Leon Ware: “I Want To Make Sex A Religion”

By David Nathan

June 1977 

With his own “Musical Massage” album (released on Motown in September 1976) and his production and songwriting for Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” million-selling LP, Leon Ware feels that sex is not given the respect of religion and that man’s development process hasn’t been as rapid as it should have been…

IF THE Sixties were responsible for the upsurge of what we now term the singer-songwriter, the The Seventies must boast as being the era in which the total creative artist has emerged.  It’s the time of the jacks-of-all-trades only in this case, far from being masters of none, they are masters in many fields. People like Van McCoy — for years a brilliant writer and producer — now very much in demand as an artist in his own right. Ashford & Simpson in like capacity; Ralph McDonald emerging as not only a percussionist extraordinaire but also a very prolific songwriter and artist himself; Bob James, Zulema, Gene Page, Barry White: people who write/perform and/or produce and arrange whatever they do — and frequently do their own background work too!

Add now to the list a young gentleman whose musical abilities have already given him a well-earned place within the ranks of today’s totally creative set.  From Leon Ware’s pen have come songs like “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” (unquestionably a modern-day classic), “Body Heat”, “I Wanna Be Where You Are” (also considered a pop classic, having been recorded by Michael Jackson, Bette Midler and Zulema to name just three), “Got To Have You Back” (familiar to Isley Bros.’ fans as one of their early Motown hits). And he was the gentleman behind Marvin Gaye’s epic “I Want You” album — having produced the set as well as co-writing seven of the album’s cuts. In addition, Leon’s written songs for everyone from Ike & Tina Turner to Minnie Riperton — with Bobby Womack, The Righteous Brothers and Kim Weston in between!

Born and raised in Detroit — the home of so much musical talent — Mr. Ware can boast having attended high school with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson. From the age of three, “I’ve been continuously in love with music”, Leon states, and by the tender age of eleven, he was playing with a local group which included Lamont Dozier and Ty Hunter (from The Originals) then known as “The Romeos”.  Leon says he went through the usual church process — singing in choirs etc., and he first headed out to the West Coast after becoming involved as a writer with The Righteous Brothers. He recalls having met Berry Gordy when he was sixteen “but at the time I was unsure of my direction.”

Now, after working with ABC and later A&M, Leon Ware is with Motown as a writer, producer and now an artist in his own right. His debut album, “Musical Massage” was released in 1976 and included his own version of “Body Heat”, as well as a couple of songs which Leon co-wrote with Jackie Hilliard (the team was also responsible for “Come Live With Me, Angel” from Mr. Gaye’s album, and with Minnie Riperton (a song entitled “Turn Out The Light”). In fact, there is a definite theme of sensuality which runs throughout the album, making it slightly reminiscent in places of the “I Want You” album, hardly surprising when you consider the role Mr. Ware had in that masterpiece!

“I have nothing to complain about right now,” Leon states. “I feel like my career is following a definite evolutionary development. Knowledge is something you can’t just press a button to get — and I’m developing my knowledge of everything around me. I’ve been involved in different levels in this business and now I’ve reached another stage which involves more prestige, more positive attitudes and more of what I want for myself.”

Leon sees himself “as a craftsman branching off into different facets of creativity. Acting, writing books — I’d like to write a dictionary,” he says quite matter-of-factly. And modestly, he says that he regards his first album as a solo artist as “a great piece of work! I hope in time it will be recognized as such and I think it’s doing well for a first album. No, I won’t be doing a great deal of roadwork — maybe just on Mars,” he says without a smile.  He’s quite serious: “I feel a strong affinity with the total universe.” He has definite views, too, on the sensual nature of his music. “Yes it’s deliberate. It has a sensual and spiritual connotation. Musically, I guess I lean towards jazz and r&b but I want my music to be know as just good music.  I’d like to be amongst the few people who want to make sex a religion,” Leon adds casually. “You see, it’s still not given the preciousness that other religions are accorded — it’s not given the respect either. It’s time that people stopped regarding sex as being dirty. The problem is that our development process hasn’t been as rapid as it should have been.  We’re only just beginning to reach our fullest potential as total human beings and that means respecting and understanding all aspects of ourselves, our minds, our spirits, our bodies.”

Mr. Ware is far from being a run-o-the-mill personality. “I’m practising being unique, intriguing. And I’m looking forward in the future to everything that isn’t to be!” Maybe a slightly ambiguous answer but check it out again, we suggest! And the similarities between “Musical Massage” and “I Want You”. As he notes, “Well, that’s natural, since I produced both and wrote a good proportion of all the things that are on both albums. No, I didn’t mind giving up the time to work with Marvin because my primary function has been as a writer and producer. But I’ve been wanting to do an album on my own for years.  I nearly started to do that when I was with U.A. before I went to A&M — and at A&M itself. But it’s only when I came to Motown that I got the fullest support that I needed to develop the project.  Working with Marvin resulted in a slight diversion from my doing the album but it finally was done, as you can see. Now I want to develop a sufficient following so that I can carry on and be accepted in different areas. I’d like to move on to doing movie scores, concertos, other albums. Because there’s consistency in growth.”

Certainly Mr. Ware has been consistent hitherto in, as they say, delivering the goods. No doubt with his particularly unique way of looking at everything, he will continue to do so.

(c) 2022, David Nathan