Patrick Leonard remembers his musical memories and his work with Madonna

Samedi 18 Juillet 2015

Interview. Patrick Leonard his famous for his work whith Madonna, Michael Jackson, Leonard Cohen and Peter Cetera. He has been king enough to tell us his musical memories.

What were your earliest musical memories and your first musical favorites?

I grew up in a musical family. My dad played tenor saxophone and my older sister played piano. Once a week various relatives would turn up at the house with accordions, trombones, clarinets, drums and food. I remember my mom giving me two pencils so I could drum along with the family. It was probably polkas. I was at the piano by the time I was three. It was that or the pencils. Easy choice.

I was fortunate to have an older sister who love to buy records, as did my father. I remember learning songs from the first Beatles record and "Misty" as played by Earl Garner. Loved Stan Getz, Jobim, Oscar Peterson, Judy Garland, Sinatra, Rogers and Hammerstein, James Brown, George Shearing, Bill Evans. There was a lot of music in the house. Lucky kid I was.

Could you tell me about your first band Trillion?

Long long time ago. There's a few different ways to talk about it but I think what I remember most is it was a lot of fun. We put a band together, wrote some music we liked, got a record deal and toured till it wasn't fun anymore. I would say that what we played before we "got a deal" was much more progressive than what we did for Epic records. I've always been a die hard prog-rock fan.

Why did the band break up?

I don't remember why but I left the band after the second record

What do you think of Trillion's music now?

I'm assuming you mean the records we made in the late 70's as three of the guys are still making music together. I know it's cliche to say but I wish we'd released the demos. The records were tamed a lot for human consumption, as often is the case. Either way, I haven't heard them in ages so I honestly couldn't say what I think now.

I saw you worked on the Jacksons' Victory tour. What memories do you have of this very controversial tour with tensions among the Jacksons?

Other than the joy of playing the bass line for “Billie Jean” with a great band while MIchael danced and sang, none.

You became famous for your work with Madonna. How did you meet her?

As I recall, she needed to put a band together for her first tour. She'd seen the Victory tour, her manager called mine, as I'd quasi musical directed for the Jacksons and she wanted whomever had done it for her tour. Or something like that.

What memories do you have of the making of True Blue and Like a Prayer?

The circumstances changed considerably from True Blue to Like a Prayer. True Blue started with she and I writing songs on the road. We played the first song we wrote, "Love Makes the World go Round" at Live Aid. Then we wrote "Live to Tell" for the movie At Close Range, then came "La Isla Bonita" and soon after we went into a tiny studio in Burbank Ca and much to the dismay of Warner Brothers records (as I'd never produced a record for a major label before) she, Stephen Bray, Michael Verdic and I made True Blue.

Then I built a big studio with two rooms and bought a sports car. Like you do.

And what about Like a Prayer? Did you work under pressure of success?

For me Like a Prayer was all about knowing people were going to hear it as soon as we finished it. A totally new experience for me at that time. It wasn't really pressure it was more inspiration to get it as right as possible. Madonna and I wrote for a few weeks, averaging a song in a day or two. I remember it being pretty painless as these things go. Not a lot of second guessing or disagreements. I think we were on a roll at the time. High points and there were many include: Jeff Porcaro on "Cherish", the late, great David Williams on everything, the Andre Crouch Choir session for "Like a Prayer" and working with Bill Bottrell, who's the best there is my view. At the end the label and Madonna's manager weren't so confident about the song Like a Prayer. They tried hard to talk her out of it as a first single. They lost.

You also worked on madonna's tours. What where the main challenges of this work?

The dancers.

Seriously, the dancers.

Another great album that you produced in the 80's is Peter Cetera's One More Story which is without any doubt his best album. How did you met him? How was it to work with him ?

Ah, the 80's. I hear they're back.

I don't remember how I met Peter. I do remember we had a lot of fun. Great singer, great sense of humor, and for the most part we agreed about the music. The last song we wrote was "One Good Woman". I think it was the best one on the record. We had Dave Gilmore play "You Never Listen to Me". Of course, that was I high point. He's always been the very best melodic player.

Peter has a beautiful voice and it was great to just listen to him sing. I played Chicago songs in cover bands when I was starting out. Always a fan of that voice.

And is it Madonna that we can hear on "Scheherazade"?

I'll never tell.

You also worked with Richard Page for Third Matinee and you wrote with him Madonna's song "I’ll Remember". What is the story of this song? Was it a song for Third Matinee at the first place?

Richard Page is one of the greats in the world. He's a tremendous singer and writer. Third Matinee is one of my very proudest moments. I did the score for With Honors. As I recall Richard and I wrote and demoed I'll Remember for the end title. I played it for Madonna, she made some changes and we made the record. It's hard. The song must have been about someone other than me because I can't really remember.

You have recently worked with Leonard Cohen on two albums. How did this collaboration come about?

Leonard's son Adam and I go back a ways. I worked with him on one of his band records, Low Millions and then we did his solo album Like a Man together. He very kindly introduced me to his father.

And how is it to write songs with Leonard Cohen?

Easy, luxurious, satisfying, fun, beautiful

You also record piano works. Is is a special experience that brings you something different than you producer and songwriter experience?

For many months in 2009 I was doing one hour improvisations every Wednesday night at a church in LA. I never recorded any of them. When the church was otherwise engaged, as a matter of discipline, I would record for an hour at my studio. I put them on iTunes as they were. More for posterity than anything else. I'm in the process of writing a new piano record like the one I did in 1996 called Rivers. I may get it done this year. In answer to your question: the piano is where everything I do starts. It's really what I do and love most. It's totally direct and about the music. Recording is an afterthought.

I need that in my musical life to keep me honest.

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Boris Plantier