Leon Huff, the man behind hits from Patti LaBelle and The Jacksons, is introducing a new act called Ju-Taun!
If you’ve ever sung along to classic songs like Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” or “Backstabbers” by the O’Jays, then you know about Leon Huff. He’s half of the iconic songwriting and production team Gamble & Huff.
The duo worked together to pioneer what is known as the “Philadelphia sound,” which is characterized by funk influences and lavish instrumental arrangements. Together, they formed Philadelphia International Records and cranked out over 170 gold and platinum records. Those hits were performed by such legends as Patti LaBelle, The Jacksons, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, which spawned the undeniable Teddy Pendergrass.
Chemistry that awesome is extremely rare. “That’s never stopped with me and Gamble. We built something that amazes us and still hear the music today,” said Leon, who discovered the piano at a very young age. “It started with my mother. She played for the church and that’s how piano got into my house. When I was born, I was born in the house. When I came into the world, I just became obsessed with that piano that was in my living room.”
Nowadays, Leon works with Climax Entertainment, a production company and label under the direction of David Still. David has been key in shaping Leon’s latest album which is currently available on iTunes. “I amassed this huge amount of music over the years and I met David Still who said, ‘You got an album,’" Leon explained. "So he put together the concept, picked out the songs, and put together an album we call Groovy People. It’s all different types of music.”
Leon recorded background vocals in many of the songs he created in the past, but this time around he experimented with taking a lead role in front of the mic with “Bad Weather Blues”. Leon told S2S, “I was just having fun. I’m a guy who wish he could sing, so I figured, ‘I’ll sing once. Why not? Everybody else is.’”
Pleased with the outcome, Leon said “I liked what I heard. I might take another shot at it because I had so much fun doing it.”
Groovy People also features Huff’s new group Ju-Taun. The two brothers, James and Jacob Evans, are joined by Samoeun Cheng to make up the harmonizing trio that Leon says “can really sing the blues.”
For the new project, Ju-Taun recorded covers of “Hey There Lonely Girl” (one of Leon’s favorite songs) and Smokey Robinson’s “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” adding a “bluesy twist.”
Leon discovered the New Jersey natives while he was hanging out with his wife; the couple decided to stop at a souvenir shop where Ju-Taun happened to be performing in a showcase. “I liked their style. And they can sing as good as they look," he recalled. The group currently has several songs available online, however Huff is continuing to work with them to develop them as writers and eventually creating and releasing an entire album.
After four decades of creating hits at Philadelphia International Records, Gamble & Huff lost their landmark recording studio in a two-alarm fire. Although it was a tragic loss, Leon was not as devastated as you would think.
“Gamble and I were in discussions about redeveloping that corner. We didn’t want a big studio anymore,” he said. “The fire didn’t hurt me. I got all the love out of that building.” The property sits on what is now called Gamble and Huff Walk, and it may soon be developed into a hotel or condos.
Leon is planting a seed once again, but this time at his new music home. “I’ve been around for a while and this is like a breath of fresh air to me. I got so much music. I have more to finish and I’m going to do it through Climax Entertainment,” he mused. Leon still has that passion to create and as long as he can keep moving his hands and playing the piano, “the fire is never going to burn out.”