One of the Best Male R & B Voices in the Desert that Started Out as a Heavy Metal and Punk Rock Drummer
By Lisa Morgan
To look at him, you would never suspect the level of talent cloaked beneath his nonchalant, humble mannerism. Not to say that the guy doesn’t have swagger. When you learn about his Brooklyn roots, the character that is JoJo Leone starts to make sense. But nowhere in casual conversation would you even begin to realize the depth and variety to this local musician’s music skill and experience. The minute you hear the first pure, soulful notes coming through the PA, you know there has to be an amazing story behind his music. And there is.
Leone grew up in epicenter of the mob scene in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Leone’s love affair with music had quite different origins than one would ever suspect from an artist you’ll find with guitar in hand, singing the soulful R&B and pop that venues like Mastros and Pete’s Hideaway pay him for. “It all started in New York, watching the bands at block parties,” shared Leone in his somewhat tamed Brooklyn accent. “I was enamored by everything they did. I used to order records off the television at night when my mom didn’t know. They’d send them COD back then. The mailman would deliver them and surprise my mom. Fortunately, she was very supportive of my love for music so she’d pay for them. My grandfather was a ragtime piano player on Coney Island, my grandmother on my dad’s side played mandolin guitar and sang, my dad played drums in the military and had a nice voice actually. But a lot of my inspiration came from 70’s radio and bands like Ambrosia and The Beatles. Then I’d listen to my sister’s collection that had Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye. I remember standing in front of a mirror, pretending I was Michael Jackson with a hair brush in my hand. I sang that song Ben all the time. But my very first gigs were as a heavy metal drummer.”
“I always sang, but in the late 70’s early 80’s, when I was 14, my first gigs were at all the famous punk and metal houses like L’Amour in New York – places where bands like Metallica started. We were a popular band in New York back then. We’d draw over 1500 people. Then I went out to LA and played. Those were my first gigs. I started with original music and never played covers until I was in my 20’s. Friends I hung out with ended up in bands like Poison, Type O Negative and Journey. From the time I was 12-16, I was playing punk and metal (this was when punk was getting really big in New York). I hung out with guys like Marky Ramone (drummer for the Ramones). And I’ve been told I’m going to be in the L’Amore book (a book documenting the heyday of the premier heavy metal club).
It wasn’t until his 20’s when Leone started working with R&B and pop artists, the genre that would highlight his incredible vocal skill and ultimately earn him his bread and butter. “I worked as drummer/percussionist/vocalist with Phyllis Hyman. We toured in Asia and Europe opening for a lot of R&B stars like Roberta Flack and James Ingram.” From there Leone played at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He played in a show called, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”, a tribute to Stevie Wonder that starred Chaka Khan and Peabo Bryson. “When I was 25/26 years old I got to live out a dream and played a show at Madison Square Garden with many 80’s and early 90’s R&B acts that became huge in the 90’s.” Leone followed that up with playing in a Motown Review for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
It wasn’t until after all of this, Leone moved to Palm Springs for a house gig as a guitarist and vocalist at St. James Restaurant (Now Sammy G’s). He was also a regular at Rancho Las Palmas, Jackalope Ranch the Zoso (before it became the Hard Rock Hotel). Leone enjoyed a 1 1/2 year residency at the Riviera Hotel in Palm Springs back then, with popular season 5 of “The Voice” contestant, Will Champlin.
Today, you can find Leone in some of the nicest venues the desert has to offer, but every Sunday, you count on enjoying his music in the warm and intimate setting of Pete’s Hideaway in Palm Springs, every Sunday from 7:30-11pm.
But this Friday only, December 19th, JoJo Leone will be joining me, Lisa Lynn Morgan, for a dinner set at Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert, from 6-8pm. I’ll be adding a little classic country as well as some great female pop standards to Leone’s already huge repertoire. I shared the stage with him one other time at Palm Desert Country Club, and was overwhelmed by the purity of his voice, the soulfulness of his delivery and his skilled guitar playing, considering this is a drummer at heart we’re talking about. I thought I had been blown away already by his floating tenor vocals as he sang songs from Stevie Wonder, Kool and the Gang and even Vince Gill, when out of nowhere, I hear Michael McDonald being channeled through him!
One of our desert’s most widely adored and respected staples in live music, Mark Gregg, has this to say about Leone: “JoJo is a singer’s singer, and multi-instrumentalist cursed with good looks and perfect pitch. I really, really hate this guy. No one should be so talented. I actually go to his gigs and under bid him, so he will leave town. JoJo and I did a number of shows together in different bands, and he got all the chicks. I really do hate him. All kidding aside though, JoJo is one of the finest dude’s I’ve had the pleasure to meet and call friend. If you can catch a show, you will be privileged to hear one of the best soul singers anywhere with a huge cache of tunes and stories. I hope to be working with him often in 2015.”
I am truly honored to have the opportunity to share the stage with Leone, considering the guy doesn’t seem to work with any slouches. Leone was gracious enough to honor me with this overly gracious quote: “Lately, I’ve been performing with an amazing female vocalist named Lisa Lynn Morgan. She has a unique, powerful voice that captivates you with the sweetest melody sense. I am really enjoying our gigs together. And as it turns out, we worked with many of the same musicians in Las Vegas at different times!”
We simply love music, and will love you, if you would join us for dinner this Friday, December 19, between 6pm and 8pm, at Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert on the corner of Highway 111 and Fred Waring, next to Men’s Warehouse.
For booking, you can reach JoJo Leone at (212) 470-8432
Please check out and support JoJo Leone at these following links: