LEROY BURGESS ( redbull academy interview Pt. 1)

Leroy Burgess’ stellar career began on the court – when he started playing musical basketball with his buddies, shootin’ hoops and singing. Luckily, they decided to form a group and in ’68 Soul vocal trio The Mellow Souls was born – a short time later getting discovered over the phone by producer Patrick Adams. Black Ivory was only the beginning. With his signature warm baritone voice and tension-building keyboard riffs, Leroy Burgess contributed to the success of many different projects over the next three decades – with Aleem, Fonda Rae, Intrigue and Inner Life, and as Conversion and Logg amongst other pseudonyms. Whether Disco-Boogie or Salsoul, the underlying ingredient was always pure soul – and the minute it touches your ears, you’re transported to another place. Though Leroy is characteristically humble.

»We figured out the formula of ‘feel good’ and put it in a record? No, to get less cosmic than that, I have always been a spiritual person. I love life, I love the world, I love being here on this planet. I have always been like that. I love people, you know? That is a huge vibration. That is a huge thing to feel. And I tried to capture that in my music.” And, says Leroy, all of you out there reading this can capture it, too. “It’s easier than you think. The groove is in you.«

RBMA: »Welcome all the way from Harlem, USA, Mr. Leroy Burgess.«

Leroy Burgess: »Hi everybody. How y’all? You’re havin’ a good time so far? Good? Okay, good. You gonna have more.«

RBMA: »You’ve worked in pretty much a number of different genres in music. (…) People who may not recognize your name, may also not realize that they heard a lot of your music.«

RBMA: »You’ve worked in pretty much a number of different genres in music. (…) People who may not recognize your name, may also not realize that they heard a lot of your music.«

Leroy Burgess: »Right. Because I kept changing the name.«

RBMA: »Break that down for us a little bit. Why all the anonymity?.«

Leroy Burgess: »(laughing) Why all the different names? Two reasons mainly: When you come out as an artist or whatever, you want to try to get the best deal you can get. At this particular time, the record companies were a little dubious, you know. There were the stars here (raises his hands to his right) and the regular guys here(raises his hands to his left). So, what I did, I took a second and said: ‘Before I actually get my name to a project, Leroy Burgess, I want to see, if the company is really into it’, you know what I’m sayin’?

I was making up names like Convertion or Logg. Stuff like that. And as a result, more people know those non-existing groups than know me. But people know the music, so that’s cool. Also, the second reason is, it’s really not so much about me and I said this in my Anthology liner notes, I always wanted it to be about the music. The music to be the main thing, you know? And the less it focused on me as an individual and the more it focused on the music, was always kind of important to me. So, that is kind of why.«

RBMA: »As far as music goes, let’s talk about the music. You have been heralded by journalists and fans and other producers, modern producers, as the pioneer of a sub-genre of Disco known as Boogie. Did you know that was you were doing was different from what was going on in the Disco scene at that time?«

Leroy Burgess: »In all my compositions I try to use influences outside of the influence. In other words, if it was Dance or Disco music, I was trying to infuse either Blues or Jazz. Something, you wouldn’t expect. And that ended up becoming a style for me. Boogie…«

RBMA: »How would you define Boogie? The spirit of Boogie, as they say.«

Leroy Burgess: »(laughs) I have no idea. It’s just something that makes you dance. You feel it. And it’s more a feeling than anything else. That is why they called it Boogie. I mean, how would you define Boogie? When you do it? «

RBMA: »I mean, it is more of a vibe thing, bit if you want to get technical, Disco has more of a rigid type of beat to it and it’s faster than Boogie.«

Leroy Burgess: »It’s four on the floor. The bass drum just goes like that ( shakes hands up and down) and then you get a body rock that moves along with it. Before you know, other instruments come in and help you feel like groovin’, next thing you know, you boogie…( Leroy does exactly that)«
you boogie…( Leroy does exactly that)«

RBMA: »I feel with your work and your compositions there is a much earthier and harder-hitting groove to them. But in addition, I feel that a lot of your music is really uplifting. Is that your imagination, when people hear your records? What have you done musically to make that happen?«

Leroy Burgess: »We figured out the formula of ‘feel good’ and put it in a record. No, to get less cosmic than that, I have always been a spiritual person. I love life, I love the world, I love being here on this planet. I have always been like that. I love people, you know? That is a huge vibration. That is a huge thing to feel. And I tried to capture that in my music. I like to feel good, when I’m listening to stuff. I mean, you could listen to the stuff that is a little laid-back and thoughtful, so forth and so on.

