Rockin’ You Eternally: The Leon Ware & Marcos Valle Story
by Allen Thayer
“All the roots of the samba and rhythm & blues and soul are the same: Black,” Marcos Valle explained from his home in Rio de Janeiro on the subject of his short, but fruitful songwriting partnership with R&B journeyman, Leon Ware, circa 1979 to 1982. “When we started to write, we found how easy it was, and at the same time how new it was, combining the feeling I had and the feeling he had.” This unlikely partnership only yielded one popular hit, Marcos Valle’s 1983 Brazilian smash “Estrelar,” among the ten or so quiet storm, modern soul, and boogie gems the two composed together. The album that launched “Estrelar,” Marcos Valle’s self-titled 1983 album for Som Livre will see a reissue during the second half of 2017 courtesy of Norway’s Preservation Records. During my interview with Marcos about this album, it occurred to me that the story of their partnership and friendship was still untold…
In the twilight of the ’70s, Marcos Valle and Leon Ware found each other amidst the swirling social and musical circles of Los Angeles, California. Marcos was escaping the repressive Brazilian dictatorship, looking for creative freedom and a funky scene to write some new music, ideally somewhere he could also surf. Leon Ware was still working his sultry and sophisticated quiet storm soul that he pioneered with his triumphant collaboration with Marvin Gaye on the latter’s I Want You album, but always on the lookout for fresh sources of inspiration.
Marcos arrived in L.A. at the right time, just as Brazilian rhythms found their most universal and widespread exposure as sonic accents on countless songs from jazz to soul to funk to pop, for example Earth Wind & Fire’s “Brazilian Rhyme” or Paulinho da Costa’s prominent percussion on Michael Jackson’s breakout hit, “Can’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.” I can just imagine the monster hit Leon should have had with an English language version of “Estrelar” had he recorded and included it on his self-titled 1982 album . . . His obituary in Rolling Stone is touching and fitting his stature, but it completely ignores this fruitful phase when he wrote songs with the Brazilian pop-soul wunderkind, Marcos Valle, and arguably his best records featuring their joint compositions: “Rockin’ You Eternally,” “Baby Don’t Stop Me,” “Deeper Than Love,” and the song that started it all, “Love Is a Simple Thing.”
By dumb luck or a virtue of the tight-knight world of L.A. musicians, a demo Marcos Valle recorded of this song (with lyrics by Robert Lamm of Chicago) found it’s way to Leon, most likely through Marcos’s composition teacher Spud Murphy who also knew Leon. Leon fell in love with the song and recorded it for his 1979 album Inside Is Love and was so pleased with the final product he felt compelled to track down Marcos to meet the songwriter and play him his own version of the tune.
“When I heard the recording, I said, ‘That’s perfect, that’s beautiful. I love it,’” Marcos says over WhatsApp from his home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “And then he said, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t call you earlier,’ and I said, ‘No, I’m glad that you did it by yourself because it sounds so great.’ Then after that, he said, ‘why don’t we try to write some songs together?’ I said, ‘Look, I would love that, Leon, because Black music is one of the biggest influences on my music since I was a kid and the music of Marvin Gaye, and now I know how many songs you have done together and produced together are some of the songs I love, like “I Want You,” so, let’s do it.’ We got together and we started to write and at that same time we became very good friends because we would be together many, many times writing and then recording the songs, one by one, and I was also playing the piano on the demos and then the recordings. This is exactly what I was hoping for, so L.A. turned out to be a really good decision.”
For those unfamiliar with Marcos’s career, this wasn’t his first time living in the U.S. Marcos Valle’s late-period bossa nova classic, “Summer Samba (So Nice),” opened the doors to a U.S. career for the twenty-something carioca back in the mid-’60s. An English language version by Astrud Gilberto and Walter Wanderley’s roller-rink bossa cover led to greater exposure, a live performance with Andy Williams on his TV show and even a stint touring the U.S. with Sergio Mendes’s embryonic Brazil ’65 combo, but saudade (homesickness) for his home town and his promising domestic musical momentum kept him from staying in the U.S. for long. “In 1975, I decided to go to the USA again. I didn’t have any contract, nothing. It was different from the previous times I had gone to the United States when I had “Summer Samba” and all of the television shows and everything. This time, no, in 1975, I decided to go there to make a change, because in Brazil we still had a military dictatorship and that was a problem because of the censorship of the songs’ lyrics and all of those things started to give me sadness and made me not want to perform anymore. I didn’t know how long I would stay in the United States, I just went.”
