Leon Ware – 1976 – Musical Massage
Arguably Leon Ware’s greatest record – and one of the greatest Motown records of the 70’s! The record is a beautiful set of interwoven mellow soul tracks, recorded right on the heels of Marvin Gaye‘s I Want You album, which was written and conceived by Ware, then taken at the last minute by Marvin! For this set, Ware creates a very similar sound – mixing together smooth keyboards with subtle bits of funk and electronics, all wrapped up in his own sweet warm vocals, which sound better here than on any other album.
A1 Learning How to Love You 3:31
A2 Instant Love 3:27
with Minnie Riperton (performer)
A3 Body Heat 4:50
A4 Share Your Love 3:30
A5 Holiday 3:25
with Marvin Gaye (vocals) & Bobby Womack (performer)
B1 Phantom Lover 3:52
B2 Journey Into You 4:04
B3 Musical Massage 3:47
with Bobby Womack (performer)
B4 French Waltz 2:02
B5 Turn out the Light 4:01
Leon Ware’s classic Motown offering from 1976 came about as the result of another classic recording done by Marvin Gaye. Ware had written the single “I Want You” for a demo recording to score T-Boy Ross a recording contract with Motown. Berry Gordy heard it and told Ware he had to have the song for Marvin Gaye’s next single. He took it to Gaye, who also loved it. Later, as Ware finished the tracks and orchestrations for his own album, he was playing it back for friends at Gaye’s home when Marvin came out of a bedroom to inquire about what it was. He asked for — and received — all the tracks from Ware for the legendary I Want You album. This left Ware no choice but to compose an entirely new set of songs for his own record; the result is Musical Massage. (It should be noted that, according to Ware, Gordy, Gaye, and others felt he should also give this album away as a follow-up to I Want You, but Ware refused.) Musical Massage is the perfect mix of soul, light funk, jazz, and what was about to become the rhythmic foundation for disco. Picture the Motown song orchestrations with arrangements by Barry White for the Salsoul Orchestra and you get a bit of the picture. The disc opens with two smooth soul wonders in “Learning How to Love You” and “Instant Love“. Strings dominate the melodic arrangement and Ware croons directly to them as Ray Parker, Jr. fills the lines with a silky but chunky guitar. Ware’s mellifluous tenor is deep in the swell of strings and guitars as the rest of the band provides a shimmering backbeat for his soul crooning. On a re-recording of the track “Body Heat” — which Ware had recorded as a duet with Minnie Riperton for Quincy Jones‘ album of the same name a year earlier — Parker and bassist Chuck Rainey set a groove for Bongo Brown, Gary Coleman, and Bobbye Hall’s percussion orgy. Ware’s vocals, augmented by a three-piece female choir, cover the tune with dripping, seductive, sexual energy.
Bobby Womack guests on the title track and “Holiday“, while Gaye also lends a hand on the latter. Both tracks are spurious soul-funk workouts with fat, smooth grooves underlying Ware’s gorgeous voice that melts the heart strings like butter, sounding like the whispering of satin sheets. Produced by Ware with Hal Davis and engineer Cal Harris, the disc has the same sweet, swaying feel as Gaye’s I Want You but is a bit tougher, a little funkier in the breaks. The string arrangements by Dave Blumbery and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson are among the best the Motown studios issued to date. Ultimately, Musical Massage is a little-known classic from the supposedly twilight years of Motown. This record reveals Ware as a talented but undercelebrated visionary; he envisioned the evolution of soul and went about to bring it to fruition. Musical Massage is a watermark not only for Ware, but for Motown as well.
By Perverted Alchemist
If the name Leon Ware sounds familiar, it’s because his name was attached to various hits by a lot of well-known artists. A few of the notable hits he’s helped pen were “I Wanna Be Where You Are” for Michael Jackson, “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” for Quincy Jones, “Inside My Love” for Minnie Riperton and “Sumthin’ Sumthin‘” for Maxwell. As his song for Michael Jackson became a hit, he was signed to United Artists Records to record his 1972 self-titled debut. The album was given good reviews, but went nowhere. As a result, Ware went back behind the scenes penning hits for other people. He worked on trying to secure a deal for his songwriting partner Arthur Ross, the brother of singer Diana Ross. However, one of the songs on the demo was heard by Motown Records founder Berry Gordy- who insisted the song should be given to Marvin Gaye. Marvin heard the rest of the demos and wanted most of the songs that Ware played for him. Ironically, those very songs ended up on Gaye’s 1976 album “I Want You“- an album that Leon wanted to keep for himself. He went to work on another set of songs to be for his album. Gordy also wanted those songs for Marvin as well- to which Ware outright refused. As a result, Motown retaliated by releasing Ware’s album around the same time as Gaye’s “I Want You”. Further complicating matters, they didn’t do any promotion for the project and no singles were even released. So it’s kind of ironic that the same company that wanted to bury the album ended up reissuing it almost 30 years later in 2003.
Ware produced most of the recording by himself with additional production from Motown’s staff producer Hal Davis. From beginning to end, the album’s sole focus is sex- however, it’s done in a rather sensual and subdued manner. There are a few choice cuts, such as his own version of another song penned for Quincy Jones- the title track to his 1974 recording “Body Heat“. There’s also his duet with Minnie Riperton “Instant Love” which was sampled on Brandy’s 2004 Timbaland produced single “Who Is She 2 U“. Other songs on her are the brief instrumental “French Waltz“, the title track “Musical Massage” and the best track “Phantom Lover” (The latter, which was sampled on the title track to Eric Roberson’s 2011 album “Mister Nice Guy”). On the 2003 reissue, there are his versions of songs he penned for other people- which remained unreleased until this reissue. He has his version of Michael Jackson’s “I Wanna Be Where You Are”, but the other remaining bonus tracks are culled from the sessions of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”. For the first time, the audience gets to hear Ware’s original demos for the songs “After The Dance“, “Since I Had You” and “Come Live With Me, Angel“. However, as great as he is at songwriting and producing, vocally he’s very limited and lacks the presence that Marvin captured on those songs. In the end “Musical Massage” is a good listen from Leon Ware. The problem that he has- like every other songwriter to emerge as an artist- is that his material sounds much better coming from someone else. One could only imagine what this album would have sounded like under the execution of another artist. Despite his faults as a vocalist, Ware is still a great but underrated talent.