R.I.P. Leon Ware

My first Marvin Gaye album was What's Goin' On. Wonderful, magical, etc. Loved it. So, I moved on to Marvin's next 70s album, Let's Get it On. Liked it, didn't love it. The songs lacked the progressive sweep and transportive dynamics of the previous album. Sure, it was grittier, I suppose, but that didn't make it better. So, I tried again, with I Want You. That was the jackpot. It not only had everything I loved in What's Goin' On, but it was the first time I had ever heard a soul "concept album," of the type I knew and loved so well from the Prog Rock world. Every track stood on its own, but the whole became even greater than the sum of its parts as the tracks flowed one into another until, by the end, I had gone on a proverbial "journey." This was almost exactly what Maxwell did twenty years later on his debut. Man, Marvin was the best!


Well, yes, and no. It was only years later that I learned that most of the entire album was written and arranged by a young hand at Motown, named Leon Ware. The story is that Leon put it together and showed it to Motown boss, Berry Gordy. Gordy said, in no uncertain terms, that it was so good he was going to take it and give it to the biggest Motown artist at the time. That artist was Marvin and the rest was history. Leon was able to re-record and release much of I Want You around a year later, as Musical Massage. Unfortunately, without much label push (and, frankly, without Marvin's name), the album didn't do much in the market.


Nonetheless, Leon was able to go on and have a fairly successful solo career, punctuated by the blissfully smooth, "Why I Came to California." To this day, that song stands as one of the true high points of the WestCoast AOR/rare groove ("yacht rock") scene of the late 70s/early 80s. One of my faves, for sure, and one that I try to work in whenever and wherever I can...