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Deke Leonard 1/2017

Deke Leonard, guitarist for Man and IcebergJanuary 31, 2017 – Deke Leonard (Man) was born Roger Leonard on 18 December 1944 in Llanelli, South Wales in the UK, the son of Winston, a dog breeder, and his wife, Ella. He attended Llanelli boys’ grammar school, where he formed his first band, Lucifer and the Corncrackers, with his cousin Meic Rees (vocals), Geoff Griffiths (drums) and Clive “Wes” Reynolds (bass), in 1962, taking his stage name from “Deke” Rivers, the character played by Elvis Presley in his 1957 movie Loving You. Leonard left school to work as a management trainee for a building contractor, where he quickly left to avoid getting fired. He decided to become a full-time musician or as he later confessed: “”serving a life sentence in the music business”.

The Corncrackers ran their own club, the “L” Club, featuring themselves and booking other Welsh musicians such as such as Tommy Scott (Tom Jones) and the Senators. He went on to play with other Welsh bands, the Jets, Smokeless Zone and the Dream., whilst also playing support to acts such as Johnny Kidd & The Pirates and The Hollies at a rival venue. When Rees left they continued as a trio; Keith Hodge then replaced Griffiths, but when Reynolds left to join the South Wales band The Jets, The Corncrackers broke up.

Leonard then joined The Jets, on keyboards, but preferred playing guitar, so he reformed The Corncrackers with additional guitarist Brian Breeze, before replacing Vic Oakley as bass player in The Blackjacks, with whom he toured US bases in Europe. On his return, he rejoined The Jets, with Tony “Plum” Hollis on vocals, Martin Ace (bass) and Beau Adams (drums). There were other bands named The Jets on the circuit, so they changed their name to The Smokeless Zone and took residencies in Germany, including one at Hamburg’s Top Ten Club where Tony Sheridan played with them. Adams was replaced by Terry Williams, but after several more European mainland residencies, they disbanded.

When Breeze left the Corncrackers, Leonard rejoined, playing London residences and recording demos for EMI & CBS. When Hodge left, Terry Williams joined on drums and Martin Ace as a multi-instrumentalist. The band changed its style to psychedelia and its name to Dream; not sure what a “freak-out” was, they invented their own with shaving foam and confetti.

In November 1968, Leonard joined The Bystanders, to replace Vic Oakley (again), just as the band changed their musical direction, from close harmony pop to a psychedelic/American west coast style, and their name to Man.

Over the years Leonard joined and left a handful of times, bouncing back and forth between his own rock and roll band Iceberg, which he formed and disbanded every time he rejoined or quit Man. Besides his music, he was also an author, raconteur and television panelist.

Band Bouncing

Leonard initially stayed with Man until they were mixing their second album 2 Ozs of Plastic with a Hole in the Middle, when marital problems demanded his attention to join his wife in Llanelli. For a while he became productivity manager in a piano factory, but quit after supporting a wild-cat strike, and was accepted back into the band, as Man’s original bass player and drummer were replaced by Leonard’s former Dream colleagues, Martin Ace and Terry Williams. Some saw this as a take-over.

When Ace left in 1972, Leonard was fired by Micky Jones and Williams, but was immediately offered a solo record deal by Man’s A&R man, Andrew Lauder. He joined Help Yourself to avoid them having to cancel a tour, as Malcolm Morley was ill, but stayed on after Morley rejoined, recording Christmas at the Patti on 19 December 1972, as support to Man.

As a result of his solo record deal, Leonard recorded his first ‘solo’ album Iceberg, with Mike Gibbins (Badfinger), Byron Berline (The Flying Burrito Brothers), Tommy Riley, Martin Ace, Beau Adams and all of the band Help Yourself.

Needing a band to tour and promote the album, he formed the band Iceberg, with former Corncrackers Brian Breeze (guitar) and Keith Hodge (drums), and ex-Help Yourself Paul Burton (bass). The album received good review; the single “Hard Way to Live” was on the BBC playlist and was promoted by John Peel, for whom Iceberg recorded a session on 14 May 1973.

After touring the album, Martin Ace replaced Burton, and after another tour, Dave Charles replaced Hodge. This line-up recorded the Kamikaze album, with help from Dave Edmunds, but the album was seen as “a big disappointment”.