Marcos stayed in New York City for the better part of a year as the guest of friend and countryman, Eumir Deodato, who even recorded Marcos NYC composition,
“Adam’s Hotel.” Paraphrasing Fred Neil from “Everybody’s Talkin’” Marcos split for Los Angeles “where the weather suited his clothes” and recreational activities, most notably surfing. “It’s funny because when you go to the beach you are among the surfers and there’s an international way of being a surfer, everybody has the same way of talking, the same ideas, the same happiness,” Marcos remembers about his days surfing in Southern California. “Besides the difference in climate, I think that in California, I knew that a lot of important artists were living there so I said, ‘Let’s go, let’s try, let’s see what happens.’”
“When I got there, when I got to L.A., things happened very fast in a good way for me,” Marcos recalls. Hearing he was in town, producer and arranger Marty Paich reached out to Sergio Mendes to make an introduction to Marcos about a duet with Sarah Vaughan on a cover of “Something” with a bossa nova arrangement to be written by Marcos, released in 1981 as Songs of the Beatles. Though they’d met before back in Rio, Marcos connected with the Brazilian percussionist, Laudir de Oliveira, through Sergio whose group he’d been a member of before joining the legendary horn rock group, Chicago. The next thing you know, Marcos and Laudir have a song on Chicago 13 called “Life Is What It Is.” Next, another Brazilian expat, Airto Moreira asked Marcos to arrange some songs for his next album, Touching You, Touching Me.
“I went to live in Woodland Hills for one reason. There was a condo close by where Laudir lived and close by was Marty Paich, Sarah Vaughn and Marvin Gaye. Laudir helped me find an apartment close to this area. And the guys from Chicago lived more on the beach, I think it was Malibu, which was not very far, so it was very good for me and it was very nice because I could play tennis, swim and do all the sports that I like. And close to the beach, I bought a motorcycle to go to the hills and go to the beach, so it was a good combination of pleasure and music.”
After their initial meeting to hear Leon’s version of Marcos’s “Love Is a Simple Thing” Leon and Marcos became fast friends while writing nearly an album’s worth of mature, and rhythmically and melodically adventurous soul songs released over a handful of albums released by Marcos, Leon and friends. “When I was with him it was very good because I would laugh with him, we would provoke the music together, one off of the other,” Marcos remembers.
“I remember one day we were at A&M records on La Brea in Hollywood. Leon’s songs, up to that time, were published by A&M and because of that, Leon had the right to have a little office inside the studio and we could make demos at the A&M studios. One day we were there and we had smoked some marijuana to get inspired to write and then when we left the studio to go to his house or to dinner, or wherever, there were police in the street, because they were after some thief or something. When we showed up everyone started yelling at us, ‘Get down! get down!’ and I start to laugh and I said to Leon, ‘Maybe they’re after us because of the marijuana, but I don’t know Leon, it can’t be, but let’s not discuss, let’s lay down…’ And we’re laughing and laughing and finally they let us go…”
“[For “Rockin’ You Eternally”] when I showed him the idea at the A&M office, I remember going to the piano and as soon as I played boom, boom, boom, ba, ba, ba, boom, he said, ‘Hey, let’s work on this.’ We started in on this groove and the melodies started to appear, but together, I would give an idea, he would give another; our minds would combine very well.”
“When we went to record ‘Rockin’ You Eternally’ [it was] recorded at the big studio at A&M records. It was a big studio with the whole orchestra and everybody was Black, except me. And that was very funny, because everybody would come to me and say, ‘You are the only White person here, but we don’t see you as White; we see you as Black. I said, ‘Well, I see myself this way also,’ but they would laugh all the time with me, the only White guy in the studio.”
“The conductor was a guy by the name of Gene Page, not Jimmy Page, but Gene Page who wrote many arrangements for Barry White, and he was incredible! So he took the arrangement that Leon and I had done and he made the beautiful orchestral arrangement for ‘Rockin’ You Eternally.’ I was amazed when I sat down to play the piano and the orchestra played that arrangement, I was like, ‘My God, that’s so beautiful!’ I think that’s a dream for me, because, like I was saying, I was the only White guy with an orchestra of these incredible Black guys, playing this soul music that I love. That’s a moment that I’m never gonna forget in my life.”
