The Story and Music of Leon Haywood

Introduction to Leon Haywood

Leon Haywood (born in 1942 in Houston, Texas) is an American funk/soul singer-songwriter and keyboardist, as well as record producer whose works were prominent during the 70s music era. Haywood moved to Los Angeles, California during the early 1960s, having toured and recorded with saxophonist Big Jay McNeely, who also did arrangements for Haywood’s recording for his first single “Without a Love”. He and McNeely’s band also joined Sam Cooke as a backup group. In the mid-1960s, Haywood scored his first charting single “She’s With Her Other Love,” which made dents on both Hot 100 pop and R&B charts. After a few minor hits, Haywood finally hit it big with “I Want’a Do Something Freaky To You”. He achieved his biggest R&B hit with “Don’t Push It, Don’t Force It” which also crossed over to the dance chart in 1980. Into the 1980s he then eased out of singing and ventured into writing and producing, having written the hit song for Carl Carlton, “She’s A Bad Mama Jama” in 1981, and produced records of other artists on his own label.

Early Years

Leon Haywood was born Otha Leon Haywood on February 11, 1942 in Houston, Texas. As a child, Haywood grew up listening to blues and learned how to play the piano. When he reached his teens, he joined a local band and worked with the blues musician Guitar Slim. Moving to Los Angeles, California in the early 1960’s, he was able to work with saxophonist Big Jay McNeely who helped record his debut single “Without a Love” on Swingin’ imprint, a small record label. Later that time, he worked for Sam Cooke as the band’s keyboardist.

Haywood’s peak of his career

By 1965, Haywood signed a contract with Fantasy Records where he recorded a couple of unnoticeable singles. Not long thereafter, he switched to Imperial Records. From there, he recorded “She’s with Her Other Love” which charted at on the R&B charts at #13. In 1967, he moved to Decca Records and released the singles “It’s Got to Be Mellow” and “Mellow Moonlight.” The former was a minor hit, reaching #21 on the R&B chart, while the former did not make any commercial impact. In the same year, he founded a production company Evejim which he named after his parents. Harry took a recess from making records at the same time.

After a long hiatus, Haywood returned to the recording studio in 1974. By this time, he was signed to 20th Century Records. Things started to click when he issued “I Want’a Do Something Freaky to You” in 1975. The single was his first big hit which peaked at #7 and #15 on Billboard the pop and R&B singles charts, respectively.

From early 1976 to early 1980, Haywood continued to release singles but they were barely notable. However, he had another hit single in March 1980 called “Don’t Push It, Don’t Force It” which reached #2 on the R&B and #49 on pop charts. In the UK, it made to  #12 on the singles chart.

Later career

In 1981, Barry achieved his biggest hit as a songwriter with “She’s a Bad Mama Jama” performed by Carl Carlton. It made to #22 and #2 on the Billboard pop and R&B charts respectively. Between the years 1980 and 1983, Barry had been writing songs for other artists like Saint Tropez and Jerry Knight. In 1983, he issued the LP It’s Me Agai. Another album had been recorded in 1984 called Now and Then but it was never released. In the mid 80’s, several singles from labels Casablanca and Modern were released but these did not charted at all. In the late 80’s Barry finally refrained from releasing records and as a producer on the Edge Records.