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Musical Massage

Leon Ware

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Album Review

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.

Biography

Born: 16 February 1940 in Detroit, MI

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Songwriter, singer, and producer Leon Ware is one of the less-recognized products of the Motown Records music factory of the 1960s and '70s, primarily because he has tended to work behind the scenes despite recording a series of albums under his own name. His signature style is a highly romantic approach to soul music that has resulted in many hit records, notably "I Wanna...
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Musical Massage, Leon Ware
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