Legendary singer, songwriter, producer Leon Ware was a recent guest speaker at TSSLA in Clay Drayton’s class. He has worked closely with many of the greats including Quincy Jones, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Jackson 5, The Isley Brothers and the list goes on.
Leon Ware is best known for crafting the hit album, I Want You, originally recorded for Ware, until friend and Motown icon Marvin Gaye was assigned to the album in 1976. Ware also is notable for writing the Top 5 R&B single, “I Wanna Be Where You Are”, for a young Michael Jackson in 1972, and creating the Body Heat album along with Quincy Jones. He also collaborated with Maxwell on his debut album Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite.
Leon told us what it was like to work with Lamont Dozier and said every song was written under an hour. Leon believes when you are truly developed, you become your art. “The violinist becomes the violin, the songwriter the song…” He knows and has experienced real and compelling talent throughout his career.
Leon prompted us to ask ourselves….What did you hear this past year that compelled you? That actually made you stop and pull to the side of the road; that made you listen!
In the past eras, Leon knows everyone’s hands would have been raised. However, he has seen a dumbing down of some of the commercial craft in the present day.
When there was a wealth of authentic talent exposed in the mainstream, Leon has seen how deeply music can move people to tears. He still encourages and supports the next generations to commit to excellence. He said, “You want to get to a place where your peers think your work is excellent.” This striving for excellence using heart over smarts led Leon to many achievements, including his first gold with the Isley Brothers in 1964. While his father was on his death bed, he told Leon, “Don’t use your smart, use your heart.”
Leon has walked away from a lot of money using his heart but he knows his insurance in life is oxygen not chasing money. Even in Mozart’s time the focus was on creating the best art possible for the community. Leon lives by the philosophy of reaching for the best self in order to create the best possible world.
Leon continued speaking about his career as a songwriter, “Faith has a remarkable way of writing a note to you.” He thought he was going to be a remarkable singer like James Brown and Marvin Gaye who were prompted into careers as artists. In a similar respect, the songs that Leon wrote were recognized by other talented people who recognized more potential than he knew. He recalls getting the 3AM call, “This is going to be a hit.” Some songs wouldn’t have been a demo, or some people wouldn’t have been great artists had it not been for someone else taking great interest. You never know what kind of gold you’re holding.
Receiving recognition for doing what you love is an incredible feeling. He loves what he does so much that he would do it for nothing.
He advised us, “You can open the door but what you gonna do when you get inside.” Lucky is only great when preparation meets opportunity. Quincy Jones said Leon is the only person he knows who is overly prepared. The first time they met, Quincy asked, “Do you have a wife, or girlfriend? Call her because you won’t be coming home.” For three weeks they worked on Marvin Gaye’s album.
Leon also had the pleasure of working with Stevie Wonder as well. Leon was blind for four years and then his sight returned so he has a special place for Stevie in his heart. When he sees Stevie they joke about finishing the two songs they started back in 1992.
Whenever Leon’s working, he keeps it young and fun. He said he refuses to grow up. People whom he knew who grow up were not having fun. Even his mentor who wrote for Frank Sinatra kept the same mentality. He has learned:
– He was never clever. He had conversations with people through his writing.
– It’s not the first line, it’s the second line that’s important because it supports the first.
– Have a hook that a guy who’s not a singer can hum in the bathroom or whistle to.
Leon also shared the power of world connectivity through music. “The evolution of music will match the evolution of us as a species. There is no time for the petty.” He recalled an artist friend of his who was approached by a hateful person and called out of his name. The artist replied with, “I’ll take your hate and give you my love and let’s see who’s will last the longest.” The hateful person began to cry.
Now, whenever someone says good luck, Leon responds with, “good love.” Leon knows its about loving, connecting and sharing. When he performs, he goes out there to share with people what he loves doing. “Don’t sing to them. Take the audience with you.”
“Music is an expression of self. Lyric is telling a story. We become the work. I feel like at this point, I am a song. It’s not ego…If you bow to me I bow to you. We are all brothers…First people become a fan of your music, then they become a friend. Then music makes them a part of your family. You know their children’s name illnesses that they have” and you share your lives. That’s the beauty of writing a song. People take these home and put them under their pillows and songs become a part of their lives. “Sharing music is beautiful…if you live long enough to have it love you back.”
Leon is currently working on a book of observations with further enriching insights to share with the world.
Hope you are sharing your best life too.