– Reno Gazette
Scott Leonard’s one-of-a-kind arrangements have helped to make Rockapella one of the most groundbreaking vocal groups of all time.
Now you can go behind the scenes of Scott’s current favorites!
After playing Sammy’s Showroom (Sammy Davis Jr.) at Harrah’s in Reno, and dedicating an arrangement of Candyman, I thought it only fair we pay tribute to Andy Williams when playing his theater in Branson.
I grew up on that red Andy Williams Christmas album, and would start playing it in September every year. Side 1 of that album is one of the greatest sides of an album I know of. It had “Most Wonderful Time…”, “Holiday Season”, a great “White Christmas” and “12 Days…” (a song I usually find really boring), and ended with “Kay Thompson’s Jingle Bells”. That Jingle Bells is epic. Kay Thompson was a real trailblazer, and had a singular, remarkably varied career.
If we’d been playing his theater in December, clearly one of those songs would’ve been ripe. The song for the rest of the year, however, has gotta be Moon River. It’s the classic showcase for Andy’s beautiful and uniquely pleasing voice, and it is just a masterpiece marriage of Henry Mancini music and Johnny Mercer lyrics. I love the lyrics of Cole Porter, Noel Coward, Lorenz Hart and others from the standards era, but Johnny Mercer managed to be just as clever and insightful, while doing so in the everyman vernacular of 20th century America. When you see Breakfast At Tiffany’s, you appreciate the simple way he finds the depth of feeling behind the song’s story.
Of course, it needed to have an original approach to be worthy of the SUN Brothers or Rockapella. I love the samba/bossa nova feeling of Basia (and producer Danny White), and if I was forced to listen to only one record for the rest of my days, it would be one of hers. That vibe just landed on me while contemplating Moon River, and oo it make a me feel sooo nice. The song is so sublime that, to do one of our signature middle section departures would be overkill. 2 times through with Calvin caressing it once, then the group playing around it the 2nd time treats it right. Finally, a nod to Andy’s greatest Christmas hit ends it with a smile.
But for a HITS LIKE YOU NEVER HEARD show show, you gotta have Stones.
Wasn’t a follower, but feels like some of their songs make for cool Rockapella.
The simplicity of structure & open chords with the catchiness of Keith Richard’s guitar hooks & the flavor of Mick Jagger’s vocals give room for play.
Satisfaction is all about that Keith Richards guitar riff. Tried it in the bass. Reminds you it’s there without trying to sound like Keith Richards.
The open voicing of the Stones serves Rockapella well, with only 4 notes to play with. Love chords without 1-3-5 all the time. Having only 2 notes for backups sounds Stones-y. Love odd intervals.
Wouldn’t be Rockapella without referential riffs. When I was a kid, loved that funky part of Stones’ MISS YOU when Mick starts to like rap about Central Park and Puerto Rican girls “just dyin’ ta meet choo”, so I placed my favorite Stones moment – “what’s a-matter wit choo boy?” in a pivotal spot. Ryan does it justice.
On our last Japan tour, George took it to a George place leaving me cowering, delighted.
Sometimes I go for the epic, but this one feels like the rock in Rockapella.
And of course, in the live version, we pay tribute to the Bay City Rollers.
“Little Red Wild Thing”
For Rockapella’s HITS LIKE YOU NEVER HEARD show, it seemed like the 1980’s were underrepresented. Prince was my guy in the ’80’s, and we’d recently done a few Michael Jackson songs, so I went for Prince. Thought maybe Purple Rain or When Doves Cry or Kiss were songs most people – even non-Prince people would know.
Always looking for an original approach to a song people know well,
I started hearing sort of a retro/standard/swingy vibe for Little Red Corvette.
Thought something like that could fill that vibe we get when we do Mills Brothers stuff in the regular Rockapella show. Thought it would be funny to mix that vibe with such a sex-ish song.
Started in on a Mills-ian vibe for the vamp. Like to keep the Rockapella vibe away from too much raunch, so Rockapellish backups w/words can be a good way to counter the raunch & kind of poke fun at it (Trojans – giddy-up horsey).
Had to make the hook – “Little Red Corvette” – hook-worthy, so having the bass join in for 4-note chords on that phrase makes it stand out. With melody, bass line, and only 4 guys singing, we don’t usually get to do the jazzy Take 6-ish chords, so we savor those moments. And the chorus has tasty moments to feature bass man Ryan.
I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to slip in other Prince songs, but nothing was making my boat float. Then I was thinking maybe another car song would be good. I was just kind of letting it ruminate – for days, thinking something would eventually feel good, when, sitting at my computer in my Reno hotel room with the TV on, they start talking about the movie Easy Rider on an Oscar special, and that song Born To Be Wild starts playing – “Get cher motor runnin’, Head out on the highway…”. I’m like – oh baby – and we were off.
“Rock Around Somethin’ Good”
Most Rockapella arrangements arise out of what I think the live show needs. For Rockapella’s HITS LIKE YOU NEVER HEARD show, I thought “Rock Around The Clock” made sense as an opener since I think of that as the 1st big rock/pop hit.
I need to have some original vibe on a cover song to give the arrangement the right to exist. I started feeling the groove, then, singing that count-off (1, 2, 3 o’clock 4 o’clock rock…), started drifting to that Feist song (1, 2, 3, 4 – tell me that you love me more…), and I must’ve thought that was enough to build on.
At some point, when it felt right to go back to the “tell me that you love me more”, started feelin that Rufus vibe “tell me that you love me” from “Tell Me Somethin’ Good”. That made me so happy cuz that 45 was probably my most favorite of all time. Wish it could be a little slower & funky like Rufus, but this way serves the energy at the top of the show.
The final product…