In 1980, Som Livre producer Max Pierre convinced Marcos’ lyricist brother, Paulo Sergio, to encourage Marcos to record another album for release in Brazil. Marcos started pulling together songs for his first album since 1974, many of them recent collaborations with Leon. When asked why Marcos’s version of “Rockin’ You Eternally” is so different than Leon’s, he explained: “The first recording was Leon’s. When I started writing the song, I started it in the way I [later] recorded it. It’s the same chords, but it’s fast. When I showed it to Leon, he said, ‘Let’s try it slower.’ I moved to this style that he loved so much and we followed the funk. But, when it came to my recording, as Leon had done such a beautiful version in that slow style, I went back to the faster version as a curiosity, because it also fits well with the idea of this album with it’s title, “Vontade De Rever Você,” which means ‘will to see you again,’ something I was saying to Rio de Janeiro, to a woman, and it made me so happy, talking about the surfers flying… I thought that Leon’s recording was definitive, I thought it would be hard to do something better than that.”
Then in 1998, on his first record for U.K. label Far Out, “I recorded it again. Now, let’s do it this way,” referring to Leon’s arrangement of “Rockin’ You Eternally.” On Marcos’s 1998 version he stays faithful to Leon’s version and Gene Page’s string arrangements with a samba breakdown and Paulo Sergio’s Portuguese lyrics sung beautifully by Patricia Alvi, soon to be Marcos’ wife (and still is). “And then there’s another recording that I love so much that I did with Ed Motta. Ed was in love with this song, he said, ‘Marcos, I love this song, can I record it?’ I like it very much, this recording with Ed Motta.”
Sadly, the Ed Motta and Marcos Valle version of “Rockin’ You Eternally” (from the two volume CD songbook series from 1998) isn’t available on YouTube or Spotify for your immediate listening pleasure, but trust me when I tell you it’s as good as you likely think it is.
“Got to Be Loved” is Leon’s quiet storm version of “Bicho No Cio” with Marcos’s final product edging out Leon’s with its slow-as-molasses jazz-funk groove. Marcos and Leon’s collaborations emerged from a variety of locations and circumstances. As friends, they were pretty fluid on where and when they would get together and work on some songs.
“Many times I would go to his house and start to play into a very small recording device, we’d start to record little demos. I remember he had a rhythm machine, very simple to give the tempo that we were looking for. Other times we would go to my apartment where I had a Fender Rhodes that I brought from New York that I bought off of Deodato. It was nice writing and composing to the sound of the Fender Rhodes that fits so well with this kind of music that we were writing. Some other times we would go to the studio, not just the A&M studios, other times other studios, to record an idea or to develop an idea, or maybe we’d go in to record one song and then afterwards with the musicians we’d work on something else and many, many ideas would also emerge. So there were many different ways of writing with him.”
“Baby, Don’t Stop Me” and Marcos’s version of the same song, “Paraíba Não É Chicago (Baby, Don’t Stop Me),” are the only pair of songs the friends wrote together (but recorded independently) that actually share a lyric, Marcos apparently loving the line so much, he included it on his composition as the only English words in the lyrics. The groove is fantastic and is one of Leon’s rare danceable tunes.
In 1980, before going back to Brazil, “I went to the studio, and as you know, Chicago participated on two songs, ‘Paraíba Não É Chicago (Baby, Don’t Stop Me),’ which Leon also wrote the lyrics and sang on the record and ‘Seí La.’ And then I brought the album to Brazil and finished the other tracks here.” Just to make sure you all caught that, the above and below tracks are basically Chicago with Marcos singing lead vocals. On “Paraíba” Marcos’s version of the song manages to add a northeastern Brazilian baião groove (courtesy of none other than the mighty Sivuca on accordion) to the already cooking rhythm, creating a Brazilian AOR/funk masterpiece with Leon Ware and Peter Cetera blessing the choruses with “Baby Don’t Stop Me” and the cherry on top: the legendary Chicago horn section.
“Sei Lá” is another tune that Leon never recorded, which is curious because on the LP’s label, the song reads “Sei Lá (Get Up),” implying an English-language lyric, just as the above song includes “Baby Don’t Stop Me” in the Portuguese lyric. Presumably, there was some semblance of a Leon Ware–penned lyric to this tune, likely titled “Get Up.”
Another song that doesn’t appear to have a Leon Ware analog is “Não Pode Ser Qualquer Mulher,” which might be one of the duo’s finest compositions, oozing with mature sexuality, a perfect hybrid of Marcos’s melodies and Leon’s sentiments, though he didn’t write the Portuguese lyrics. Naturally, those were written by Marcos’ brother Paulo Sergio Valle.
