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IN OUR quest to track down the select band of artistes who are always there in the background but never seem to get the right break, we were fortunate enough to be put in touch with Leon Haywood at a time when it looks as though a proverbial 'break' could be imminent. Leon has spent a clear decade giving a surprisingly large bunch of fans music that they consistently like. But, perhaps even more interesting, is the fact that Leon has been involved with so many other records that few people in this part of the world know about.

For example, he was the organist on the Packers' mammoth hit, "Hole In The Wall"; he played organ on Bettye Swann's initial classic hit, "Make Me Yours"; he was the organist on virtually every Dyke & the Blazers session, before Dyke was killed two years or more back.

Born in Houston, Texas, on February 11, 1942, Leon's show business career didn't begin until he came to Los Angeles, his present home, in 1960. "Man, I vividly remember my first day in Los Angeles," he reminisces, "I got me a job in a car wash. And I was only in the city a few days when I ran into some guys and I joined their group, playing piano and organ."

Perhaps the best way to trace Leon's career is through his recordings, because he has recorded for an amazing amount of companies — though it is only now that he honestly feels he is on the right track. His move to 20th Century is — in his own words — "the best thing that's ever happened to me."

For those of us who are fortunate enough to have the album released in this country on Leon Haywood — "It's Got To Be Mellow" on MCA (Decca) — we could read on the sleeve note how Leon's initial recording experience was via Big Jay McNeely, because the notes clearly state that Leon co-wrote and arranged McNeely's biggest hit, "There Is Something On Your Mind", recently a hit for Little Johnny Taylor. However, the honest Mr. Haywood doesn't claim any credit for this particular feat.

"That sleeve note was written by my ex-manager and he didn't consult me about the details, you see. He knew I was with Big Jay McNeely's band for a while and wrongly assumed I was involved with that record. I didn't join the band until after that record and the only record I did make with them was one called "Without A Love", on which I also played organ."

For those interested, McNeely played tenor sax with the band and the lead vocalist was one Little Sonny Warner, who later turned up on Chess with "Bell Bottom Blue Jeans". The band made a run of records on a local Los Angeles label called Swingin'. However, Leon never got paid a penny for his troubles. Directly after being with Big Jay McNeely, Leon joined Sam Cooke's band, where he played piano right up until Sam's untimely death. During this time, though, Leon made his solo recording debut for Fantasy Records. That was in 1963, and it was with a thing called "You're All For Yourself". The record was a local success in the California area and it did enough to encourage the company to record and release several more sides on Leon, the most notable of which was "Truth About Money".

After Sam Cooke's death, Leon decided again to try his luck as a solo artiste, and he became involved with local and notorious Los Angeles DJ, The Magnificent Montague. Leon had signed to Imperial Records and his first release for them was already on the road to success. Entitled "She's With Her Other Love", the songwriting credits will list N. Nathan and L. Haywood. Actually, they did spell Leon's name Hayward — an error that was corrected with the next release. Naturally, Mr. Nathan — the name Magnificent Montague's parents donated to him at birth — had nothing to do with writing the song.

"Well, he was the big DJ in town and of course I needed his help to break the record. So, I had to give him half of the song — that's what you have to go through. Not that it really mattered anyway — the record company made their deal with Montague, so he got the money. Me? I never got paid a cent! Not for the record, which was a hit and sold several hundred thousand, nor for the song."

It was during this same period that Leon did several sessions for the illustrious Montague. They included a whole album on the Packers, including "Hole In The Wall" — the album was issued in this country in its entirety on the Soul City label. Leon was also the organist for another of Montague's make-up groups, the Romeos, who had one big hit called "Precious Memories" on the local Mark 11 label. As you will have gathered, Mr. Nathan isn't one of God's most illustrious creations, but he is still in business in Los Angeles. Other than those sessions mentioned, Leon also helped with the early sides on Bettye Swann for Money Records.

After "She's With Her Other Love" and its successor, "1-2-3" — the old Len Barry hit — Leon moved on to Fat Fish Records, a Los Angeles label that became a subsidiary of Fantasy Records. An album of instrumental tagged "Soul Cargo" was recorded and when Leon later became successful with Decca, they repackaged the early sessions done for Fantasy back in 1963 — Leon's very first solo sessions — and came up with an album that they called "Mellow, Mellow", which title will become more pertinent later in this feature.

