LEO SAYER - BIO
Leo was born Gerard Hugh Sayer on May 21st. 1948, at Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, in England. At secondary school he showed a gift for drawing and painting. He sang with the school band, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley songs he’d learnt from his older cousin, David’s, record collection. David introduced Leo to Buddy, The Crickets and Bob Dylan, records that had a great effect on him. He was now 16 and it was the year of 1964. Leo left school graduating into a course for commercial art and graphic design at West Sussex College of Art and Design in Worthing, Sussex. He started listening to Rhythm and Blues, and singing with soul bands. He used to sit and draw on Worthing beach, and try out his new passion – the mouth organ. Here he met a professional harmonica player who taught him the instrument. Leo used to play on the 20-minute train journey to Art School every day, and soon learned enough to sit in and jam with local bands
He moved up to London in late 1967. Here he met painters and musicians, started writing poetry and working on a book. At work he designed record covers, and illustrated top 60’s magazines. He frequented Soho and Kensington folk clubs and sometimes got up to play the harmonica. He went freelance as an artist, but he got into trouble with too much work and not enough money, had a mild breakdown and came back down to his home town, Shoreham – landing with a bump.
The Rock newspaper Melody Maker had a “Battle Of The Bands” contest that Leo and his mates entered, narrowly missing winning the local heat. Leo, still known as Gerry at the time, had decided what he wanted to do with his life. It was now 1970 and he was 22 years old. A local Brighton newspaper, The Evening Argus, ran a small box advert for a talent contest. David Courtney, who was about to set up a talent agency, held the audition, which took place at Brighton’s Pavilion Theatre. Patches featuring Gerry Sayer (vocals and harmonica) won the audition. It turned out that David Courtney was not just a promoter. He’d played drums (with early 60’s pop star Adam Faith) and was also a songwriter. After an abortive attempt to get a deal with Beatles producer, George Martin’s new Air Records label, they took the songs that they had demoed to David’s ex – employer, Adam Faith.
The writers were inspired. Adam’s response was immediate and dynamic. Leo’s band Patches were booked into London’s Olympic Studios less than a week later, to make his first single. David Courtney’s “Living In America” was on the A-side, and Leo and David’s “The Hour Is Love” on the B-side. The session was exciting as rock band The Who were recording next door and wanting to meet Adam, added their input to the session. Things were happening fast. Gerry Sayer became Leo Sayer, his head of curls inspiring David to christen him Leo, after the lion.
Leo had a girlfriend at the time, Janice. They arranged to get married in Brighton. Patches’ single came out on Warner Brothers in the U.K. It wasn’t a sales success but undaunted by this, Adam became Leo’s manager and David and Adam prepared to produce Leo’s first album. They chose Richard Branson’s Manor Studios in Oxford, to start the recording. Patches disbanded, with only Max Chetwynd, guitarist, staying on.
The recording of “Silverbird” was a difficult and somewhat experimental process, Adam and David having loads of ideas but no real experience in record production. The writers were inspired however and the album started to come together with further recording at the home studio in Sussex of Roger Daltrey, the Who’s lead singer, and later at the Beatles’ Apple studios. Here the recording took further shape with the team creating, amongst others, the unique “The Show Must Go On”.
The head of Warner Brothers records in America, Joe Smith, came to Brighton that month to witness Leo in performance and signed Leo up for a ten-album deal in the United States, Canada and South America. Chrysalis Records in the U.K. signed Leo for the rest of the world.
Roger Daltrey had a cousin, Graham Hughes, who was a well-respected photographer. Leo met with him just after he’d shot Roger’s album cover and was intrigued by some fashion photos Graham had taken. What had inspired Leo was the presence amongst the models in the shoot of Belgian mime artist Julien in the guise of Pierrot the clown.
Leo had found an image that he felt went with his songs, and Graham, Julien and make – up artist Kirsty Climo set about creating the look for Leo. Graham shot the cover with Leo portrayed as himself on the front, and dressed as the Pierrot on the back. Leo was on the road continually at this point with Adam always present guiding his young charge.