Marcos Valle is generally thought of as a singular artist, a solo genius, which is not inaccurate, but it also ignores Marcos’s many long term partnerships over the course of his career with lyricists and musicians such as pioneering Brazilian groups O Terço, Som Imaginario and Azymuth. Lyrically, aside from his brother who’s composed for Marcos since the beginning, the only other lyricist to come close to that duration or depth of intimacy is Leon Ware. Marcos explains what was similar and different about working with Leon and his brother:
“I think it was different because my brother is a lyric writer and Leon Ware besides being a lyric writer, was also a musician. Some of the songs I’d say, I would write all of the melodies and some others we would work on them together… So that was different, because with my brother, I would write all the music and then my brother would come and write the lyrics. But the feeling of pleasure, that was the same. Because when I was writing with my brother in the sixties and seventies, we lived in the same house and we were brothers, so the pleasure of doing things at that time was incredible, we were 23, 24 years old. And then with Leon we were very happy, willing to do things. He would call me and say, ‘Marcos, let’s write something today!’ It was a very big pleasure and this I would compare with my brother when I was younger.”
Marcos flew back to Rio in 1981 for about a month to finish his album, but being back home, seeing friends, family, the surf and sun, he decided he wanted to stay…except he still had a Brazilian girlfriend living in L.A…. Four months later Marcos was back in Brazil for good, arriving just in time to capitalize on the release of Vontade De Rever Você and he quickly got to work on his second album for Som Livre. Marcos started with the demo tapes he’d made with Leon in L.A., sifting through sketches to see if there was anything leftover after the last LP to use for the new album. There was one tune that showed promise, but would need to be re-recorded and needed some lyrics as Leon never had a chance to add words.
(Be sure to watch the accompanying video that came out back in 1983! And if you like this one, don’t miss the follow-up song and video for “Bicicleta.”)
“On Vontade de Rever Voce, I didn’t include that song, but on the second one, when the producer, Max Pierre and Lincoln Olivetti, listened to the demo they both said, ‘this is an incredible song, a fantastic song, you have to record it.’ So, that’s why ‘Estrelar’ came out on the second album and my brother, Paulo Sergio, wrote the lyrics with me in the studio and it became a hit in Brazil until today. It’s funny because it became a hit at that time and even today it’s going into commercials, films and television song, so it’s become a really important song for me and unluckily Leon never had the chance to write English lyrics for it.”
At the mention of lost demo tapes from Leon and Marcos’s songwriting sessions I couldn’t help but steer the conversation off the road in hopes that Marcos was sitting on these tapes, but alas, no. “I had that demo in a cassette tape. I still have a lot of cassette tapes in my home, because sometimes I go back to them to try and find some idea, that I haven’t used, but I’ve looked and looked for this demo with Leon Ware, especially this one with ‘Estrelar’ and I couldn’t find it. And then I thought Lincoln would have it, so after he died I asked Kassin Kamal, a producer in Rio, ‘Kassin, you know everything, can you find this tape at Lincoln’s studio? And he said, ‘Marcos, I’m gonna look for you,” but until now I don’t have it, but I’m still going to try to find it in my tapes. I’m beginning to transfer all of my tapes to the computer, so who knows if we will find it.
“This was one of the last songs that I wrote with Leon. We didn’t have time to add lyrics and then I brought it to Brazil. I had these demos so I asked my brother to write some lyrics. As I told you all of the gymnastics studios in Brazil were playing ‘Estrelar’ but then ‘Dia D’ was faster, so the tempo was good for running and for gymnastics. ‘Dia D’ means ‘today is the day, now is the hour’!
“[Leon Ware and I] wrote this ballad together, under the name ‘Deeper Than Love.’ We wrote this song during a time when Leon was in Rio… He had never been to Brazil and he went to my house and I was writing this song on the piano in my father’s house; I was living in my parent’s house. I was at the piano playing this song and he loved it so much and I already had a phrase in mind, ‘It’s more than love, it’s written in the wind.’ I said, ‘Leon, that’s the idea that I have, I don’t know if you like the idea,’ and he said, ‘I love this, it’s perfect, let’s do it.’ He wrote that song with me when he was in Rio, then he recorded it and it was a lovely song, so for the lyrics in Portuguese, I asked my brother to do it very close to the original [English] lyrics. ‘Mais Que Amor’ means more than love, which is very similar to Leon’s lyrics.
“Even if we had the grooves, Me and Leon, with ‘Baby Don’t Stop Me’ these funky things that we loved, the melodies, which are very rich in my career, the ballads that I love so much to write, Leon and I had had this way of floating in the melodies. This song was very special, it became very special because I had returned to Brazil and I was so in love with Brazil again, even with the wind. ‘It’s written in the wind, that’s Rio de Janeiro, that’s my house, it’s written in the wind that I have to come back.’ And when Leon came to my house, never having been to Rio before, and wrote with me…we became very emotional.”
