Most disco fans will remember the line “I’m just a soul who’s intentions are good… oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood,” and what followed was a most unique take on the 1960s classic, perfectly updated with enough pizzazz to rocket Santa Esmeralda to No.15 in the U.S (and No.1 on the disco charts), and No.41 in the U.K. The album of the same name made it to No.25 on the U.S. pop charts. The man behind that voice belonged to Leroy Gomez, who other than this project, worked on some gems in his career and is still going strong today! We did an interview via mp3s and email… here it is!
Leroy, tell us about your upbringings and your musical start?
I was born and raised in the United States in Wareham Massachusetts, a little town on Cape Cod. My musical background started when I was twelve years old. My sixth grade teacher told my parents that it would be a good idea for me to start playing an instrument because I was very shy. So I ended up playing the saxophone. Luckily I had a good friend and next door neighbor who played the guitar and another friend who played the bass, another who played the drums and of course we started a little band, the Hi- Lites. We practiced every day after school in David’s basement for a year or so then we finally got our first paying gig playing at our high school hop. And it’s all on my website http://www.santaesmeralda.net and you can go back and see some pictures of my first gig.
You were involved in the ’70s group Tavares. Can you tell us about them?
Well after a couple of years playing around town with the Hi-Lites, Disaster struck. My guitar player, David Cardoza, who was a few years older than I, got drafted into the army. …so that …fate would have it around the same time Chubby from the Tavares…in those days they were called -Chubby and the Turnpikes- believe it or not, but anyway Chubby had a dispute with his brothers, you know how brothers can sometimes be, so he decided to go solo. He approached me to to play in his new band. Six months later, Chubby went back to sing with his brothers and he took me with him. So I ended up being their saxophone player for the next five years.
In Paris, you played with many talented musicians including Elton John. Of particular interest to disco fans, you played with Patrick Juvet. Can you tell us how that came about?
OK, Patrick Juvet, Let me tell you first how I got to the point of working with Patrick. After completing a tour of Italy with Tavares I had this feeling deep down inside telling me it was time to move on. So at the Airport in Milan I told the Tavares brothers goodbye and hoped on a train. I was actually planning to go to London but never made it to England. I stopped in Paris to see the Eiffel Tower. The second day in Paris I got my first gig so I stayed in France and never looked back. I became one of the top session musicians …saxophone soloist, and backup vocalist in town. Anyone who needed a sax solo on their record usually called me.
It was in a little Château outside of Paris, (Château d’Hérouville), where I had the opportunity to work with Elton John on his -Yellow Brick Road-album.
Anyway back to Patrick. Patrick asked me to go on tour. So for a few months I worked with him… I was freelance. Anything I did in those days …I wasn’t committing to anyone really. I wanted to be solo so after that tour I went on to do other things.
As far as what it was like to play with Patrick, it was a complete joy. He was, and still is, a complete gentleman and an accomplished musician. It was a rewarding experience working with him.
Can you tell us about Nicholas Skorsky? How did he influence your career?
Well Nicholas Skorsky was basically the producer with the money to go into the studio. He really didn’t have any influence as far as my creativity as a singer or an artist…like I said I was a session musician. I could sing and play any type of music. If anything, all of these artists that worked on the Santa Esmeralda project were an influence on Skorsky(laughs) he only came up with the money to finance the project. I guess you could call him Executive Producer.
How did Santa Esmeralda come about and if you can excuse my ignorance what does the title mean?
Well the idea of recording -Don’t Let me be Misunderstood- in a Latin version was the idea of Sam Chueka, Sam played some acoustic guitar and worked in the music business, radio and TV. It’s a long story and I don’t want to get in too a deep drawn out story, but to put everything into a nutshell, Sam went to Skorski and showed him the idea of -Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood- with the flamenco rhythm and Skorski took the idea and hired Don Ray to find the musicians and do the arrangements to the song. The rest is history. Sad to say Sam never gets the credit for his idea but I always try to mention him in my interviews.
Also for me another key elements to the success of Santa Esmeralda were the original arrangements written by Don Ray( Raymond Donez). He was one of the important elements to the success of Santa Esmeralda.
It was Don in the background that made everything work smoothly on the production end. As far as I am concerned Don Ray was the silent force in the production of Santa Esmeralda’s first album.
The other key elements were José Souc (Spanish guitar) Slim Pezin(electric guitar) Christian Padovan (bass) and I guess my Vocal and new interpretation of the old Nina Simon, Animals classic wasn’t too bad.
Like I said it was all the top session musicians of Paris at that time that made the magic to the first album. As far as the name Santa Esmeralda, it was taken from the book of Victor Hugo –Notre-Dame de Paris-and later movie,-The Hunch Back Of Notre Dame- The heroine was a gypsy named Esmeralda, as a result, Santa Esmeralda.