They recorded another Peel session on 26 November 1973, before Ace was replaced by Help Yourself’s Ken Whaley. They toured supporting Man, during which Micky Jones and Leonard arranged a new Man line-up; when Man split in December 1973, Leonard disbanded Iceberg and rejoined Man in January 1974, bringing Malcolm Morley and Ken Whaley with him. He stayed until Man disbanded in December 1976, playing on all the albums from Rhinos, Winos, and Lunatics, to All’s Well That Ends Well.

When Man disbanded, Leonard still had a solo record contract, so he went into the studio and recorded Before Your Very Eyes, with Martin Ace, Terry Williams and others. Produced by Martin Rushent, the album release was delayed for five years, when EMI took over United Artists.

He briefly played with Sean Tyla (ex-Ducks Deluxe) in the Tyla Gang, appearing on their 1977 album Yachtless, then reformed Iceberg, initially with Lincoln Carr (bass) and Terry Williams. A later line up of Richard Treece (ex Help Yourself) (guitar & bass), B.J. Cole (pedal steel guitar) and Reg Isadore (drums) evolved into Leonard, Howard Hughes (piano) and Anthony Stone (drums) who performed another Peel Session on 15 February 1978

Also in 1978, Leonard, Big George and Pete Thomas helped Larry Wallis record an album, to be called Leather Forever, but the album was shelved, although some tracks were later released on “Pink Fairies and Deviants” compilation albums Hams (Vol 2) and Hogwash.

Leonard briefly moved to the USA in 1981, where he worked on Walter Egan’s album The Last Stroll,  before rejoining Sean Tyla to form The Force with Micky Groome (bass) and Paul Simmons (drums). After extensive touring, they recorded an eponymous album, The Force but Tyla suffered severe stage fright and left the band, which became another Iceberg.

In 1983 Leonard disbanded Iceberg again, to join the reforming Man, playing with them until 1996, when he suffered a minor stroke. Man played as a trio until he recovered, and rejoined them in 1997.

In 2002 Leonard issued Unfinished Business a CD of demos, rejects and out-takes. Later that year Micky Jones had several operations on a brain tumour, but in 2004, when Jones had recovered enough to rejoin, Leonard decided to leave Man again.

In 2004, Leonard formed another Iceberg, with former Man bassist Will Youatt, guitarist Clive “Snob” Roberts and Bob Richards (who continued drumming with Man). Roberts was diagnosed with lung cancer after their first gig, and died shortly after, being replaced by Brian Breeze, who was in turn replaced by Ray “Taff” Williams (not Ray Williams, the original Man bass player, who died in 1993).

In 2004, Leonard also recorded a solo album Freedom and Chains, the studio time being sponsored by 56 “Angels” who are credited in the sleeve-notes; and in 2005, a collection of Iceberg recordings for 1970s radio shows, including John Peel, was released as Wireless.

As of 2012 Iceberg were still performing, with Will Youatt (bass), Bob Richards (drums) and James Beck (guitar) backing Leonard.

Besides a lifelong musician Deke Leonard also was a published author and in-demand raconteur

He started his writing career with sleeve notes for the 1970s Man albums. After Man disbanded he wrote articles and reviews for Vox, Studio Week and other music magazines. His first autobiographical book Rhinos, Winos & Lunatics (1996) had limited sales, but his second book Maybe I Should’ve Stayed in Bed? (2000) received good reviews, prompting a second edition of the first book, which has since been translated into German. In 2003, The Fiction Factory acquired the film rights to both books.

Leonard read extracts from the books for a series of BBC radio programmes It’s Crazy Man which won “Best Radio Documentary” at the 2006 Celtic Film and Television Festival and were nominated for a Sony Radio Academy “Special Music Award” in 2006. He has also toured a one-man show, retelling selections of his rock’n’roll anecdotes, interspersed with songs, and regularly appeared at the Dylan Thomas Literary Weekend in Laugharne.

Leonard also appeared as panellist, commentator and narrator on several television and radio programmes including: Pub Rock Quiz, Rock Of Ages, Dragons Breath (a history of Welsh rock music), Tales Of The Road and Juke Box Heroes.

His third book The Twang DynastyFrom Memphis to Merthyr, guitarists that rocked the world was launched at an Iceberg gig on 15 December 2011 although officially published in January 2012.

His fourth book, the third in his autobiographical series, Maximum Darkness: Man on the Road to Nowhere was launched at Micky Jones’ 4th Memorial Jam on 13 December 2014, although officially published in January 2015.  Also in 2015, a collection magazine articles, Deke Speaks: A collection of musings and diary notes from “The Welsh Connection”, was published for Amazon Kindle.

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