Leon stayed in Rio for about a month, as far as Marcos can remember. We know he sang back up vocals on “Tapa No Real” for Marcos’s 1983 album, which is fitting, seeing as it’s a rewrite of “Love Is a Simple Thing,” the same song that brought Leon and Marcos together. When asked what else he remembers from Leon’s visit, Marcos recalled: “We went to a club and saw some samba jazz that he loved so much in Beco Das Garrafas, we went to the beach together to appreciate the beautiful girls from Ipanema and then we had some dinners… Many times we stayed at home, not just to write songs, but to talk, to meet my family.” We know that Leon’s 1982 album was still in the future as he would go on to include “Deeper Than Love” on that album, which was composed on this trip. His time in Brazil and his friendship with Marcos clearly influenced his final masterful major label album, Leon Ware (1982), from the cosmic, polyrhythmic trip of “Why I Came to California” to “Somewhere.”
“Somewhere” is the lone collaboration of the two friends that Marcos never recorded. When Leon got around to recording the R&B-tinged samba his friend Marcos was long gone, back in Rio de Janeiro, so instead he invited his new Brazilian friends, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, who he met through Marcos and Laudir, to help him out with some authentic Brazilian flavor. Towards the end of the song Flora and Airto are singing the Brazilian lyrics to the song, “Dentro De Você”…
Just because Marcos himself didn’t record it, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a Brazilian version of the song, in fact it was a minor hit for frequent Marcos Valle interpreter, Emilio Santiago as “Dentro De Você” with lyrics by none other than Paulo Sergio Valle. It’s as if Marcos was planning on recording it, asking his brother to write some lyrics, but ended up passing it off to his friend Emilio for his 1982 record, Ensaios De Amor.
Having heard some of the stories about Leon during his post-I Want You daze, I had to ask Marcos if they partied hearty together, to which he said, “I remember that Leon told me that, ‘Marcos, when I was with Marvin all the time and Motown and everything and after the songs became hits, I got too crazy and I spent all of my money on women, drugs, drinks, and everything.’ He said, ‘Look, I had a lot of fun, but I could have had as much fun spending five percent of what I spent.’ When he met Carol, his wife, who is a lovely woman and very nice to him, she gave him the balance in his life again. When I met him he had much more control. He would like to be…fast. ‘No, I don’t want to slow down.’ He was always doing things with a lot of energy, it was his way. But, at the same time, he became very spiritual with her and then came the children and he started to be a very family guy, which gave him the balance.”
Since 1983, there have been no new Marcos and Leon songs released. They talked by phone occasionally and even discussed recording together. “Lately, we were having ideas, I mean like two or three years ago, of doing something together again. We had plans to record an album together and ‘Estrelar’ would be one of the ones where he would write new lyrics, but unfortunately he started to get sick and some years ago he called me, in a very sad telephone call, almost like he was saying goodbye to me and explaining to me that he was having very heavy problems with his illness. A little bit after this I contacted his wife, Carol, and she said, ‘Marcos, he’s getting better,’ and she said, ‘Let’s hope you both can write some songs together again.’”
Leon continued writing and recording music based out of his home in Los Angeles up until a year or two before his passing. While he stayed committed to soulful R&B music, he always welcomed Brazilian interventions or introductions, like when a young Brazilian Bruno Morais linked up with the veteran singer and composer at the 2005 Red Bull Music Academy in Seattle for their collaboration “Seed.” In the final years of his life, Leon reconnected again with his southern hemisphere roots on collaborations with iconic Brazilian MC, Mano Brown, one of the founders of Brazil’s first Hip-Hop crews Racionais MCs, and a young Carioca named Lucas Arruda for his sophomore, boogie-flavored album.
Leon’s widow, Carol Ware, shared the following sentiments over email after reflecting on these songs and Marcos’s words about his dear friend. “Leon and Marcos were meant to know one another and to create together…and we longed for somehow getting them to perform together as they had a special magic that could only be even more expressed were they to perform together… It is not surprising that the sentiment of their songs together related to ‘eternal’ and ‘deeper’ themes…the music is elegant, soulful and sensual.”
Leon passed away on February 23 of 2017 before he and Marcos could get back together to re-create some of the magic that they conjured up fusing R&B with Brazilian rhythms and touches of jazz, funk, and pop. One Black, the other White; one from Detroit, the other from Rio de Janeiro, they were an unlikely pair whose time writing and recording together was too short, but thankfully the songs they created together continue to live on, inspiring movement on the dance floor and in the bedroom from Rio to L.A. and beyond.
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