THE ETERNAL ROMANTIC
Another week and another legend leaves us. Master songwriter, producer and stylish singer, Leon Ware passed away on Thursday 23rd February; he was 77. He was born and raised in Detroit in 1940, the youngest of eleven children.
Leon may not be a household name, however, the artists he wrote, produced and arranged for, including some of our music’s finest such as Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson, certainly are.
Ware began his song writing career in the late 50’s and joined the Motown staff in the sixties, and then moved onto Bell Records before going freelance. His first success came with the Isley Brothers’ ‘Got To Have You Back’ co-written with Ivy Hunter and Steve Bowden for Motown subsidiary Tamla. His first hit was the Four Tops’ ‘Just Seven Numbers Can Straighten Me Out’ in 1971 – top ten R&B – which he co-wrote with British songwriter Pam Sawyer.
Around the same time, he co-wrote six tracks for Ike And Tina Turner’s ‘Nuff Said’ album for United Artists, who also released Ware’s own self-titled debut in 1972. He returned to Motown and co-wrote Michael Jackson’s oft covered hit ‘I Wanna Be Where You Are’ with Arthur ‘T-Boy’ Ross’, younger brother of Diana. Now an in-demand song writer, his songs were recorded by the likes of the Main Ingredient, Bobby Womack, Average White Band and Donny Hathaway to name just a few.
His next break came with Quincy Jones’ ‘Body Heat’ album to which he contributed both as writer and singer. The title tune, a hit and later recorded by Ware himself, is a superb tune, but is overshadowed by the sublime ‘If I Ever Lose This Heaven’, a duet between Ware and Minnie Riperton. Covered by the Average White Band soon after and co-written with Pam Sawyer, ‘If I Ever Lose This Heaven’ is in this writer’s view, one of the most beautiful Soul tracks of all-time. Collaborations with Riperton continued on her ‘Adventures In Paradise’ album to which he contributed four songs including the awesome ‘Inside My Love’.
Ware was by now attracting serious attention for his relaxed, romantic and indeed sensual style. He composed the classic ‘I Want You’ with T Boy Ross, initially intended for either himself or Ross. Berry Gordy had other ideas, believing, correctly, it would be perfect for Marvin Gaye. On hearing the remainder of the ‘I Want You’ project, Gaye wanted to record the entire album, convinced it would be a hit. It was. Gordy, unusually for the time (1976), agreed that Ware should produce and co-write all the material for the album.
Ware returned to the studio to record an album for himself to replace ‘I Want You’. ‘Musical Massage’, a tribute to the beauty of sex and romance is every bit as strong as ‘I Want You’ – and possibly even better. Rumour has it that Motown wanted it as a logical follow-up to ‘I Want You’, and in the charismatic hands of Gaye an almost sure-fire hit. Ware, having handed the first project to Marvin, insisted ‘Musical Massage’ would be his own recording. For whatever reason, it bombed and remains one of Soul’s under-discovered gems. It has been reissued a few times on CD with the 2001 Expansion release of special interest as it included several previously unreleased tracks including the phenomenal original version of ‘Come Live With Me Angel’ a duet with Minnie Riperton which Marvin cut on his ‘I Want You’ album.
Further solo albums followed including a terrific set entitled ‘Inside Is Love’ for Fabulous Records in 1979, also later reissued on Expansion. He signed for Elektra in 1981, where he released two strong sets, ‘Rocking You Eternally’ and ‘Leon Ware’. Neither were commercially successful, yet they rendered two tunes – ‘Rocking You Eternally’ and ‘Why I Came To California’ – that are adored by Soul fans everywhere. It was whilst at Elektra that he produced two albums for the enigmatic group ‘Shadow’, the first of which, the self-titled set from 1981 is an absolute gem.
His song writing remained prolific. James Ingram, Melissa Manchester, Jeffrey Osborne and Teena Marie were amongst the many to benefit from his writing prowess in the early eighties. He also maintained strong links with the UK, performing occasionally and collaborating with the likes of Loose Ends, Mica Paris and Omar. He even co-wrote ‘Independence’ for Lulu in 1993.
Solo recordings were occasional at best, but the 1996 set ‘Taste The Love’, released on Expansion in the UK, is a brilliant collection of relaxed tunes that ranks alongside his best recordings. He also co-wrote ‘Sumthin Sumthin’ with Maxwell on his iconic debut ‘Urban Hang Suite’. During the noughties, he recorded another four albums and Expansion’s Ralph Tee released a superb compilation featuring some of his best compositions entitled ‘Leon Ware And Friends’.
His music was also frequently sampled by Hip Hop/ RnB artists including by 2Pac, A Tribe Called Qwest, Prince, and Montell Jordan. His grooves, whilst on the slow to mid-tempo were perfect for RnB and tunes such as ‘Rockin You Eternally’ were 2 Step heaven.
With Expansion Records’ help and the occasional gig at the Jazz Café, Leon Ware sustained his affinity with his UK fans. On one such visit, Leon came to our shop for a meet and greet – a lovelier guy you could not wish to meet. Given his lack of commercial success as an artist – only one of his albums hit the top 100 US R&B charts – he was amazed at the love and esteem he was held in, this side of the Atlantic. He had time for everyone he met, especially the ladies. He was most certainly a lady’s man.
Leon had been diagnosed with prostrate cancer in 2009, but seemed to have recovered. Sadly, on 23rd February 2017 we lost another giant of our music and whilst Leon is gone, he will never be forgotten. Indeed, he will be rocking us all eternally. RIP.