Interviews

Leroy Burgess

We caught up with disco icon ahead of the Groove Odyssey 7th Birthday Party.
 

This Saturday 12th November, Ministry of Sound is hosting the Groove Odyssey 7th Birthday Party


Over the past seven years, Groove Odyssey have proved themselves masterful musical curators, putting together peerless events with precision attention to detail and rising to become the premier soulful house night in London. Their 7th birthday bash at Ministry is set to be massive with a stellar line up, and joining Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez and Bobby & GO residents Steve in The Box, will be soul and boogie legend, the one and only Leroy Burgess.

Leroy Burgess is a brilliantly enigmatic singer, song writer, producer, and musician, well known to soul, boogie, disco and soulful house fans alike, with his disco / boogie productions a direct forerunner to NY garage and house. From his early career as lead vocalist in Black Ivory, to working as vocalist for Aleem, his Salsoul project Logg, and as a solo artist, Leroy Burgess has written, produced, sung, and played keyboards on some of dance musics’ finest moments. Ahead of Saturday’s party, we caught up with Mr Burgess to chat about his his music and his career.


Your first record came out when you were just seventeen years old, when you were part of Black Ivory (formerly Mellow Sounds). Was music something you took seriously at that point or was it just something you enjoyed?

Music itself has been a part of my life since I was two or three years old. It ran in my family. Mom was a classically trained contralto, her cousin was writer/producer Thom Bell and my own cousins were the Bell / Bayyan brothers from Kool & The Gang. I started singing at three and playing piano at four. So, yes… it was serious from the start.



While you were in Black Ivory, you got an RnB Top 40 with the track “Don’t Turn Around”, but then decided to leave the band. Did you find this liberating or daunting, given that you had to build a name for yourself again?

After the release of “Don’tTurn Around” in 1970, I remained with the group for a further 7 years and three further albums, before leaving to discover my own artistic identity. It was less about getting a name for myself than discovering exactly ‘who’ myself was and is. I have since rejoined Black Ivory, in 1995, and in 2011 we released our 7th studio album, Continuum.


Since then, you’ve worked under a lot of different pseudonyms, most notably Convertion and Logg. Now it’s pretty common for artists to work under a pseudonym because they’re heading in a different direction or want to start putting out a different style of music – is this something that you can relate to or is there a different reason behind it?

My personal identity aside, I have always been an advocate for my partners, friends and family, who blessed me with their input and influence in the vast majority of my work. I always thought to include them and their contributions, over my own. Hence, the different group names.


Now there’s not a lot you haven’t turned your hand to; you can write, produce, sing, play the keyboard… Do you find yourself drawn to one particular role or prefer to have a hand in everything?

It’s all music to me. All art. All wonderful. Any part I can play is cool. Composing, arranging, producing, playing and singing are all elements of a musical ‘whole’… each aspect benefitting it. I strive to do each to the best of my ability.



You’ve just had a Traxsource number one with Opolopo’s remix of “Barely Breaking Even”, which was originally released back in 1982. At what stage of your life were you at when you originally dropped that track?

The original song was created in 1982/83, an idea from the mind of my late cousin, Aaron (Sonny) T. Davenport. The lead and background vocals for the Opolopo remake were created in 1988 (commissioned by Bobby and Steve Laviniere). It’s hard to put a label on it. Let’s just say I was in a stage of continually evolving creativity.


What’s it like hearing one of your songs, recorded over thirty years ago, gain so much more attention and be brought to the ears of many new listeners?

Gratifying. I’d always hoped that my work could have a timeless quality and be well appreciated, as years pass. I endeavour to instil these qualities into all of my work… so that generations far removed from my own can still identify with and enjoy it.


The song was also reproduced on an album commissioned by Bobby & Steve’s Zoo Experience Records, who will also be performing at Groove Odyssey on 12th November. How did that come about?

In 1987, I got a conference call from London at my home. On the phone were the Laviniere twins and Lloyd Bertram (I think). They proposed a six tune Extended Play project, which included remakes of “Over Like A Fat Rat” and “Barely Breakin’ Even”. Although I’d never met them, I was intrigued and quite honestly ‘charmed’ into participating, by THEIR excitement. We worked out the terms, executed the contracts and thus, began what has become a friendship, partnership and brotherhood that would endure for 29 years… and counting.


Is there anything that you’re working on at the moment that we should look out for in the coming year?

New work will be shortly forthcoming.. including collaborations with Kenny Carpenter, Louie Vega and my mentor, Patrick Adams.


And, finally, can you let us in on one song you’re going to do for us on 12th November?

Suffice it to say, the program will be a journey through 47 years of music.. condensed into 45 minutes or so. Sorry… no spoilers. I think everybody will be very happy though.


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More Interviews:

In Conversation With Jazzy B And Opolopo

We Asked Claude VonStroke Some Pretty Serious Questions

Keeping Momentum: Talking With Matthias Tanzmann


Written by Harold Heath

11 Nov 2016