One night on the way back from a gig, Adam had a near fatal car crash. As he lay in bed recovering in hospital all he talked about was Leo’s first single from “Silverbird” – “Why Is Everybody Going Home”. The album was released in the U.K. and the U.S. simultaneously and further to Adam’s dynamic promotional work, the B.B.C. offered Leo a slot on their T.V. rock show, “The Old Grey Whistle Test”. Leo came on the show dressed as the Pierrot and such was the reaction to his performance, the entire business noted that a new star was born. Leo went on a British and European tour supporting Roxy Music, now appearing on stage dressed as the Pierrot. His wife Janice made the costumes and applied his make up, and they were quite inseparable.
This first U.S. tour had a big impact on the audiences and on Leo, and the biggest names in the music industry turning out to see the boy with the white face and white suit. Amongst residencies at other major cities, Leo played week long performances at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, and at The Bottom Line in New York (with support act Hall and Oates).The U.S. tour was deemed a great success back at home with Leo featured on the front cover of every British music magazine.Leo had always vowed that he would drop the Pierrot costume and make- up as soon as he became successful. This he did on his return to England in June 1974 when Leo played his biggest gig yet that summer at London’s Crystal Palace Bowl supporting Rick Wakeman. That afternoon a nervous but relieved Leo found that an audience could readily accept him without the image.
Adam, David and Leo had already started work on Leo’s second album “Just A Boy”, cutting “One Man Band” while Leo was on the American tour. More recording took place in London. This time the recording went smoothly and the right results were quickly accomplished. Some of the songs, like “Long Tall Glasses”, were written in the studio. “Long Tall Glasses” was all about Leo’s reaction to America and became his first top ten record there.
The singles, “One Man Band” and “Long Tall Glasses” both hit the charts in the U.K. and around the world. In late 1974 British promoter Paul Dainty took Leo down to Australia for the first time. The reaction was amazing. Two hit albums had really stirred up the crowds there and fans mobbed Leo when he arrived at Sydney Airport. The shows were all sell-outs and “Leo mania” broke Australian box office records. Leo was becoming an accomplished stage performer by now and the second U.S. tour, which followed, underlined this. Leo’s band now included Chris Stainton, pianist with the Greaseband, who had famously backed Joe Cocker at Woodstock.
Leo was more than proud of the songs he’d written, but the recording of his third album “Another Year” was an unnecessarily rushed affair. Adam insisted that everything was completed within two weeks, giving Leo little chance to bring out the epic nature of the songs. Still, the album was well received and “Moonlighting” became a runaway hit in Britain, climbing to number two in the charts. A unique single hit came out of Ireland too with “I Will Not Stop Fighting”. Leo spent the year on the road, playing Britain, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, the Far East, and Europe, all promoting the album. Meanwhile Adam was in America searching for a new producer, as he was obsessed with the idea that Leo had to now make an American record.
In the spring of 1976, Leo met Richard Perry in Los Angeles – Adam’s suggestion for the American producer. Richard had a distinguished reputation in the U.S., having produced such acts as Barbra Streisand, Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, Art Garfunkel and Diana Ross amongst others. He’d seen Leo in concert and was impressed. The only problem was that Leo still wanted to sing his own songs and Richard was more interested in “that voice”, and thought that Leo should stretch his horizons beyond just his song writing.
The first session between the two was arranged in the summer of 1976 at Richard’s Studio 55, on Melrose Boulevard in Hollywood, where they recorded “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted”, “Tears Of A Clown” and “Reflections” – all covers. Leo was not sure about the direction, but loved the all-star band Richard had provided. His voice soared in this new setting, and he began to think that maybe Richard was right. Throughout that summer the two worked steadily, patiently putting together the album that was to prove Leo’s biggest success to date.
Leo started writing exciting new songs in this environment, and he and wife Janice embraced During this period, Leo wrote two songs for the album with New Yorker Barry Mann (famous for composing “You Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”, and “On Broadway”) and most importantly created “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”, which came from a jam session in the studio, with drums by the legendary Steve Gadd and guitars by the great Larry Carlton and Ray Parker Jr (of later “Ghostbusters” fame). He completed the song with co-writer Vini Poncia, who had produced Kiss and Ringo Starr, and when the result was released in September ‘76 – it became Leo’s first American number one .Leo was now on top of the world and the ricochet of his U.S. success echoed around the globe.
