Le Sonic: Behind the Beats
2021 Breakout Artist nominee Le Sonic is back with a new single titled “I’ll Be The One”. This week, I grabbed a few moments with Gary Lefkowith to chat about the band’s progress in ‘smooth jazz’ as well as his already successful music career.
Tell us about the new single “I’ll Be The One.”
Le Sonic’s new release of “I’ll Be The One” is a re-write of my first record in 1976. I wrote this as a jazzy attempt at doing a traditional standard like “Fly Me to The Moon” or “Misty,” when I was at Berklee College of Music in the summer of ’74. When I found my way from Boston to NYC, I made the rounds of the Tin Pan Alley publishing houses to try and place this song and others. While pursuing that approach I ran into some local musicians who had made their name playing at the Peppermint Lounge alongside Joey Dee & the Starlighters. We put our heads together about going ahead with a real record sans publishing deal. With Disco being the new rage, it was easy to adapt to that genre because the tempo was right around 120 bpm and the bossa beat became 4 on the floor ala Barry White. Our release even preceded the Bee Gees success. The rest of the back story is for my book.
Going fast forward to 2020, I wanted to revisit the song now that Le Sonic was pursuing a Smooth Jazz direction. I felt the lyrics had always been incomplete so Jean Leote lent her talent to give the song a better focus and deeper meaning. Mike Rogers did his usual and brilliant melodic tweaks, to further shape the song and take it to a higher level. Now the original Jazz vision has been realized for me. “I’ll Be The One” is what I wanted a woman to sing to me. To really sell me on herself and put her emotions on the line for my benefit. It’s selfish of me to want that but it’s what I wished for and what my wife Lyn gave me. The flip side of the original 45 was “Kanas City Woman,” and was written for Lyn even though she had lived in Wichita. That song was a finalist in the 1977 American Song Festival.
And you’re introducing a new singer, Lauran Beluzo to smooth jazz audiences….
Lauran is a two-time winner of Amateur Night at the Apollo and was on American idol 3 years ago. Lauran is well known in her hometown of Springfield, MA and is essentially a local celebrity having been on TV and newspapers in the market. She has done several residencies at local Clubs and has always been in high demand for Weddings, Family Gatherings, and local events.
In addition to performing, Lauran teaches Music and is adored by her young students. I really want everyone to see the video because her awesome presence is literally like a shining light. My partner Mike Rogers feels that Lauran is Judy Garland re-incarnated and I see a lot of Billie Holiday in her.
How have you mixed a career as a promoter and a musician?
By making calls and doing emails all day and by practicing guitar and writing songs at night.
On my easier days, if here is such a thing, I’ll spend time in the Studio with Mike Rogers but a lot of times we divide and concur. Some of my studio skills have atrophied because Mike is such a skillful engineer and Producer. I have literally forgotten how to comp a vocal or instrument part in a hands-on way. Mike is a master at that and having had huge hits, it’s pointless to get in his way. I go all the way back to doing all my recording on a Teac 4 track, in my first home studio and getting some pretty good masters. For the serious releases, back in the day I did do my work at Electric Lady, the PowerStation & the Hit Factory and always had top flight engineers. I remember 1 night though in the Brill Building where I did a mix and engineered it myself. But those days are gone. Mike has us covered and I concentrate much more on the actual song writing and sometimes the guitar playing. I always viewed myself as a Song Writer first and optimistically I feel I’ve gotten better at that, mostly in terms of polishing the music and making sure the finished work is the best it can be.
How did you get into ‘smooth jazz’?
My entre into Smooth Jazz Radio came via Robert Lee aka Bobby Balderrama. Bobby was the lead guitarist in ? Mark & The Mysterians and he co-wrote the mega 60’s hit “96 Tears.” The group was the first all Latino Band to have a # 1 in the USA. He identifies with Carlos Santana and is a big fan, even though ? & The Mysterians success pre-dates Santana’s 1st album and Woodstock appearance.
I had done Pop Radio promotion for his Manager, Chad Cunningham’s label. Top 40, Hot AC & Ac have been my bread and butter from early on. While working for Universal I had to cover some Country Stations and for my own Label I did College and CMJ Stations. Been times where I did AAA & Urban formats. So Chad thought that Smooth Jazz would be an easy transition and talked me into working Smooth Jazz with Robert Lee’s “Happy&Go Lucky. It was not easy but the record was amazing and we got to # 27. I wish I had known Neal Sapper because it would have gone much higher with his help.
