The term "legend" is thrown around quite loosely these days, but in the case of Leon Patillo's musical accomplishments, it certainly applies. The singer/songwriter is perhaps best known for fronting Santana, one of the most seminal acts of the 1970s' rock and roll landscape with an indelible hit string that penetrated all facets of pop culture. Besides that incredible run, Patillo is also recognized for his work with Funkadelic and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, while the last two and a half decades have been filled with a consistent and ground-breaking solo career.
"Man, let me tell you, it's been an incredible ride," the silky voiced Patillo offers. "The Lord is good and He's been using all the experiences I've had in music to help me become a more effective speaker. A lot of times people want to hear stories from the old days, and that's allowed me to open up my heart and prepare a place for them to hear my message."
Indeed tales of yesteryear are a top request on a near daily basis for Patillo, but he's happy to oblige, especially considering how formative the days with Santana were on his own material and even coming to faith. After attending school in California and fronting a local band called Creation (signed to Atlantic Records), he became aware of Carlos Santana, the guitar guru and founder of his eponomously titled band. Though Patillo's creative career was already off to a solid start, he couldn't pass the opportunity to sing lead vocals for Santana upon a personal request from Carlos in 1973.
"I remember driving from L.A. to San Francisco and going to his house for a meeting and a writing session," he recalls. "Carlos opened the door and greeted me with open arms like we'd known each other for a million years. He took me downstairs to where his studio was and showed me a song he was working on. I listened to what he was doing, sat down at the organ next to him, and he looked at me and said, 'Oh my goodness, you can play too!'"
Patillo then showed Santana one of his ideas (which would later become "Mirage" off the classic 1974 Borboletta album) and the rest, as they say, is history. With its new singer/songwriter/keyboard player in tow, Santana continued to reach crests on the touring circuit, playing venues as diverse and lauded as Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, the Hippodrome in England and The Sports Center of Australia. Add in a string of other albums and singles, plus a continual evolution of direction (including R&B and ethnic elements into the group's eclectic amalgamation) and Patillo skyrocketed to the ranks of rock's upper echelon.
But despite all the fame, glitz and glamour, there was something missing from the superstar's life. And Patillo didn't know exactly what that was until he started dating a girl from San Francisco whose brother was a Christian. Having grown up with a father who was Methodist, a mother who was Baptist, and early church memories of Catholicism, the singer was admittedly confused with Christianity. But come July 4, 1974 (after repeated witnessing and encouragement from his newly found friend) Patillo accepted Jesus Christ into his life and made a commitment to steer far from the spotlight's distractions. However, that didn't mean throwing in the career towel, and he continued with Santana before branching off on his own.
After stepping down from his highly coveted position in Santana, he signed with Word Records/A&M Records, releasing the cutting edge celebration Dance Children Dance. An array of blockbuster projects continued throughout the 80s and 90s, spawning smashes like "J.E.S.U.S.," "Cornerstone," and the wedding anthem "Flesh of My Flesh."
"I had no idea God would use me as one of the many pioneers in this new thing called contemporary Gospel, but I think my work in the mainstream prepared me for what was to come," he confirms, citing session time with Funkadelic and Reeves as providing additional leverage. "In those early days and as I continue through today, I've always sought to be as innovative as I could be."
From seamlessly meshing dance, R&B, soul and Gospel styles, to dynamic live shows, Patillo turned his amalgamation of sights and sounds into an all out experience. He was one of the first to tour with an entirely electronic one man band and also was known for having an all female backing band on another jaunt. In current contexts, few inspirational artists are as explosive and uplifting on stage, while keeping their feet firmly planted on the ground.
Since 1999, Patillo has hit the road performing for the "Get Motivated" motivational speaking series, which has put him on stage with everyone from Colin Powell to George Foreman to many of the presidents (including The Bush family, Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter).
Patillo looks forward to the future in hopes each will cultivate additional seeds within the Christian and non-believing communities. Based on his communicative credibility and celebrated catalogue, it's likely he'll do just that and quite possibly much more than he can even imagine.
He is currently the pastor of the Rock House Church in Long Beach California. It is a non-denominational church whose vision is to have balanced and well-rounded Christians. He aspires to minister not only spiritually, but also physically, financially, mentally and socially.
His most recent CD with son Noel is called Re-Entry. It is a combination of Old School and New School music which aims to bridge the gap between baby boomers and the X-generation.
"My continued goal is to portray my music and message in a way that gives people more hope and a better outlook for what is to come," Patillo sums up. "I just want to be a cheerleader, for lack of a better word, where I can get people excited about all their good qualities and help them reach that next level. I'm all about seeing the glass half full even in our faults and I'm here to remind everyone there's nothing they could've done that could separate them from God's unfailing love."
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