producer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter from South Carolina whose
mother taught him to play the piano.
In college, he learned how to play a variety of instruments, and he
eventually added electric bass, tenor saxophone, and trumpet to his
In 1969, he
relocated to The Big Apple. One
of the first records he appeared on was Eugene McDaniels’
“The Lord is Back”, backed with “Tell Me Mr.
President”. Leon played
the piano. Throughout his
recording career, he reverted to the piano and other keyboard
In 1972, he
multitasked on Universal Jones Vol. 1,
arranging, conducting, and playing bass and electric piano. Another example of his versatility
is Alphonse Mouzon’s Funky Snakefoot, on which he played
acoustic piano, electric piano, organ, and Wurlitzer. He got his first taste of gold with
1974’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” by Aretha Franklin,
which he helped produce. In
1975, he played keyboards on Feel
Like Makin’ Love by Roberta Flack and Disco Baby and The Disco
Kid by Van McCoy, and joined the original Saturday Night Live band, with whom he has performed for more
than three decades.
with Van McCoy on 1976’s African
Symphony, The Real McCoy, and
Rhythms of the World. In 1977, he played keyboards on Van McCoy and His Magnificent Movie
Machine. This was followed
up by My Favourite
Fantasy in 1978. Leon has
even performed with The Muppets:
He arranged, conducted and played keyboards on Sesame Disco! and Sesame Street Fever. In 1979, he performed arranging
duties on Stuff’s third album, Stuff
He opened the
new decade with Terumasa Hino on Daydream, arranging, conducting,
playing the Oberheim, Rhodes Piano, and Steinway
Piano, and writing “Goin’ for the
Gold”, and “Sweeter & Sweeter”, with then-wife,
Janice Pendarvis. In 1981, he arranged Andy
Gibb’s and Victoria Principal’s remake of “All I Have to
Do is Dream” and worked with Diana Ross on another retro effort, Why Do Fools Fall in Love.
He rejoined Terumasa Hino in 1982 on Pyramid. In 1983,
he played the Hammond B-3 Organ on An
Innocent Man by Billy Joel and orchestrated the music for the Broadway
play, Peg. He arranged and played synthesizer
on Denice Williams’ Let’s Hear it for the Boy in 1984. The album contained several Leon
compositions, including “Blind Dating”, “Don’t Tell
Me We Have Nothing”, “Picking up the Pieces”, and
In 1985, he
was in charge of additional orchestrations for the Broadway production, The News. He went from stage to screen in
1986, scoring America and
orchestrating music for Pretty in
Pink. In the late
‘80s, he set up his own studio and did the arrangements for Eric
Clapton’s August and Crossroads and the drum programming
and production work on Laurie Anderson’s Strange Angels.
on Live in Montreux
with Stuff and live in Lugano
with The Blues Brothers Band in 1990.
In 1992, The Blues Brothers Band released Red, White & Blues.
Leon performed in concert with Donald Fagen
at New York City’s Lone Star Roadhouse in January 1993. In 1994, The Blues Brothers Band
performed “B Movie Boxcar Blues” live in New Orleans,
Louisiana. G.E. Smith & the
Saturday Night Live Band released Get
a Little in 1995.
In 1996, Leon
he played organ on the DVD, Buddy Guy
with G.E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band: Live – The Real Deal. He did the same on B.B. King’s
1997 album, Deuces Wild. In 1998, The Blues Brothers Band
performed “Funky Nassau” in Antibes and “Can’t Turn
You Loose”, “Midnight Hour”, and “You Can’t
Play the Blues in an Air-Conditioned Room” in Cannes, France. The Saturday Night Live Band was
featured in the Andy Kaufman biopic, Man
on the Moon, in 1999.
fellow Blues Brothers band-mate, Steve Cropper, performed with Tommy
McDonnell at the 2000 NBA All-Star Game. In 2001, Leon played electric piano
and Hammond organ and arranged the strings on John Phillips’ Phillips
66. He joined Cornell Dupree,
Sam Moore, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, and Chuck Rainey
for a concert at New York’s
B.B. King’s on 23rd October 2002. In 2003, he married singer, Jillian Armsbury.
“Rhythm & Blues by the Brook” on 10th June 2006
with an all-star cast that included Steve Cropper, Roberta Flack,
“Blue Lou” Marini, Bernard “Pretty Purdie”,
and Phoebe Snow. In 2007, he
arranged and conducted some of the music on The Best Damn Thing by Avril Lavigne. He
performed similar duties on Leona Lewis’s 2008 album, Spirit.
Jillian Pendarvis shuffled off this mortal coil,
succumbing to cancer. Her
memory, along with many others’, was honoured
at the International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma
in Washington, D.C.
In 2010, Leon
again served as arranger and conductor on Katie Perry’s Teenage Dream and performed at the
FIFA World Cup Kick-Off Concert.
Van McCoy recordings
The Shuffle (Van McCoy)
That’s the Joint (Richard Harris/Van McCoy)