired of the quick fixes. Especially I’m glad that a couple of years ago iTunes started charging 99 cents per song, so that the kids could buy the song on the album that they wanted. Having overheard 20-year-olds having a discussion about it along the lines of – I like the record, but fuck I had to buy the CD and there’s only one song in there I wanted. So you had a good ten years of that been the case where artists were making CDs of fourteen or fifteen songs and there was only one or two songs that were really worth anybody picking up.
The Dood: Back in the day when you were writing those numerous albums, one could put the needle on the record and let it play all the way through; there were no fillers.
Leon Ware: I come from an era where every song was a single, or could be a single. You didn’t think anything else. I’m optimistic man; I believe that where we are is not where we’re going to be. The really really brilliant talent of today, they’ll stand up to this challenge. I think I should make a T-shirt with this saying; the saying goes, “It’s difficult to sell really good music now when they’re buying bad or mediocre music in awesome quantities.” The alternative phrase goes, “It’s difficult to sell quality music, when they’re buying bullshit in awesome quantities.” (Laughter and The Dood extends a palm skin to Mr Ware) Whether that’s true or not, we’re in a decade where we’re more interested in making money than making art. I say art, because the passion for the whole element called art has been cheapened. I had a young man who after watching The Voice said that he had stopped wanting to be a writer, because of the process they go through.
The Dood: Can you give us your thoughts on UK music artists who have caught your ear?
Leon Ware: If you want to know what I think about UK artists. I think that Omar, whether he’s a UK artist or not, he is one artist I feel did not receive the accolade, the recognition or respect that his talent demands. I think he’s a brilliant artist, brilliant! He has his own pedestal. All artists have place that they stand, his is as high as I could give anybody. He’s a gifted man; I’m a gifted, so when I meet a gifted man, I KNOW another gifted man.
The Dood: Like with Stevie (Wonder)?
Leon Ware: Me and Stevie wrote a couple of songs that we never finished.
The Dood: Really! Is there anything still in the can?
Leon Ware: It’s still in the can. When I see Stevie or when Stevie sees me – we always say that phrase to each other when we meet because way back years ago, I had seen Stevie coming down the steps, so I wanted to come up behind him, so I go up the other side steps; halfway up the steps Stevie says, “Leon you can’t fool me!” And there were about seven people standing around and they started laughing and they said, “Stevie, you can actually see can’t you!” (Leon laughs) If you don’t know him and if you haven’t met him, he’s uncannily very clever; because all he has to do is hear your voice and his memory is so acute that it’s shocking. I mean you can meet him one time, say a few phrases and if you meet him ten years later and say hello, he’ll call your name.
The Dood: As a result of you temporarily losing your sight from a slingshot, as a boy you attended the same school for the blind as Stevie Wonder. Can you expand on past comments you made that you find it much easier to compose with your eyes closed?
Leon Ware: I close my eyes a lot because it’s a habit I have and also it’s something that I discovered that… It’s really interesting because I started watching a reaction that all of us do, every human on the Earth does and we’re not trained to do it. It’s a human reaction and it’s beautiful. Babies do it, everybody on the planet, every nationality, every human does the same thing, that’s quite interesting. I ask the question, I ask all three of you in this room, “What do we all do without being trained, when we are truly pleased?” We do it when we taste something that is good, we do it when we see something that’s good, we actually really do it when we’re having sex; or something like sex! It’s unanimously a human trait. About a couple of years ago I started honing in on it. The answer to the question is, we close our eyes!
When you taste something that is good, instinctively you close your eyes, if you hear something that’s good; instinctively you close your eyes. (Leon closes his eyes he speaks) If the environment and the time are right, for a second we close our eyes. All of us do the same thing. Maybe not at the same time, but if it is something you really really really enjoy, for a second you say, “Mmmmm,” you close your eyes. So I’ve written a song about this and of course I’ve made it very sensual (laughs openly) I can’t help myself! It’s an inherent thing, It’s so beautiful and it’s like…I was saying this to a chef in a really really popular restaurant, and he said interestingly enough every now and again he would come out from the kitchen and look at the diners to see who closes their eyes. Because food makes you do it. He said, “If I see someone close their eyes, I go back in (to the kitchen) with a smile on my face.
The Dood: You mentioned UK artist Omar in quite glowing terms earlier, can you please enlighten us about your good friend Bluey Manuick from Incognito; and your thoughts on him as a musician, as a man and as a person?
Leon Ware: As a musician he’s very accomplished, very devoted, beyond committed; I think we both should be committed! It’s a love that is crazy, but I love that we give and receive with a reverence and I believe that our association will be a reward for many young people and lovers all over the world. It’s been such a pleasure – we did Japan in August of 2012. We’re now getting ready to embark on a full CD together.
Michael J Edwards
*In Part Three Leon Ware talks about his favourite writers and vocalists; his love of Classical music; future projects; his exercise regime and much more.
Essential Website: http://www.leonware.com/
A Big Mike & ukvibe thank you to Diane Dunkley from RM2 Music for arranging quality time with Mr Ware.
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde