Born: June 23, 1953 Primary Instrument: Vocalist
“I started thinking about doing my first solo album ten years ago, and even then I really wanted it to be a Jazz record. Over the years, I’ve written certain songs that felt were right for a jazz-flavoured album but I just didn’t feel that I was ready, either vocally or experience-wise...” So speaks Leee John, world-renowned recording artist and performer best known as the lead singer for Imagination, the internationally popular pop, dance and soul team whose sales of CDs, albums, singles, videos and DVDs now exceeds some twenty-million copies, starting with the double gold LPs “Body Talk” and “In The Heat Of The Night” and encompassing the classic hits “Just An Illusion,” “Music And Lights” and “Changes.”
Time has passed and, with a slew of recent credits that include a starring role in the popular 2003 ITV show, “Reborn In The USA,” Leee John � who has written songs for such artists as MOBO winner Pete Hunnigale, Maxi Priest, Alison Limerick and Ultimate Chaos among others, and has worked with top producers and musicians including Frankie Knuckles, Arthur Baker, Nick Martinelli, David Morales, Tony Humphries and Mike Pickering - has deemed himself ready for that first all-important solo set. The result is the brilliantly-crafted “Feel My Soul,” released on Candid Records. “I wanted to be with a label that understood the kind of music I’m doing with this album, a company that understood my musical direction and didn’t require me to compromise…”
Recorded entirely in Rochfort, France (the location for the 1967 Gene Kelly cult movie, “Les Demoiselles de Rochfort”) with the co-production team of Eric Debegue, Francois Gaucher and arrangements by Leee, “Feel My Soul” is truly a musical tour-de-force featuring Leee’s highly-expressive reading of classic standards such as Billie Holiday’s haunting “Strange Fruit,” “Embraceable You,” and Cole Porter’s “Someone To Watch Over Me,” along with exciting original material including the standout opening cut, “Sensuality,” the cool’n’hip “Jazzmatazz,” “Now Is The Time (C’est Le Moment)” and “Thin Line.”
Released on Candid Records, the musical home for such quality artists as Jamie McCallum, “Feel My Soul” is Leee John’s most personal and intimate work, revealing a new level of vocal artistry and competence long-known to music industry insiders but only recently being given full reign. “The truth is that I’ve always had an affinity for Jazz and there’s a jazzy influence in my music. You can even hear it on early Imagination records. On the first Imagination album, I’m scatting on the song “Tell Me Do You Want My Love.” All the people who’ve grown with me over the years won’t be surprised at the kind of album I chose to make as my first solo record.”
Featuring musical accompaniment from Leee’s longtime musical director John Watson on keyboards, and Dave Mansell on brass, alongside talented French musicians Stephane Huchard (drums), Stephane Kerechi (bass) and Jean-Noel Goddard (percussion), “Feel My Soul” was recorded ‘live’ in the studio with engineers Dee Vaz and Ludovic Guichard. The sessions were filmed by director Stephane Peyrolo for an accompanying DVD which includes additional recordings not included on the final album, interviews and other bonus material.
For Leee, the timing for making the record was just right: “After doing the ‘Reborn In The USA’ tour (with Elkie Brooks, Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet fame and Peter Cox from Go West among others), I was ready to do my solo project and everyone thought it would be a soul album. I’d even recorded songs like (The Temptations), ‘Just My Imagination’ and ‘Betcha By Golly Wow,’ but I just knew I had to follow my heart…and that meant doing this record, a record that allows audiences to see me as I am and incorporates all that I’ve learned musically and what I have to offer vocally. I was fortunate in working with the French production company M6 to be given carte-blanche to do whatever I wanted creatively and while it was the most challenging experience I’ve ever had as a recording artist. It was also my biggest ‘high.’ I was given the chance to truly breathe musically...”
Choosing what would comprise the final line-up on “Feel My Soul” was equally challenging for Leee, known for his dynamic and energetic onstage performances. “The songs on the album had to be there not just because I loved them but also because I ‘felt’ them and could show different variations musically.”
Regarding some of key tracks on “Feel My Soul,” Leee notes, “Well, the song ‘Small World’ (from the musical ‘Gypsy’) was one I heard when my Mum used to play the version by Johnny Mathis when I was growing up in London. The song has a certain innocence to it. I wanted to show I could be more percussive with my voice which is why I did ‘Embraceable You’ the way I did. ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ was a song that I discovered through the wealth of material that’s been done in various musicals. The song ‘Flamingo Blue’ is an original tune I co-wrote with my MD, John Watson and it was meant for the film of the same name for which I did a cameo appearance in 2002. We wanted to do a song that captured the feel of the ‘40s. ‘Jazzmatazz’ is a tribute to all the jazz greats � Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan and so on. I’d say the songs I wrote for the album are personal. ‘Thin Line’ is written from a man’s point of view in a relationship. I got the chance to be more of a storyteller, more a lyrical poet, and that’s something I didn’t really get to do with Imagination.”
