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Huff, Leon (8th April 1942-Present)

He is a songwriter and keyboard player born in Camden, New Jersey, to a family where his mother played the organ for a local church.  They were one of the few families in the area to have a piano in their house and so he was able to learn to play from a very young age, taking further lessons at school and privately.

As he grew older he performed with several local doo-wop groups such as The Dynaflows and he was able to cut his first hit, albeit regional, with The Lavenders.

By the start of the 1960s he had entered into a career as a professional musician and was finding work as a session pianist in New York.   Getting taken on by Phil Spector he performed on “Baby I Love You” by The Ronettes and appeared on his Christmas album and recorded with Carole King.  He also worked with the producers Johnny Madera and David White from Philadelphia and through them met Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.  They secured performances for him with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, which resulted in him playing on the hit “Boy From New York City” by the Ad-Libs.

He moved to Philadelphia and formed The Locomotions and it wasn’t long before he had started to write songs at the suggestion of Madera & White and before long he had written the song “Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl” which was a hit for Patty & The Emblems and got himself an office in the Schubert Theatre.  It as at the Theatre that he first met Kenny Gamble who worked in the same building, but it was a while before they worked together in Kenny’s band The Romeos.

Kenny and Leon decided to work together as songwriters and producers and so the Gamble & Huff team became partners at Gamble Records.  Local Philadelphia artists performed their first songs and the Soul Survivors had their first hit with “Expressway To Your Heart”.  This was followed by “Cowboys to Girls” recorded by The Intruders which became a million seller and reached the peak of the R&B charts.

He and Gamble then collaborated with Jerry Ross to write “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” for Dee Dee Warwick.  The Supremes and The Temptations the recorded it at Motown, which brought the song and the songwriters national and international fame.

Philadelphia was the place that they became associated with though and their “Philly Soul” sound became a characteristic sound.  They collaborated with Jerry Butler on the hit “Only the Strong Survive” which was later covered by Elvis Presley.  In fact, many top artists covered their songs and they became one of the most sought after song-writing/production teams in the business.  Leon also solely wrote hits for acts such as People’s Choice and The Ebonys.

The next step was to set up a new record label at the start of the 1970s and so Philadelphia International Records was born and they struck up a deal with CBS as distributors.  Almost immediately they were having huge hits with songs such as Billy Paul’s Grammy winning  “Me & Mrs. Jones” and “Love Train” and “Back Stabbers” by The O’Jays.  Leon played the memorable piano introduction on “Back Stabbers”.  Leon also realised that the drummer for Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes should actually sing some of the leads and this eventually led to Teddy Pendergrass becoming a huge star in his own right.

Often working collaboration with the publisher Thom Bell as Mighty Three Music Group, Gamble & Huff became one of the top teams in their field, second only to Motown, and in 1974 they had seen at least 20 hits on the chart.  Their success carried on throughout the decade with hits for The Dramatics, Thelma Houston, Lou Rawls, the Soul Train Gang and The Three Degrees made such a mark in the UK that they were presented with their gold record for “When Will I See You Again” by Princess Anne.  They also wrote and produced for The Jacksons on two non-Motown albums including the 1976 hit “Enjoy Yourself”, had the No. 1 hit “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” which was performed by their in-house musicians known as MFSB, wrote the hit “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” for McFadden and Whitehead and worked with Teddy Pendergrass on his extremely successful solo albums.

When the 1980s came along Leon decided to release his own solo album Here to Create Music with some of the songs receiving a lot of attention in clubs and on radio, but he also carried on his work with Kenny as usual.  In 1989 he and Kenny Gamble at long last got a much-deserved Grammy Award for their “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” which had originally been a hit for Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and became another huge hit for Simply Red.

The awards and honours continued in the 1990s when Leon and his fellow collaborators were each given plaques on Broad Street on the Philadelphia Music Foundation’s Walk of Fame.  He and Kenny Gamble then became inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1995 and they were given the Grammy Trustees Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

In the new millennium he was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame with Kenny Gamble in 2005 and they are still working as hard as before, having written/produced more than 3,000 songs with more than 170 gold and platinum records.  They received a further honour in 2008 when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honoured them with the Ahmet Ertegun Award.

Over the years he has worked in one capacity or another with a huge range of artists outwith the ones already mentioned such as The Ambassadors, Jazzie B, Archie Bell & The Drells, The Dells, Phyllis Hyman, Shirley Jones, Patti Labelle, Larry Levan, Curtis Mayfield, Laura Nyro, The Orlons, Peaches & Herb, Dee Dee Sharp, Joe Simon and Dusty Springfield.

It would be far too much to be able to list all the albums that Leon has worked on as a musician, songwriter or producer, but just a very few of them include Ultimate Collection by Michael Jackson, Goin’ Places by The Jacksons, Very Best of The Jacksons by The Jackson 5, Music of Johnny Mathis: A Personal Collection by Johnny Mathis, Q: The Musical Biography of Quincy Jones by Quincy Jones, Wake Up Everybody by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Mysteries of the World by MFSB, O’Jays in Philadelphia by The O’Jays,  Life is a Song Worth Singing by Teddy Pendergrass, Sings Gamble & Huff by The Philadelphia All-Stars, Unmistakably Lou by Lou Rawls,  Hold Onto Love by Third World and The Best of The Three Degrees: When Will I See You Again by The Three Degrees.

On his 67th birthday in 2009 he had a street named after him in Camden, New Jersey and his son Leon Jr known as “Pop” also records his own music.

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes recordings
Don’t Leave Me This Way (UK 45)