We Need Each Other remains an underground classic.
Daryl Easlea 2012
Leo's Sunshipp is one of those remarkable one-offs that pepper R&B history. The group’s name sounds far more cosmic than it is. Those expecting a P-Funk rollercoaster ride will be sorely disappointed, as this is more a glide down the jazzy, soulful byways of mid-70s Leon Ware or Marvin Gaye. The group was so named because all three of its main protagonists – Kenny Stover, Johnny Simone and Alvin Few – were born between 22 July and 22 August, in the star sign of Leo. It was the 70s, after all.
The group’s Marvin Gaye feel ran deeper than mere admiration; Stover and Simone had been backing vocalists for Gaye, for whom Stover’s brother, Elgie, had a long-standing working relationship.
Hooking up with Few, Leo’s Sunshipp began to record an album, of which four tracks were completed before, tragically, lead vocalist Simone fell ill and died. Stover blocked the album’s release and moved on to sing with Finished Touch. And that could have been it, until Lyons Records took the four tracks, added four instrumental/alternate mixes and We Need Each Other, the group’s only release, came into being.
Of the handful of finished tracks, I’m Back for More has had the biggest afterlife, being covered by Marlena Shaw, Al Johnson and Tavares; it is the epitome of a smooth groove. The Simone-written Give Me the Sunshine was the album’s lead track and clear standout. Owing a rather large debt to Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s then-two year-old Everybody Loves the Sunshine, it is perfect summer day soul, with Clarence Bell’s synthesiser finding the sweet spot over veteran arranger David Blumberg’s string arrangement.
Madame Butterfly features the vocal skills of Wonderlove backing vocalist Shirley Brewer and late-period Supreme Susaye Green; Get the People is infectious, bongo-driven R&B with more impressive arrangements.
The material’s vibrancy is, of course, bittersweet because the listener knows what was to happen next. Leo’s Sunshipp may have been huge, or they may have churned out a welter of albums to an increasingly uninterested audience. We will never know. Because of its circumstance and its unfinished nature, We Need Each Other remains an underground classic.