“The title track for the new record sends people back to where I came from musically and I worked on it with Tony Swain who produced the group’s early hits. Of the other original material, we have ‘You Never Know’ which is kind of coy lyrically, all about what goes on when you’re flirting and dating and you don’t know how everything’s going to turn out. ‘Now Is The Time’ is a very important song to me. It has a simple, positive message and I think it has a little of the old sound of Imagination but brought forward and updated.”
Of everything he recorded for “Feel My Spirit,” Leee says recording Billie Holiday’s ‘40s signature tune “Strange Fruit,” with its references to the ugly side of racism, was emotionally tough. “I took on doing this classic with a sense of pride. I wanted to make a contribution as a British black music artist. For almost everything we did on the album, we did three or four different approaches and recording takes. But ‘Strange Fruit’ was done in one take, and when the musicians stopped playing, we all just sat in the studio in complete silence. Singing songs like this requires a different discipline, but at the same time it’s been such a liberating experience for me…”
“Feel My Soul” opens up a new musical chapter for Leee John who first formed Imagination in 1981 with bassist Ashley Ingram and drummer Errol Kennedy. Born in London, Leee spent some of his formative years in New York, exposed to the R&B and soul music of the ‘70s. He signed his first record deal as part of a duo with family friend Russell Fraser but it was after working with Grammy award-winning producer Trevor Horn on the track “Got To Be Good” with his new group Imagination that Leee came to the attention of producer Tony Swain who encouraged Leee to complete the lyrics and melody for the song “Body Talk” which would become Imagination’s first Top 5 single.
Subsequently, Imagination recorded seven albums, toured the world and established itself as one of the most popular dance, funk/soul and pop acts in contemporary music throughout the ‘80s. By 1991, the original line-up had changed although Leee continued to tour globally throughout the ‘90s and beyond (with stops in India, Sri Lanka, Angola, South Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, Russia and France) in the process hosting his own British television chat show, “Leee’s Place.”
Leee also worked with producer Arthur Baker on his Back Beat Disciple album “Give Into The Rhythm,” and scored a major dance club hit in the UK and US in 1996 with the anthem “The Mighty Power Of Love.” In 1997, using the pseudonym Johnny X, Leee enjoyed another UK dance hit with “Call On Me” and he ended the decade as a roving reporter and interviewer for VH1 as well as performing throughout the UK and France.
Leee’s acting credits include roles in “Dr. Who,” “The Chinese Detective” and “Stepping Out,” and he has appeared in the musical “The Hot Mikado,” performed in Tahiti. He starred in “Reborn In The USA” which took him from coast-to-coast in America on sold-out shows in major U.S. cities. The recipient of numerous silver, gold and platinum discs, and a Diamond Award, Leee’s list of career accomplishments includes performances for Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, dinner at the home of Nelson Mandela, and a rare “Soul Train” appearance in which he sang to the legendary Marvin Gaye.
His ever-popular group, Imagination, catapulted Leee to international recognition and fame in the early ‘80s with the major hit, “Just An Illusion”, which was recently sampled by Mariah Carey as part of a duet with rapper Nelly for her multi-platinum 2005 album, “The Emancipation Of Mimi.”
But for all that he’s achieved in a career notable for its consistency and longevity, Leee is most proud of his much-anticipated solo debut, “Feel My Soul,” released on Candid Records. “A whole new world is opening up for me in doing this album and I’ve already started doing shows with this music. In some ways, I feel like I’m ‘walking the plank’ because I don’t know how people will respond and I know some might say that if I’ve spent my career in pop music, I don’t have the right to be doing jazz. But I’ve paid my dues musically. I’m walking through a new door, and I’m singing with more confidence than ever.”
Bold, creative, and a musically-satisfying experience, “Feel My Soul” is just the start of a new and exciting chapter for Leee John, ever a pioneer, as he steps out with a compelling album that is intimate and truly made with heart -- and much soul.
Feel My Sould
Record Label: Candid
Year Released in US: 2008
Tracks: Sensuality; Now Is The Time; The Thin Line; Embraceable You; Feel My Spirit; Someone To Watch Over Me; Jazzamatazz; Flamingo Blue; U Never Know; Small World; Strange Fruit; Jazzamatazz (Funk Version); Now Is The Time (C'est Le Moment).
Personnel: Leee John (Vocals, Author, Composer); Dr Watson (Piano, Composer); Stephane Huchard (drums); Stephane Kerechi (bass); Noel Godard(percussion); Dave Mansell (brass).
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