Happy birthday to Leon Sylvers III

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    Happy birthday to the great Leon Sylvers III, born March 7, 1953

    The history of the greatest eras of R&B music is a study of the emergence of cities teeming with talent and vision. The sounds of Detroit and Memphis in the 60s gave way to the Philly sound of the 1970s. But as the 70s turned into the 80s, the center of R&B music moved west – way west – to the emerging Sound of Los Angeles. And no one was more responsible for the burst of brilliant music in the early 80s than Leon Sylvers III.

    Happy birthday to the great Leon Sylvers III, born March 7, 1953

    The history of the greatest eras of R&B music is a study of the emergence of cities teeming with talent and vision. The sounds of Detroit and Memphis in the 60s gave way to the Philly sound of the 1970s. But as the 70s turned into the 80s, the center of R&B music moved west – way west – to the emerging Sound of Los Angeles. And no one was more responsible for the burst of brilliant music in the early 80s than Leon Sylvers III.

    Born in Memphis before moving to the Watts section of L.A. as a child, Sylvers was a musical prodigy as a child, and he and siblings Olympia, James and Charmaine made waves nationally as the child singing group The Little Angels. By the time he was a teen, he became a self-taught bass guitar whiz (modeled after his musical hero, Motown’s James Jamerson), and a solid songwriter. By then there were six Sylvers siblings performing together, and they were signed to MGM Records, where they recorded three albums (mostly written by Leon), with hits like “Fools Paradise” and “With That I Could Talk to You.” Separately, Leon also wrote the top 10 hit “Misdemeanor” for his brother Foster’s solo debut.

    The Sylvers were signed to Capitol Records and teamed with former Motown producer Freddie Perrin, who guided them to a string of top 10 hits like “Boogie Fever” and “High School Dance.” However, a struggle for control of their musical style with Capitol, combined with internal friction in the group, led to Leon departing in 1978 and signing with emerging L.A. label SOLAR Records as a largely in-house songwriter and producer.

    SOLAR’s move was prescient, as Leon Sylvers would arguably develop into the most important producer of the next half decade, creating a seemingly endless stream of now-classic songs on the label for The Whispers, Shalamar, Lakeside, Carrie Lucas, Midnight Star, and his own band, Dynasty. One couldn’t turn on a radio in 1982 without hearing hits like “And The Beat Goes On,” “The Second Time Around,” “Fantastic Voyage,” and countless others.

    Sylvers also helped artists outside the SOLAR fold, taking Gladys Knight & The Pips to #1 with “Save The Overtime for Me,” and scoring with Evelyn “Champagne” King, Glenn Jones and Five Star. He also mentored future superproducers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, bringing them in to work with the SOS Band while they were still members of The Time.

    As the 80s wound down, Sylvers’ production also slowed. NextGen producer Teddy Riley brought Sylvers in to help on Blackstreet’s song “Before I Let You Go,” as well as on Riley projects with New Kids on the Block and Guy.

    Sylvers was largely silent early in the 2000s, but showed his production chops again on the criminally underappreciated Pink Elephant by N’Dambi, one of 2009s best albums. His has continued to appear from time to time on other independent projects since then. In addition, his work from his Imperial Period has found an audience among hip-hop artists, who have liberally sampled Sylvers’ work, giving it new life decades later and with a new generation of fans, another testament to the brilliance of his staggeringly strong discography.

    By Chris Rizik

     
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