Soul/funk journeyman Leon Haywood periodically dented the charts in the 1970s with hits that tapped into the grooves and musical hooks of the day's trends. An accomplished songwriter and arranger, Haywood never pretended to be an innovator, and his hits are cheerful derivations of '70s midtempo funk and romantic ballads, usually embellished by smooth string charts. His best material recalled the late-'60s/early-'70s Motown sound; on the slower material in particular, his vocals bore a resemblance to those of Marvin Gaye.
Haywood's roots extend way further back than the '70s; he toured and recorded with R&B saxophonist Big Jay McNeely's band (which also backed Sam Cooke on the road) in the early '60s. In the mid-'60s, he had his first chart entry with "She's with Her Other Love" on Imperial. In 1967, he had a solid R&B hit (and small pop one) with "It's Got to Be Mellow," whose commercial soul sound betrayed his Motown influence.
He didn't come into his own as a solo artist until the mid-'70s, when he had big R&B hits with "Strokin'," "Come and Get Yourself Some," and "Keep It in the Family." His biggest single, "I Want'a Do Something Freaky to You" (with orgasmic female gasps and moans that made it pretty clear what "freaky" really meant), crossed over to the Top 20 pop listings. The disco-ish "Don't Push It Don't Force It" was his biggest splash, making number two R&B in 1980. After the mid-'80s, he eased out of the record business into business ventures; in the 1990s, he produced blues albums by Jimmy McCracklin and others on his own EveJim label. ~ Richie Unterberger