Endless Flight was critically well received everywhere, and though some felt Leo had lost some of his uniqueness in the process, none could deny the instant pop appeal of the album. Leo now had an all star band on the road, featuring Nicky Hopkins on keyboards and Bobby Keys on saxophone (both from The Rolling Stones), Reggie McBride on bass and Steve Madaio on trumpet (both from the Stevie Wonder band), and Don Preston (from The Mothers Of Invention). Leo was now just twenty-eight years old. The second single, “When I Need You” (a ballad by Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer-Sager), brought even more success.
For years in Britain, Leo had been “knocking on the door” of the number one position in the U.K. music charts. He’d been kept at number two by the likes of Abba, Gary Glitter, Alvin Stardust and Slade. In January 1977 he got his new year present. A second number one in the U.S followed his first number one in the U.K. “When I Need You” went on to dominate the world charts, bringing him further number ones in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and many other countries.
Leo and Janice had all but given up on any ideas of a normal married life by now. In the U.K. offers came in for Leo’s own T.V. series. In the States he was wined and dined on Johnny Carson and all the big chat shows and in February 1977 got the biggest accolade of all, a coveted Grammy award for best Rhythm & Blues song – “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”. He also won awards in Britain (a B.P.I. award and a T.V. Times award), Canada (a Juno award), and Europe (Belgium’s Golden Lion). Though the record bears witness to one of Leo’s best periods in his recording career, Leo, Adam and Richard were to be disappointed as the sales didn’t quite follow the same pattern as “Endless Flight”. Nevertheless, both the “Thunder In My Heart” and “Easy To Love” singles got into the U.S. top forty, and the album reached number thirty-eight in the charts. Leo was now becoming a big draw on the U.S. concert scene, headlining big venues such as The Greek Theatre and Universal Amphitheatre in L.A., and Central Park in New York. He was now a tax exile away from Britain only returning for concert and television performances. This mystique actually did him no harm as British journalists now flew out to interview the guy who was now on the cover of Rolling Stone in glamorous Beverly Hills.
Though the record bears witness to one of Leo’s best periods in his recording career, Leo, Adam and Richard were to be disappointed as the sales didn’t quite follow the same pattern as “Endless Flight”. Nevertheless, both the “Thunder In My Heart” and “Easy To Love” singles got into the U.S. top forty, and the album reached number thirty-eight in the charts. Leo was now becoming a big draw on the U.S. concert scene, headlining big venues such as The Greek Theatre and Universal Amphitheatre in L.A., and Central Park in New York. He was now a tax exile away from Britain only returning for concert and television performances. This mystique actually did him no harm as British journalists now flew out to interview the guy who was now on the cover of Rolling Stone in glamorous Beverly Hills.
1978’s “Leo Sayer” was the last album of Leo’s produced by Perry and showed Leo gamely challenging these changes to his world. Against calls for a more middle of the road approach, Leo got introspective and showed another side of his talent, bringing out his harmonica and putting a country feel into songs like the album’s opener, Leo and Tom Snow’s “Stormy Weather”. Leo had now toured all over the States and was getting in tune with America’s roots as well as his own. The album featured guitars by Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac, with backings by members of Linda Ronstadt’s band and the rock band soon to be named Toto. Richard was sensitive to Leo’s approach and the delicate production is evident on the album’s biggest hit, Englishman Billy Nichols beautiful “I Can’t Stop Loving You”.
At this time Leo and his wife Janice were literally homeless – living on the road. The exhausting schedules in 1978 included the USA (65 date tour), Canada, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain (32 date tour), and he finished the year by playing to 8000 people on one night in Dublin. The US tour was briefly interrupted by a fall offstage in Wisconsin, which hit the headlines, but though exhausted and injured the little trouper still didn’t miss a show.During the UK tour, over six weeks, you could also see Leo headlining his own show on B.B.C. T.V. every Friday night, and he also guested famously on The Muppet Show,dueted with Miss Piggy on the Johnny Carson Show in New York, and appeared with his idol, Fred Astaire on T.V. in Hollywood.
