This Christian Artist Started His Career With His Own Funk Band ala Sly & The Family Stone? By Philip Mayabb
When I first began listening to Contemporary Christian music in the late 70s, there were several different things I liked about the genre. I like the fact that it sounded like pop music (to this day, I STILL don't do country music), I really liked the idea of singing about other subjects than just the impending return of Jesus to earth, and going home to Heaven (I grew up on Southern Gospel music), and one of my favorite things about CCM was that there were several different artists who had been in the mainstream (or secular, as it was known then) music industry before accepting the Lord as their personal savior.
We can all think of someone who fits the final category that I just mentioned - people like BJ Thomas, Dan Peek, Maria Muldaur, Mark Farner, Mylon LeFevre, Joe English, and that's just a few, but one my favorite (and most underrated) artists to jump ship to Christian music is the artist of this week's Vinyl Revival LP, and his name is Leon Patillo. Now anyone who listened to both Christian and non-Christian music in the mid 70s probably knows Leon's history. He began his professional musical career in the late 60s with his own group called (appropriately) Leon's Creation. Their musical style was in the funk vein, similar to Sly & The Family Stone. After dissolving the group, Leon continued to work with other established artists on the west coast, until he landed a rather prestigious gig in 1973. The Latin rock supergroup Santana had some openings available, due to the departure of guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie, who both left to form Journey. Being a keyboardist and singer himself, Leon tried out for, and got the gig to play with Santana, putting him on the road to instant fame and fortune (Santana was still a very big deal back then). He would hold the job with Santana until 1979, but left for personal reasons. Here's how Leon's own website describes it...
When Leon was singing with the Latin rock and roll group, Santana, he would look out into the vast crowds of nameless, faceless people filling the auditorium—some coming just to party, some to be entertained, and some because it was the concert to attend. But some, Leon felt, were coming with heavy hearts, questioning their lives and searching for answers. At the height of his pop career with Santana, Leon left the group with a burning desire to satisfy those hungering hearts with music that would make a difference in their lives.*
After leaving the rock and roll world for an uncertain career path in Christian music, Leon signed a one album deal with Maranatha! Records, and released his first solo album called Dance Children Dance in 1979. The album did fairly well commercially, and although it may have sold far fewer copies than the two LPs Leon had recorded with Santana, Dance performed fairly well on the emerging CCM radio scene, with three of the albums song's hitting the charts. Ultimately, the album was heard and liked by someone at Word Records, and they signed Leon to a multi-record deal with the biggest label in the industry, Myrrh. In 1981, Leon Patillo released his second album, called Don't Give In, and once more, he hit paydirt on radio and with the fans, despite the BOLD move of recording a pair of mainstream classics - Jackie Wilson's You Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher, and George Harrison's My Sweet Lord on his sophomore LP. He then came back in 1982 with his third (and my personal favorite) album called I'll Never Stop Lovin' You, which is the album we are listening to this week.
My personal preference when it comes to pop music has always been adult contemporary music, which is exactly the sound of this album, some songs are even borderline smooth jazz, which I also love. I was 16 years old when I bought the cassette of this LP, and proceeded to wear it out. I had never owned one of Leon Patillo's albums prior to this one, although I had loved hearing songs like Star Of The Morning and Temple To The Sky on the radio. Leon Patillo possesses one of the smoothest voices I believe I have ever heard, which plays perfectly into the music on this album. I am so happy that he got tired of singing Black Magic Woman, and stepped over to our side, because his voice is just so superb, I honestly think I would enjoy him singing a capella. I'll Never Stop Lovin' You continued his success on radio, with the title song, John 3:17, and Cornerstone all becoming chart hits on CCM radio. To this day, I still believe that the pairing of music and vocal ability were one of the biggest reasons that Leon Patillo was so successful on radio in the early 80s, because they matched so well. Sometimes when a rock vocalist tries to sing a mellow pop tune, it can sound kind of weird, because you don't expect that type of voice to sing that type of song, and it's the same way with a pop singer trying to belt out a hard rocker - unless they're spot on with those vocals, it just isn't believable. In the case of this album though, voice and music are the perfect complement to each other, and adds to the enjoyment factor of the album.
Even though most of the music is soft and easy going, there are a couple of tracks, those being Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord and Saved that actually do have some get up and go to them, with an upbeat tempo that will make you want to clap along. One very interesting note is that Carlos Santana actually plays the guitar solos on both Saved and the title song I'll Never Stop Lovin' You, which not only adds a little name recognition, but it is a small throwback to Leon's days in rock and roll. I must say that even though everybody knows Mr. Santana as a fiery type of guitarist with a Latin tinge to his playing, he actually lays down a very good smooth jazz solo on the title track, and it impressed when I actually discovered that He Had both played on this album, and helped Leon write the closing tune, called River, which happens to be one of my favorite tracks on LP. The rest of the guitar playing on the record came courtesy of Paul Jackson Jr., who is one of the smooth jazz industry's premier guitarists, so you can see where some of the musical influence on this album came from. The album also sports some mid-tempo stuff (John 3:17, Cornerstone, and the title track), and has some outstanding ballads as well (Praise Ye The Lord, I Surrender, Rise And Be Healed, and River), balancing the music perfectly.But for me personally, it still comes back to Leon Patillo's voice as one of the main reasons I still enjoy this album, now 37 years after its initial release. I've always enjoyed vocalists who can sing songs of all types with seemingly little effort, and that is exactly what Leon does. His delivery is spot on, there aren't a lot of volume changes as he goes through each of these songs. It's as if he's found the groove in the studio, and stays in it from start to finish on this LP.
It's sad that most fans remember so little about Leon Patillo - he continued to have a flourishing CCM career into the late 80s, changing record labels to Sparrow in 1987, and while most folks remember his unique, one man concerts, in which he would create all of the music on keyboards, in my book Leon Patillo possessed one of the finest voices I've ever heard on a Christian recording, male or female. It's unfortunate that more fans don't remember him for his outstanding voice, and ability to carry a song from start to finish. What even more unfortunate to me is that top notch singers like him are seldom, if ever, heard from on traditional Christian radio stations any more, which is probably a lot of the reason why so many veteran CCM artists produce very little new work. Nonetheless, we are pleased as can be to present one of the finest voices in CCM history on Vinyl Revival this week, and if you are reading this blog, and thinking man, I forgot about Leon Patillo, I encourage you to find the time to listen to this terrific recording, and rediscover just how good his voice and music really were, and still are today for that matter.
Side 1 -
1. John 3:17 (Leon Patillo)
2. Cornerstone (Leon Patiilo)
3. Praise Ye The Lord (Jerry Peters)
4. Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord (Leon Patillo)
5. I Surrender (Leon Patillo)
Side 2 -
1. I'll Never Stop Lovin' You (Leon Patillo)
2. Rise And Be Healed (featuring Lynn Davis) (Leon Patillo)
3. Saved (Leon Patillo)
4. River (Leon Patillo & Carlos Santana)
back to list