Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A tribute to Leon Ware

Last month one of my all-time favourite singers, Leon Ware, passed away. While his name is only familiar to soul fans, as a songwriter he worked with a host of great talents, with credits on songs by Michael Jackson, Minnie Riperton  and Maxwell.

Born in 1940, Ware was born with a vision impairment. He ended up going to the same school as Stevie Wonder, and joined him at Motown, where Ware became one of the company's resident songwriters.

Ware's greatest claim to fame is being the instigator behind Marvin Gaye's erotic masterpiece I Want You in 1976. This was my first introduction his work, and I quickly fell down the rabbit hole looking for his other work.

While it is impossible to seperate the album from Gaye, whose creative fingerprints are all over it, the blueprint was all Ware's work. Unafraid to celebrate the physical side of romance, Ware's work for Gaye and on his solo work would prove highly inspirational on the work of later artists such as Prince and R. Kelly.

Following the release of I Want You, Ware released his own solo album, a spiritual sequel entitled Musical Massage. Apparently, Gaye heard early demos and wanted to take the tracks for his next record, but Ware chose to strike out on his own.

The result was a brilliant record that, while less well known, is just as strong as his work on I Want You. Ware continued to release solo albums into the new millennium. Occasionally he would pop up as a co-writer on tracks by other artists, most notably on neo-soul practitioner Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite in  1996, a record which bore a clear debt to Ware's work in the seventies.

While his later solo work is not as strong as his debut, Ware's albums in the late seventies and early eighties are worth checking out, particularly 1979's Inside Is Love and 1981's Rocking You Eternally, which push the slow grooves of I Want You and Musical Massage into the future.

To send him off, here's one of his best tracks, the title song from Rocking You Eternally.

Signature albums: I Want YouMusical MassageRocking You Eternally

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