Were you prepared for the success of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood?”
Of course not, being prepared for the success like that…no one is really prepared. We had no idea it was going to explode like it did. Without any promotion whatsoever, it became a hit in France and then in the world almost by accident. Actually it’s a long story but I’ll explain it one day if you’d like to do another interview (BN: YES PLEASE!!) Um…yes I was prepared as an artist sure, I had worked at my craft and was very comfortable in any situation, any type of music, in any style. As far as the music business and the treachery (laughs) of the music business…. no, no, no I was definitely not ready for that!
You’re an accomplished sax player. Are there any other musical instruments you play and what are you trying to convey through your music?
Well I am a sax player first. I play a little piano. Little bit of guitar, I play well enough to put down ideas for when I’m writing a song. But I’m basically a saxophone player and I guess not too bad of a singer. As to what I try to convey in my music…well I write love songs. Sometimes I have a hard time singing about anything else, you know boy girl relationships…”I love you more than you know” things like that. Sometimes it gets physical ; sometimes it gets sexual… (laughs) a little lusty at times. But it’s all around the boy-girl relationship kind of stuff.
Why did Jimmy Goings take over? Was it a mutual agreement and what did you think of the follow up albums “Beauty” and the stunning “Another Cha Cha”?
That’s another long story, I’ll try to make it short. Sam Chueka filed a court case against Nicholas Skorsky for using his idea of recording- Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood- in the flamenco style, then cutting him out of the project. Don Ray and I took the side of Sam in court. Skorsky definitely did not like this so he went into the studio without Don Ray and I and recorded an album called “Santa Esmeralda II” with Jimmy Goings as the vocalist and another arranger. I think the arranger was Roland Petit. Anyway I was on tour in Italy and had no idea they were in the studio recording “The House of the Rising Sun”. Once they released this title, rather than getting into a long legal battle, I accepted a settlement that they offered me and tried to move on. They later released five or six albums and rode on the success of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” the first album . As far as “Another Cha Cha” it was for me the best song that came out of this new collaboration.
Can you tell us about “Gypsy Woman?”
Yeah the “G.W” album was done with Casablanca Records back in L.A. After being released or should I say extracted from the Santa Esmeralda project, I was approached by Casablanca which was the same label that released the first album Santa Esmeralda starring Leroy Gomez. Well it was a new experience .I was in a new city and had to produce my album. It was not easy but the end result was not too bad. I found out later through former employees of Casablanca that I was signed to keep me from being in competition with Santa Esmeralda the “Gypsy Woman” and the “Get Up Boogie” or “I Got It Bad” albums had very little promotion on the part of Casablanca.
What about “Number One Man?”
Wow you really have been following my career. O.K. A few years before I recorded -Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood- I recorded some songs with a producer who does not deserved to be mentioned in this interview. To profit from my success he just put that collection of works out and it’s not something that I’m really happy with. It was all recorded on a shoestring budget.
One of my all-time favorite albums is “I Got It Bad” which features the hit “Get Up Boogie”. It appears you went through several different labels after Casablanca. Why and what was your experience like at Casablanca?
Leroy Gomez “I Got It Bad” 1979 Casablanca featured the disco hit “Get Up, Boogie”
“Get Up Boogie” Well I’m happy that you like that album. After I recorded “Gypsy Woman” , I asked Sam Cheuka to come and help me out with my next album and we did the “Get Up Boogie” album. Things with Casablanca were great. Who could complain to be in Los Angeles at that time life was one big party. (BN: “Get Up Boogie” made it to No.43 on the US disco charts).
Would you name yourself as a disco artist and what did disco mean to you?
I think disco was a label that was put on the music because it was played, at the time, in these new musical venues called “Discotheque”, but for me it was dance music and we all tried to just make people dance. To be a disco artist …I wouldn’t say… For me this music had its roots in rhythm and blues.
What are you doing nowadays?
I’m still travelling, doing my shows. Next year I have a couple of TV shows in January and February in Italy, which I’ll be singing -Don’t let me be Misunderstood -but also a couple of songs in Italian, Then the season starts again. I am planning on going to Sao Paulo for a big show on the 5th of May 2013. Always happy to perform Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and keep the music alive. So for booking live performances I can be contacted directly through my websitehttp://www.santaesmeralda.net or firstname.lastname@example.org. So check out my site where you can see all my performances from Moscow to Rome and back! And of course some vintage stuff from way back when.
Leroy Gomez will perform at the Discollection Tour in September and October, 2016 alongside other disco artists such as Anita Ward, Village People, the Trammps and more.