NBCs much-lauded public awareness spots
remind us time and time again that "The More You Know," the better off
Leon Patillo must agree.
A popular Christian artist in the 80s, Patillos musical career was inspired
by a pre-school teacher. "When I was 4 years old, I had a teacher named Miss
Hughes," says Patillo. "She believed every kid had a special gift. She would put
different things in front of each kid until she found something that interested them or
they had abilities with. One day she sat down at the piano and started playing. I was
sitting beside her. My hands started doing what her hands did. I thought what she was
doing was the coolest thing."
Encouraged by the words of a teacher who believed in their sons potential,
Leons parents soon enrolled the young talent in piano lessons. "I started
taking lessons from a German piano teacher named Miss Johnson. My parents really made me
practice. I remember sitting at the piano in the big bay window of my house hating it
because all the other kids were outside playing football. But soon they were coming in,
listening to me, telling me what a special gift I had."
By the time Patillo was 14, his mothers church asked him to help with the choir,
a responsibility he enjoyed until age 18. He then started the VIPs, a musical group that
kept busy performing at a variety of dances around San Francisco.
"Then I moved to L.A. and got hooked up with a guy named Richard Perry who
produced lots of groups and worked with the Pointer Sisters," continues Patillo.
"He got me singing background and doing arrangements with Martha & the Vandellas,
the Pointer Sisters and Funkadelic, among others."
Then fate intervened in Patillos life. "A guy I knew in San Francisco asked
me to help him with a record, but he only had about five songs. So I gave him about four
or five of my songs and sang them on the tape."
The friend took the tape to Latin rock legend Carlos Santana in an attempt to sell the
"Santana told him he wasnt interested in the songs but loved the
singer," says Patillo. "To make a long story short, we got hooked up and I
joined the band Santana in 1973. I recorded three albums including Borboletta (1974),
Festival (1976) and Moonflower (1977). Two turned gold and one platinum."
In 1974, life threw Patillo a curve ball when he attended a Bible study with the
brother of a girlfriend. That nights conversation convinced Leon of his need for
God. "I became a Christian in 1974, the very night of that Bible study."
By 1978, Patillos conflicts with Santana about the spiritual content of his
lyrics were too much, and he left the band. In 1979, Leon released his first Christian
album, Dance Children Dance. Over the next decade Patillo released nine albums including
Dont Give In (1981), Live Experience (1983), The Skys the Limit (1984) and
Love Around the World (1985). Those albums included such hits as "Dance Children
Dance," Star of the Morning," "Cornerstone," "The Skys the
Limit," "J.E.S.U.S." and the popular wedding song "Flesh of My
"Looking back," reflects Patillo, "the one that stands out after all
this time is The Skys the Limit. I was doing a lot of ministry on the road, and the
low self-esteem that I found people suffered with was overwhelming. So when I got to the
studio, these songs just came rushing out. I really love that record.
"My final record was Love Around the World," Patillo recalls.
"Thats when I toured with the all-girl band. It really split my audience. About
60 percent really liked it, and 40 percent hated it. I had been doing about 150 dates a
year, and I just got burned out by the end of that tour, so I took a sabbatical. During
that time I went through a divorce. Then in 1993, I started working in TV on TBN with a
show called Leon and Friends. Now I understand the things I did wrong during
that time. For years, ministry came first. I hadnt put my family or my health first.
"I did an album called The Classics last year re-recording all my big hits on my
own label, Positive Pop Records. I updated them, giving them a bit more of a
90s sound and re-singing the vocals. I am working right now on a new album for
release in August or September. I think it will be really good."
Today Patillo sounds like a happy-go-lucky artist fans remember from the 80s, a
man with big dreams for the future. "I am working on some projects in Hollywood now.
I think the movies are the one area that we as Christians have not broken through in. Amy
(Grant), BeBe & CeCe and Take 6 have made their mark in music, but we need to get
something happening on the big screen."