Bobby & I remained friends and I always thought it would be great to work with him on a creative level. From time to time we’d play each other material. On a phone call in early spring of last year, I said we’re both home bound with everyone else, let’s do this! I got off the phone & hummed 8 bars into my cassette recorder, then transferred the audio to my iphone and texted him. He and his partner Frank Rodriquez embellished on that. Then my partner Mike Rogers got their demo tracks back and expanded on that, adding his composition ideas. Mike and I continued working on the song after transferring their parts into a Pro Tools session. We used Jim Hynes on trumpet to implement horn ideas we had and Dennis Collins re-sang backing vocals I originally conceived. 6 months later Le Sonic feat Robert Lee was nominated as ‘breakout artist’ of the year in Beats Magazine and we then we Hit # 1 on Billboard, Mediabase, and the Smooth Jazz Network Chart – all in the same week, of Feb 17. You and Doug Sinclair were early believers at Radio and Neal Sapper did the hard work of getting the Smooth Jazz panel on board. I made some new friends with programmers but found it best to stay out of the way. As a record promoter I had to restrain myself because Neal had it covered.
How did LeSonic come about?
Mike and I spent almost 20 years collectively running Chubby Checker’s Label at Sony / RED and doing recordings with him and producing Chubby’s Y2K Music, as he called it. What I’m most proud of is the # 1 Billboard Dance Chart hit we had with the original Song “Knock Down The Walls,” It’s considered # 9 on the list of “Top 10 greatest Chubby Checker records.”
Even though he’s associated with the Twist, Chubby had over 2 dozen Charting records at Top 40 and 4 - #1’s on the Pop Charts – Billboard & Cashbox combined. He was no one hit wonder.
Our work with Chubby spawned ½ dozen original singles, and remixes of 4 others that were classics from the 60’s including The Twist in 2016 – our version gets more play on Sirius Xm just because it sounds better sonically. But the original is beyond brilliant & vibby.
So, in an effort to re-brand ourselves, after that period, when we moved our Studio from New York City to Woodstock, & then Kent, CT, Mike suggested Le Sonic as our creative outlet. Essentially we became a Band, which has functioned by featuring other Artists on our original material. Both of us sing and play but 2 guys somewhat over the age of 29, need young blood to invigorate the music and to perform. Someone like Robert Lee is a contemporary but he’s been gigging for over 50 and never stopped. He’s always been in the trenches. In fact when “Any Moment” hit # 1 on Billboard, one of the editors, Gary Trust said it has now been 56 years between #1’s for Bobby!
How did it feel to be nominated as a ‘breakout artist’ given your many years in the music business?
A real shocker & honestly disbelief. Personally, with all I’ve done and experienced in Music, including playing guitar with Chubby Checker at the 50th Anniversary of the Daytona 500, this is the high light – the success at Smooth Jazz. Mike Rogers shares that sentiment and he co-produced, in my opinion, one of the greatest records of the 90’s, a true milestone; Deeelite’s “Groove Is In the Heart,” which sold over 6 million copies. For both of us, Le Sonic is our creative vision and we identify with it at truly our thing. We get fantastic input from the amazing musicians we work with but we’re shaping it from beginning to end. One secret I’ll giveaway. There have been times when we’ve played guitar as one person – I’m fretting with the left hand and Mike is playing the rhythm from his left hand. That’s how I view our collaboration – joined at the hip. So when we got that nomination we felt a similar feeling, of gratitude, disbelief and pride.
Tell us about your music education… When did you start playing guitar and when did you know you’d have a career as a professional musician?
I was totally self-taught at the beginning. I learned chords from a Beatles Song Book that I got when my father bought me an Epiphone Acoustic guitar. Book & Guitar was under $100 and those guitars were real quality, not what you’d get now for $99. I quickly learned that I didn’t have to sing those Beatles songs, to the chords that I played. I could make up my own Melodies & words and that became a song – over just 2 chords: G & C, with e minor thrown in and eventually D. I was one of a million kids doing that but was dumb enough to think I could make a living at it because my girlfriend and my sister thought they were good songs. A few weeks before graduation from college, my girlfriend suggested that I do music as a career, because I loved that so much, instead of Biology Graduate School. My mother being a little more practical said, if that’s the case, at least get some formal training. So I did do a couple of semesters at Berklee College of Music. At my interview my mother asked the Professor, “Do You Think He has any talent?” The diplomatic reply was, “everyone has a special inborn talent.” At Berklee I was shy about my Guitar Playing. Most everyone played rings around me but I saw that I had a clear edge over everyone I encountered with my ability to write songs and that gave me the confidence to go to New York City and really go for it.
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