That’s good. Believe me, there are times, when we have to do that. But the other times, I just like to feel good about myself, about life, about what’s going on and so we tried to put positive messages and positive lyricism in the lyrics. Because the listener might be a person that needs to feel good that day. You know, he goes through the whole day and then he needs to hear a record that lifts him up just for that moment. That’s what I try to infuse in my stuff.«

RBMA: »Your stuff at the time, was it aimed for the club, was it aimed for radio? Did you even have that expectation of where it would be played?«

Leroy Burgess: »I would hope my stuff would hit the radio. I didn’t know at first that it would. But I always hoped it would. I wanted people to listen to my stuff. I have always considered myself lucky in that respect. You have doubts about anything you create sometimes. Would this work? Would everybody feel this? This little doubt. And I am fortunate that a lot of my music has been accepted.«

RBMA: »Do you want to play something?«

Leroy Burgess: »Let me see your list.«

RBMA: »This is your list actually(chuckles).«

Leroy Burgess: »I think that we could start with a song I did with a group called The Aleems. It was the fourth record that we did together. But it gives you an idea of…the vibe. The name of the record is ’Get Loose’and it goes like this.«

(music: The Aleems ‘Get Loose’)

»Right here is where the energy comes in. You get the idea?«
(applause)

RBMA: »Now, this is where the Fantastic Aleems…?«

Leroy Burgess: »Yes, the Faaaaantastic Aleems. Some good friends of mine.«

RBMA: »Who were they?«

Leroy Burgess: »Two brothers from the building I lived in. I lived in the center of Harlem. So there was a lot of talent in the seventies and early eighties just coming out of this one area in Harlem. Say, from 145th Street to 125th Street. And the Aleems happened to live in the same building that I lived in. Now prior to us working together, they did background vocals for Jimi Hendrix during his “Rainbow Bridges” heyday until 1969. So, they gave me a call and asked me, initially, to arrange for them. You know, to do a musical arrangement and I went in and did it. Then they did the lead vocals and didn’t like how they sounded and asked me to do it. And that’s how I became part of that.«

RBMA: »That’s how that project came together.«

Leroy Burgess: »Yeah, and that song was called ‘Hooked On Your Love’.«

RBMA: »So, let’s go back then. Let’s go back to how you got into the music. Because I don’t want to stray too much back and forth. What was your first interest in music? You started quite young.«

Leroy Burgess: »My mom says I started singing when I was three years old. And that’s only because she was playing Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, The Modern Jazz Quartet and things like that in the house. My mother was a singer. So, she loved to sing and she basically sang classical, operatic music, but also Jazz and cooled out stuff. She sang along with Jackie Wilson and stuff like that. I started singing around at the age of three or four. Started banging on the piano, as I call it, at the age of five or so.

My parents didn’t think that it was serious and said: ‘You’re gonna be an engineer…’ But I always kind of felt it in me. Not only did the songs and the music sound good, but I thought I want to be a part of that. So I started singing, started playing the piano, started sneaking around. You have to sneak around your parents a lot. But ultimately at the age of eleven, I got serious and my first teachers came around. And they were Jazz teachers. People who taught me to do Jazz.

My first teacher was a gentleman by the name of Herbie Jones. And he was the chief arranger for Duke Ellington’s Orchestra at the time Duke was alive. He taught me for free. I was just this kid singing and watching people play the piano thinking that I want to get that good one day. And he said: ‘Watch me.’ And asked me questions and before I knew it, there was an actual student/teacher relationship going. Just real informal, you know? That was my first formal training and then I continued. By the time I was sixteen, I was very serious and my parents were very unhappy. I started playing with little groups around town and I was introduced to…«

RBMA: »Playing Jazz or playing Soul?«

Leroy Burgess: »By then you’re doing Motown and you’re doing the Delfonics and you’re doing The Moments and stuff by The Beatles, you just doing everything. I was called into a group by a friend of mine called Larry Newkirk and he asked me, if I want to join this group. We were playing basketball and just shootin’ hoops and singing. And he was like: ‘You sounded good!’ And I was like: ‘You sounded good!’ So, I went to his house and he brought me into a group called The Mellow Souls. This group evolved into my first real group called Black Ivory. This is interesting! If I may…?«
(walks over to the keyboard)

»Larry had a friend who had a sister whose friend was a producer. Patrick Adams. Patrick listened to us over the phone and liked us. That was my first opportunity to work on something serious. And this was my first record.«
(music/plays along on the keyboard)

»The amazing thing is that’s actually me singing the lead vocals there. That’s actually me singing the lead vocals, when I was seventeen at the time.«
(laughter)

»You can actually sing that high when you’re seventeen. I started with them and we had a good career, a good run. It was a beautiful song. Some really nice chords, some really nice things to keep me interested musically. When it goes ‘Don’t Walk Away’, right, this chord here you do not expect (plays keyboard). It’s like what’s that chord doing there? And that’s what makes it interesting.

What’s that chord doing there? Why is it there? How does it relate to the rest of the music? You understand? That’s one of the things that made me interested, kept me interested in stuff like that. So I had a nice little run with Black Ivory so forth and so on. Then basically, I left the group for a couple of reasons.«

RBMA: »That was after a couple of albums?.«

Leroy Burgess: »We made two, three four…four albums together as a group. But what was happening was, the music was changing. It was changing from the slow, smooth thing of this period. It was changing into some more uptempo, boppy stuff. Now, what happened was the public…the public was…sometimes when you see a group with a certain style, you lock yourself in. You get stereotyped into that style. Anything you try to do outside of that style, they’re like: ‘Oh, that don’t sound like them.’ You know, what I’m sayin’? Anybody relating to what I’m sayin’? For that reason, Black Ivory was forced into that slow group, slow jam thing. I was like ‘Let’s Go!’. The music is starting to go uptempo, so let’s go with it! And it wasn’t accepted. So that was one of the main reasons I had to leave Black Ivory.«

click below to listen

LEROY BURGESS – Heartbreaker

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