Back in England, 1979 saw the release of “The Very Best Of Leo Sayer”, which thanks to an extensive TV advertising campaign, saw Leo breaking his own and Chrysalis’s sales records, the album going straight to No.1 in the UK album charts and being awarded double platinum status, which in those days meant sales of two million units in the U.K. alone! The British Pop and Rock awards (now The Brits) presented Leo with Best Male Artist (of 1978) , and Leo and Janice bought a house in Kensington and settled into a briefly comfortable London lifestyle. It seemed that Leo had truly arrived at the pinnacle of his success, but he had little time to enjoy it. Cracks had started to appear in Leo and Janice’s much publicised inseparable lifestyle too, and financial pressures meant Leo soon had to go off and work all of the far-reaching world markets he now appealed to.
He travelled through the Far East: Thailand, Singapore, and Japan. He played in South Africa, to black audiences in the townships as well as at Sun City. Leo played the Las Vegas, Reno, Lake Tahoe and Atlantic City casinos, in the US, with a big orchestra added to him and his band, and co-headlining the showrooms with the likes of Bill Cosby. Leo found it impossible to dislike the Nevada lifestyle, and while there was inducted as a deputy Sheriff at Virginia City.
1980 bought a welcome return to the charts with a hit single, “More Than I Can Say”, a classic song written by Jerry Alison and Sonny Curtis from Buddy Holly’s backing group The Crickets, and originally recorded by Bobby Vee. It went to No.2 in the US and British charts. The song came from the “Living In A Fantasy” album, produced and co written by a new partner for Leo, Alan Tarney. Alan created for Leo an entirely new sound, the most surprising element being that Alan also played all of the instruments except for Trevor Spencer’s drums. Also with Alan Tarney, Leo wrote a hit song “Dreaming” for Cliff Richard. It reached No.8 in the U.K. charts in August 1980.
Leo moved back to Los Angeles in 1982, to work with Arif Mardin, famed musical arranger and producer of Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack and The Bee Gees. They recorded the album in two locations, Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles and at the fabled Atlantic Studios in New York City. A single from the album “Have You Ever Been In Love” by English writers, Andy Hill and Pete Sinfield, was yet another worldwide hit. Barry and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees especially for Leo wrote the epic “Heart Stop Beating In Time”, and Dave Courtney and Leo co-wrote (yet again!) four entirely new tracks, including the title song, “World Radio”.
While still keeping up his workaholic-touring schedule, Leo somehow found time to be all over the airwaves at the same time. He hosted two more self-titled T.V. series for the B.B.C. during 1983 and 1984. He appeared on talk shows, television specials and music shows as diverse as Des O’Connor, Michael Parkinson, The Two Ronnies, Captain and Tenille, Kenny Everett, Dinah Shore, Les Dawson, Julie Andrews and Perry Como. He co–hosted Solid Gold in America with Dionne Warwick. In England he had his own show on Radio 1. He got heavily into Formula 1 motor racing, even driving Niki Lauda’s McLaren alongside Niki’s team – mate John Watson at Silverstone for the BBC. He followed the Grand Prix circus around the world, striking up friendships with many leading drivers, from Ayrton Senna to Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill. The inevitable pressures of showbusiness were starting to take their toll. In 1985 Leo sadly split up with Janice. The news soon followed that the couple were to be divorced. Leo then split with Adam Faith and the British newspapers started to home in on the apparently acrimonious end to one of British pop’s most enduring partnerships.
Leo said nothing and carried on working, but a new musical direction was to prove difficult to achieve. After years of relying on others, he was now entirely writing, playing and producing his own music; he had his own studio and was trying to run his own career from his own offices. It didn’t work! In 1986 Leo found a new partner, Italian Donatella Piccinetti (who now exclusively manages and represents him worldwide). The career difficulties continued, however. In 1987 he had split up with his long time record company Chrysalis and was actively pursuing a new record deal.
In 1991, a group calling themselves The Groove Generation hit the UK charts with a 90’s style re-working of Leo’s classic “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” - featuring Leo himself. This opened up an entirely new market to Leo and he started appearing in discos and at University dances and balls throughout the U.K. to a younger crowd, who now thought he was the epitome of chic. The seventies revival had started, with Leo being one of the great pace setters.The Sun kept on flying the flag for Leo and soon the much awaited comeback of Leo Sayer became a media and music business reality. His music was featured in TV commercials for the AA and Mars and his face featured in adverts for Pentax cameras.