Once again, though, Leon walked away from this deal empty handed and without his royalties. He did, though, enjoy a couple of single hits in "Ever Since You Were Sweet Sixteen" and "Ain't No Use", both of which were released here — along with that album — on the unlikely Vocalion label. And, of course, Leon's "Reconsider Me" was recorded during this era.

In 1968, Leon made what was to become the first paying proposition of his career when he joined Decca Records. He immediately had his first national hit with "It's Got To Be Mellow".

"I actually recorded the record for my own record company," Leon informed me. "It sold well in the Los Angeles area and Decca took it up for nationwide distribution. My company still exists today, and is called Evejim Records — my mother's name is Evelyn, and my father's Jim Ed, so that's how the name came about."

Anyway, "It's Got To Be Mellow" became a big record and prompted Decca to coax Leon into the studio to cut an album to cash in on the hit single.

"I was never at all happy with that album," Leon revealed. "I wasn't able to cut it properly. You see, I was on the road working and one day the company said they had to have an album. I explained that I wouldn't be back in L.A. for some weeks, so it couldn't really be done. But they insisted so I had to record it in New Orleans where I was playing. So, I hired Cosimo's Studio in the city, and that is how the "It's Got To Be Mellow" album came about.

"Once I got back to L.A., though, I went straight into the studio and came up with "Mellow Moonlight", which was a successful follow up to "It's Got To Be Mellow"." Other Decca singles included "Mercy Mercy Mercy" from the New Orleans album; "You Don't Have To See Me Cry", which was self-penned; and his final Decca hit, "Every Day Will Be A Holiday", which was earlier a hit for its writer, William Bell. But at least Leon got paid!

Leon's next move didn't really benefit his career an iota. He joined Capitol and had two releases — "I Wanna Thank You", which was released over here in the early spring of 1970, and "Just Your Fool". "It wasn't that they were bad records," Leon recalls, "it was just that they honestly didn't know what to do with an R&B record."

So, Leon moved to a company where he really should have been at home — Atlantic. And his two releases — "You And Your Moody Ways" and "Clean Up Your Own Backyard" — could and should have been two of Atlantic's biggest Soul singles of last year, they were that good.

"Yes, Atlantic should have been the right vehicle," he conceded, "but I got lost in amongst the Wilson Picketts and Aretha Franklins. They didn't try putting the big push behind me — I was just a drop in their bucket I guess you could say. I was very disappointed with that stage of my career because I believed it could have been the break I needed."

At this point, Leon started writing with Jimmy Lewis, too. The 'B' side of "Clean Up Your Own Backyard" was a thing called "String Bean", which Jimmy wrote. And then when Leon moved to 20th Century, his first release was co-written by Jimmy and Leon, entitled "One Way Ticket To Loveland". "I'm not writing with Jimmy right now, though," Leon explained, "because I don't write with anyone in particular. You see, I write my own music, but I'm not always the best lyricist. So, every now and then, when I get stuck, I'll get together with someone who can put a lyric to my music."

All of which brings us virtually up-to-date with Leon's lease of new life with 20th Century. "I am honestly more happy with what's happening for me now than I have ever been. I have got a new single out called "La La" (which is released here on Pye International this week) and an album, which has just been released.

"The album took six months to make because we did our best to make every track a potential single. Then, we also used Ray Charles' Studio and they completely renovated it midway through our sessions, which brought about a delay. The album's called "Back To Stay" and I am really happy with it — even if you don't particularly like every track, I think you'll find you appreciate it and that was my main aim. I think the only songs you would know are "Make Me Yours", which we did over, and Little Willie John's "Let Them Talk"."

The future? "Lord, I wish I knew," Leon laughed, "I know I'll be trying to establish myself to the best of my ability." And perhaps that final word 'ability' is the key to why Leon has been able to withstand the amount of setbacks that he has endured. It would be only fitting if this move to 20th Century could see him break through for once and for all.




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