Leo Graham

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Chicago-based producer/songwriter Leo Graham had a string of hits with Tyrone Davis and the Manhattans in the '70s and '80s. His hits for both acts as well as album tracks are threaded throughout both…
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Chicago-based producer/songwriter Leo Graham had a string of hits with Tyrone Davis and the Manhattans in the '70s and '80s. His hits for both acts as well as album tracks are threaded throughout both the Brunswick Records and Columbia Records catalogs.

Graham sang around Chicago and would later use his vocal skills to cut vocal guides for songs he'd pitch to Davis. Under Graham's guidance, Davis' records were less bluesy and de-emphasized the "downtown brassiness" of the horn section, a staple of Chicago soul sound that was used by the singer's other producers Carl Davis and Willie Henderson.

After studying with arranger James Mack at Crane Junior College, Graham joined fellow former student Willie Henderson at the Chicago branch of New York-based Brunswick Records headed by producer Carl Davis (the Chi-Lites, Gene Chandler), which was opened in 1968. As a songwriter and producer, Graham had hits for Carl Davis' (no relation to Tyrone) Dakar label distributed by Brunswick: "Could I Forget You" (Graham/Raymond Haley/Floyd Smith, went to number ten R&B); "Was I Just a Fool" (co-written with Haley and George Davis); two Graham/Haley songs, "Without You in My Life" (number five R&B) and "There It Is" (number nine R&B). He co-produced with Richard Parker and co-wrote with John Sibley "What Goes Up (Must Come Down)," which went to number 11 R&B in summer 1974, "So Good (To Be Home With You)" (number nine R&B), and "This I Swear" (number six R&B).

Inspiration can strike at anytime for a songwriter, and it was one of these "flashes" that sparked the creation of "Turning Point." Graham was sitting around in front of his TV set strumming his guitar while watching a movie when one of the characters said the phrase "turning point." A light went off in his muse and Graham begin to noodle a riff. Traveling to session guitarist Phil Upchurch's studio, Graham recorded it on tape and began to develop the idea into a full-fledged song. The nurtured riff now had become the song "Turning Point." On first hearing, Davis wasn't too keen on the song and took a pass on it. Graham was going to record the song with singer Bobby Lewis, but his wife suggested that he let Davis hear it again. On a second listen, Davis liked the song and Graham began working with frequent collaborator Mack.

Recorded at Paragon Studios during fall 1975 with an all-star lineup that included guitarist Phil Upchurch, drummer Quinton Joseph, bassist Bernard Reed, pianist Tennyson Stephens, and background vocals by Kitty Haywood Singers (Aretha Franklin's Sparkle LP), "Turning Point" was Davis' biggest hit since 1970's "Turn Back the Hands of Time." Not long after "Turning Point" hit number one, Davis left the Dakar label to sign with Columbia Records. Retaining Graham and the rest of his creative team, Davis has several hits for Columbia: "Give It Up (Turn It Loose)" (number two R&B for three weeks in fall 1976), "This I Swear" (number six R&B in spring 1977), and "In the Mood" (number six R&B in early 1979), which was used as the basis for rapper MC Eiht's 1993 gold single "All for the Money."

Fellow Columbia act the Manhattans were in need of a producer when their producer, Philly soul legend Bobby Martin ("Kiss and Say Goodbye"), became a born-again Christian and said farewell to secular music. The group traveled to Chicago and met with Graham. He produced and co-wrote with bassist Paul Richmond the tender country-tinged ballad "Shining Star," which went gold and hit number four R&B/five pop in spring 1980. It was included on the album After Midnight, which also went gold in summer 1980.

By the mid-'80s, Davis was no longer signed to Columbia and recorded albums for a succession of labels: Flashin' Back, Man, Come on Over, and 1991's Sexy Thing for Future; Tyrone Davis for Highrise (the number three R&B hit "Are You Serious"); Man of Stone and Pacifier for Timeless; and "I'll Always Love You" and the excellent "Something's Mighty Wrong" for Ichiban in 1992, among others.