Leo saw in the new millennium 2000 with an extraordinary show in South Africa from the Blue Train at a mystery location in the middle of the African desert. In February 2000 “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” was featured in the hit movie “Charlie’s Angels” – the accompanying soundtrack album entering the U.S. charts at no.5 and the movie becoming a huge hit all over the world in theatres and on video during the millennium year.
In 2002 Leo gathered together songs he’d been working on in his own studio and headed off to Jutland, Denmark to record “Voice In My Head”. The album was recorded at an amazing rural facility called Lungaard Studios, and Leo stayed at the studio for almost 6 months to complete the recording. It was a big project, his first studio recording in over ten years and the first album he’d ever produced. Strings were recorded in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and mastering was completed in Devon, England. The album was a truly international production, featuring musicians from all over the world and was first released on Edel Records in Germany in 2004.
In 2005 Leo was preparing to fulfil a lifetime ambition, to live in Australia, when he received a request from a UK DJ to remix his 1977 classic “Thunder In My Heart”. Beautifully re-worked, “Thunder In My Heart Again” by DJ Meck became a monster dance hit all over the world, and in — Leo had his third official UK No.1.
By this time Leo was settling into his new life in Sydney, Australia, but flew back to the UK to promote the single. There was a storm of publicity and attention, and he was reported to be more surprised than anyone to be lip-synching to a vocal he had recorded thirty years before! Back in Australia, ABC Records had released “Voice In My Head” and now supported by a superb band of top Australian musicians, Leo was selling out concerts across the country. They recorded a live concert from Melbourne’s Hamer Hall in 2006 and this was added to “Voice” in a limited edition double CD. August 2006 saw Leo joining the cream of Australia’s rock and pop acts on the Countdown Spectacular tour of Australia. This was to celebrate and re-enact live the famous TV show, on which Leo made many appearances from 1974 until it finished in the late 90’s.
Leo continued touring Australia until January 2007 when he returned to London for the Celebrity Big Brother TV show, but he was plainly uncomfortable on the set and actually broke out after serving only nine days of his ‘sentence’. Almost as soon as he left there was international controversy after racist taunts threatened to see the show taken off the air. Leo was happy to return to Australia and marked this with a successful stint at The Crown Towers in Melbourne, and appearances on a series of “Spirit Of The Bush” interstate charity concerts to aid Australia’s drought stricken farming community. Throughout the year there were many notable performances down under including a guest appearance with The Wiggles, the perennial children’s TV entertainers and one of Australia’s most successful exports. Leo and the boy’s performance of “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” is the title track of the latest Wiggles DVD and CD.
In November 2007 Garth Porter came to Leo with a plan for a new album. Garth, best known as the keyboard player with Sherbet, Australia’s most successful pop group, was now a top record producer. He’d heard Leo singing quietly backstage on The Countdown Spectacular and asked Leo if he felt like making an album featuring that voice in a sophisticated new setting. The two embarked on “Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow” that December, starting recording just before Christmas 2007. The album’s lush tones and stylish re-workings of Leo’s most popular songs mark a special milestone in Leo’s long running and continuously evolving career. Later in the year, the album’s orchestral scenario was featured in two concerts at the State Theatre, Sydney, and Melbourne’s Hamer Hall, Leo performing onstage accompanied by 25 musicians. In December Leo flew to Dublin, Ireland for a live New Year’s performance on RTE TV’s Ryan Tubridy Show.
On January 25th 2009, Leo became an Australian Citizen in Canberra. The occasion was marked by a concert where Leo performed on the lake to huge crowds and fireworks. The year saw Leo performing on tour across Australia with his dynamic four piece band, culminating in sold out shows at Sydney’s Basement and Melbourne’s Crown Showroom. 2010 started dramatically for Leo, with him headlining a huge free concert for Australia Day on the water in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. His performance was watched by 150,000 people live, and many more on national TV. Later that year Leo traveled to Europe for a series of live shows, in June re-visiting Britain for an arena tour titled: “Once In A Lifetime”, where he shared the bill with David Essex, The Osmonds, and The Bay City Rollers.
The Show Must Go On!