Google the name Leonard Dozier and you will see an experienced and accomplished actor with extreme range and versatility. His work encompasses stage, (2013 Broadway world nominee, central PA region for Best Actor and set to play opposite the highly-revered Austin Pendleton in a new play called Meet the Earth in NY in September) film (Legends of Oz, Turning Point and the recently completed Phaesporia) and voice overs (NCAA Recyclemania and Ruben Studdard’s Love Is campaign along with documentaries and audiobooks including the forthcoming Stamina by former NBA player Derek Anderson).
Yet, Dozier (unsure of his relation to the former great Motown songwriter) is a potent singer with his own signature sound. This is none more evident than on his new single I Love U available on Itunes, Spotify, Amazon and other online retailers August 12th. Co-written and co-produced with his longtime musical collaborator Michael Downing, the song is far from the candlelight and roses that its title suggests. Instead, it is a reminder that true love is also willing to let go when needed. Save the ballad, minor chords and melancholy vocals. Downing and Dozier craft a pulsating groove with rhythmic instrumentation that is reminiscent of both the 70’s and 90’s in its feel but is very contemporary with Dozier’s smooth but powerful baritone gliding over the song’s infectious hook, particularly as the song peaks in its energy. The song is blissfully uplifting and suggests a certain freedom or liberation through the expression of what is really the emotional center of the song “be willing to let go even when you don’t want to.” The inspiration for the song? “Life,” Dozier says. “More specifically my own relationships particularly my marriage,” he states candidly. “I write conversationally and honestly.”
The timing of the new single is significant as Dozier is now at work on a new project called “Songwriter” an adult contemporary R&b/soul/smooth-jazz tinged project that will introduce three to four new self-penned songs in addition to some covers of some of the great songs ever written in the musical landscape. In addition to Downing, he will work with seasoned professionals in the business including Danny Fordham (who mixed and mastered the new single) and Jamie Myerson, both with a strong past and connection to the industry. “My schedule is crazy,” he states “but I’m passionate about this project and I find that I’m falling in love with music again. My manager told me a few days ago to be mindful that this is a singles-driven business now so that makes it a little more realistic for me.”
Note the term ‘falling in love again.’ Dozier has been active as a singer and songwriter since the late 90’s. Then, a 19 year-old Dozier was strictly focused on music even while studying theater at Fordham University in NY. He jokes that music and women were a vice then, often cutting classes to audition and shop his demo. This demo eventually landed in the hands of a Polygram (now Universal) employee who was the head of A&R at a new independent label to be distributed by Polygram. Consequently, Leonard became the label’s first male artist. “Mike [Michael Downing] and I were sitting in the Mercury Records’ conference room overlooking midtown Manhattan just reveling in the moment listening to our music.” Unfortunately, that moment was short-lived as the Polygram-Universal merger saw the label and many others under its scope left for extinction. “It was a very, very depressing time in my life,” says Dozier. Fast forward to one year later and Dozier signed with an independent label headed by Paul Jerkins, the uncle of superstar producer Rodney Jerkins. Unfortunately, due to creative differences his Nights Like This album was never released. More disappointment. In 2003, Leonard was selected by Tina Shafer’s Songwriter Circle as one of a select group of artists to perform at the Bitter End in NY which has hosted legendary artists such as Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan and Donny Hathaway just to name a few. On the same lineup that night was Grammy-winning songwriter Gordon Chambers who wrote Anita Baker’s “I Apologize” (Anita would be relevant to his career later) After years of shopping for a new deal amidst a rapidly changing musical climate, Dozier’s work with producer/engineer Andrew Manzano (N’Sync, Deborah Cox, Dave Hollister, Michael Jackson) and Grammy-nominated jazz musician George Mesterhazy (Shirley Horn) almost landed him a deal with legendary jazz label Blue Note Records whose VP Tom Evered was enamored with his voice and saw great promise in him. Still, a label like Blue Note can only truly focus on a few artists at a time and “they had just signed Al Green and Anita Baker” remembers Dozier. Without a new label home and with the passing of his musical hero Luther Vandross, Leonard closed the door on his musical journey to return to his first love: acting. Occassional, limited marketed releases would follow–one of which– This Thanksgiving has expanded his audience and given him the benefit of a holiday classic for a holiday with essentially no music catalogue.
The marginal success of this single has, as Dozier puts it, “kept the coffin from closing musically so to speak.” This along with some of his elder statesmen musical heroes such as Will Downing, Brian Mcknight, Phil Perry and a host of others keep him inspired to produce music for a vast audience that the music industry has ignored: ADULTS. “I’m a 35 year old father and if the only new music I’m hearing is played by my kids then I’m a bit concerned—not only as an artist but as a human being.” He adds, “me along with those older than me are being forced to listen to the music of yesteryear. Yet, us adults have to act like we want to be a factor.”
Additionally, Leonard is pushing the platform of adult contemporary music by paying homage to two major musical influences in his life. He is currently writing a stage play about Will Downing’s battle with polymiositis in 2007 and his triumphant return to the industry along with a movie about Luther Vandross, a project he has been working on for the past 9 years. “I am really close to one of Luther’s nieces and was a friend of her mother’s [Luther’s sister] so I want the project to have their blessings while also furthering the legacy of Luther.” I’m also hoping to pitch the stage play to Will sometime in the fall. I have had a couple of wonderful conversations with his manager Kyle Newport in the past.”
For now, the business at hand is the new single and if given the appropriate marketing, adult R&B/soul fans may have a new song to be excited about. “I’m going to be active promoting it to media, radio and coming up with innovative ways to get it to audiences,” says Dozier. “This song stirs my soul and I believe there are many who would get the same feeling.”
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