Sayer, Leo (Gerard Hugh)

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Sayer, Leo (Gerard Hugh)

Sayer, Leo (Gerard Hugh), 1970s hitmaker; b. Shoreham-by-Sea, England, May 21, 1948. Although his manager’s wife nicknamed him “Leo” because of his mane of hair, that was his only leonine characteristic. Leo Sayer was downright petite, standing 5’ 4” and weighing in at a bit over 100 pounds. His mother was a nurse, his father an engineer, and he grew up on the hospital grounds, which was convenient since he was a frequent target for bullies.

While attending art school in the late 1960s, he played harmonica in the Terraplane Blues Band. After graduating, he got a job in London converting photographs into record covers for Island and Trojan records. He earned some extra cash busking and playing pick-up gigs on the harmonica, but the workload led him to a nervous breakdown in 1968. He returned home to Shoreham-by-Sea, living on a friend’s houseboat, and started writing songs as part of his therapy. He started playing in the bands Jester and Patches. Patches caught the ear of David Courtney. Formerly a drummer for English Elvis wannabe Adam Faith (who had a Top 40 hit in the U.S. with “It’s Alright” in 1965), Courtney now worked as a talent scout. He brought Patches to Faith, who offered to manage Sayer and obtain a record deal for him.

Sayer and Courtney also started writing together. They recorded some demos at Roger Daltrey’s studio, and Daltrey liked the Sayer-Courtney songs so much, he recorded nine of them for his 1973 solo debut album. “Giving It All Away” became a substantial hit in England and on rock radio in the U.S. Daltrey offered Sayer some tips on stagecraft and even loaned him a PA system.

When Sayer’s debut, Silverbird, came out in 1974, it spawned the European hit “One Man Band.” Sayer toured the continent with Roxy Music; dressed in white-face and a clown costume, he got noticed. Sayer’s second album contained several more of the songs from the Daltrey album, including his version of “Giving It All Away” from which the title Just a Boy came. That album spawned a huge worldwide hit, the rollicking “Long Tall Glasses,” which rose to #9 in the U.S., propelling the album to #16. His third album, produced by former Supertramp bassist Frank Farrell, yielded yet another European hit, “Moonlighting,” in 1975.

Later in 1975, Sayer fell under the sway of producer Richard Perry, who knew how to create pop hits and how to ride a trend. He recorded Endless Flight with Sayer, taking him to the top of the charts worldwide with the ballad “When I Need You” and the disco-light tune “You Make Me Feel like Dancing,” which won Sayer a Grammy award for Best Rhythm and Blues Song of 1976. Both singles went gold. A third single, “How Much Love” rose to #17. The album hit #10 and went platinum.

A year later, Sayer’s second foray with Perry, Thunder in My Heart, was somewhat less successful. It spawned two singles that barely scratched the Top 40, the title track and “Easy to Love.” The album also barely made the Top 40, sneaking in at #37. Despite a plethora of musicians from Fleetwood Mac, Toto, Elton John’s band, and other big-name session players, his 1978 album Leo Sayer stiffed, although “I Can’t Stop Loving You (Though I Try)” became a hit in Europe. His next album, Here, paired him with most of Booker T and the MGs and Al Kooper, but also failed to set the charts afire.

In 1980 he came back with a new producer and a leaner sound on Living in a Fantasy. The ballad “More than I Can Say” propelled Sayer to #2, topping the adult contemporary charts and going gold. The title track rose to #23, but the album barely made the Top 40, stalling at #36. Sayer next hosted a BBC TV show, spent some time in the U.S., and unable to convert anything from 1982’s World Radio into a hit, started playing Vegas-style showrooms. Not happy with this, he fired his management, but it was too little too late. After 1984’s Have You Ever Been in Love, he dropped off the pop music radar.

During the late 1990s, Sayer experienced something of a renaissance when the Prodigy’s Keith Flint mentioned he was a fan of Sayer’s. Sayer started making appearances on British TV again, and even went out for his first full-fledged tour of the continent in over a decade.


Silverbird (1974); Just a Boy (1974); Another Year (1975); Endless Flight (1976); Thunder in My Heart (1977); Leo Sayer (1978); Here (1979); Living in a Fantasy (1980); World Radio (1982); Have You Ever Been in Love (1984); Love Songs (1997).

—Hank Bordowitz