Built and Stacked: Inside Leon Haywood’s Real Masterpiece

Posted April 12, 2016 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Dr. Dre may have won the late Leon Haywood a glorious amount of sampling royalties, but the late producer/songwriter/singer should be equally praised and remembered for another career highlight

You probably never heard of his name.

Leon Haywood, born in Houston, Texas, died on April 5 at the age of 74. And he didn’t get any real media coverage or the glossy obits expected from pop royalty.

Leon Haywood never became a R&B titan, but he had a few golden moments. As a solo artist for 20th Century [Fox], a label home dominated by R&B stars like Barry White and Stephanie Mills, Haywood managed to pull off a handful of mid-level singles. His most poignant was a 1975 single called “I Want’a Do Something Freaky to You.” The sneaky slow jam didn’t do much when originally released. It managed to hit number 7 R&B and number 15 pop), but it resonated heavily in the gangsta rap era of the ‘90’s when Dr. Dre sampled it for the gods on the Snoop Dogg-featured eternal classic “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang.” It hit number one on the R&B/hip-hop charts and became one of the poignant game changers in hip-hop. Other hip-hop artists like Ja Rule, Silkk the Shocker and Kris Kross gleamed on the classic, turning Haywood’s gem into a piece of sampling gold. Rolling Stone managed to write an obit on Haywood last week, but it focused entirely on his contribution to Dr. Dre’s wild card.

As good as “I Want’a Do Something Freaky to You” was, it pales in comparison to his greatest masterpiece, an album and mega jam that Haywood produced in the early ‘80’s. Sadly, he didn’t record it on himself. Instead it was giving to Carl Carlton, who had previously netted a Top Ten hit with the proto-disco hit “Everlasting Love.” Inside the liner notes of the remastered Carl Carlton released on Big Break Records in 2013, I penned a very exhaustive history regarding his work on the seminal album. That project revived Carlton’s career, placing him at the very top of the R&B chain and spawned the 1981 monster smash hit “She’s a Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked).”

That song, penned entirely by Haywood, was actually recorded and released on Haywood’s solo album Naturally. The lyrics were the same, but the music was entirely different.

Inside the liner notes of the BBR remastered Carl Carlton:


“The nucleus of “She’s a Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked)” can be traced back to 1978 when Leon Haywood composed “She’s Built, She’s Stacked” for his Double My Pleasure LP*. The framework from that overlooked album track sounded like it was meant for ConFunkShun thanks in part to its heavy display of big P-funk bass, complimentary strings and peppery horns. Those features didn’t make the transition on Carlton. Instead Haywood gutted out all the original musical arrangement and properly inserted magnetic melodic hooks that wrapped around a cascade of handclaps, ‘80’s-friendly bass, snazzy synths and Chic-sounding guitar riffs. The end result, chiefly executed by Michael McGloiry’s guitar skills and George Duke’s jazz-fusion fingers, proved to be almost irresistible for radio. By June 1981, the song soared to number two on Billboard’s R&B/Soul charts and remained there for eight weeks straight; hindering him from the top spot was Rick James’s “Give it To Me Baby” and Frankie Smith’s “Double Dutch Bus.” The song netted Carlton his second Top 40 hit of his career, was certified gold by the RIAA, cruised up to number 20 on the Disco Top 80 and reached 34 on the UK charts. And with a whip of resurrection power, Carlton had transformed once again into a global superstar. By summer’s end, Carlton was opening up for big acts like Frankie Beverly’s Maze, Smokey Robinson and the self-proclaimed punk-funkster Rick James. “That’s George [Duke] playing those keyboards – him and James Ingram,” Carlton said, while describing the hit record. “We had the best. That’s why it sound the way it does.”

carlcarlton-carlcarltonCarl Carlton’s gold-certified self-titled LP yielded two more R&B radio gems with the bubbly disco grooves of “Sexy Lady” and the Quiet Storm teaser “This Feeling’s Rated X-tra.” (#57 R&B), but nothing stuck to the wall like “She’s a Bad Mama Jama.” Sadly, the album is ripe with delicious funk and spectacular R&B melodies. Thanks to a glorious band of top-tier studio musicians, the album had all the potential to overshadow most of its competition. Keyboard extraordinaire George Duke, legendary drummer James Gadson, Jack Perry and burgeoning R&B crooner James Ingram are all there. So are Tom Tom 84’s horn arrangements. Yup, that’s the dude that sent the brass on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall into orbit and helped create the legend behind Earth, Wind & Fire’s irresistible Phoenix Horns section. Songs like “Don’t You Wanna Make Love” and “I’ve Got That Boogie Fever” should have been rushed to radio without any hesitation. Instead the label forced Carlton to put out a second album before the steam of “Bad Mama Jama” evaporated. But with Haywood refraining from producing Carlton’s follow-up album, the steam was all gone.

With PolyGram purchasing 20th Century, the record label that Haywood and Carlton called home, and new executives now calling the shots, Carlton’s dreams (and to a greater extent, Haywood) were completely dashed. The Bad, Carlton’s next album, managed to pull off a Top 20 R&B hit with cover of the Four Tops’ “Baby, I Need Your Loving” produced by hi-NRG pro Patrick Cowley, but that was it. One more album with PolyGram and Carlton’s contract was up.

“Mama Jama” remains one of the most remembered synth-R&B jams of the early ‘80’s, and was even revived by Dru Hill’s Sisqo and Foxy Brown when they snatched a chunk of the song for “Big Bad Mamma,” heard on the How To Be a Playa motion picture soundtrack. The song went to number 53 pop and number 10 on the R&B/hip-hop chart.

  • Inside the original liner notes, the wrong album (Naturally) was attributed to Carl Carlton’s “She’s Built, She’s Stacked.”



About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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