American-born producer, composer, and arranger Craig Leon has led a remarkable, multi-faceted career. If his name rings a bell to fans of rock and punk, it's because of his production work on seminal albums by the Ramones, Blondie, and Suicide, in addition to over 150 other records by rock, folk, country, and alternative artists. During the early '80s, Leon released Nommos and Visiting, two albums which incorporated African rhythms into minimalist electronic arrangements, approximating the folk music of another galaxy. Since the late '90s, Leon has also been a major figure in the classical music world. He has produced recordings for Sir James Galway and the London Symphony Orchestra, Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and several best-selling albums by classical crossover artist Izzy (Isobel Cooper). During the 2010s, as interest in analog synthesizers and vintage electronic music was in resurgence, Leon's first two solo albums were reissued as Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music, Vol. 1, and he performed the works at several venues and festivals. The Canon, a sequel to the first Anthology, followed in 2019.
Craig Leon was born and raised in Florida, where he was classically trained as a keyboard player and composer. He played keyboards on records by local rock and R&B groups, and after work at Miami-based recording studio Criteria, he built his own studio along with co-worker Alex Sadkin. The Climax Blues Band, signed to Sire at the time, recorded at the studio, and producer Richard Gottehrer invited Leon to work as his assistant in New York. Leon moved to Manhattan in the early '70s, just as the punk scene was being established, and he became an A&R for Sire. Leon produced the groundbreaking 1976 debut album by the Ramones. Along with Gottehrer and fellow producer Marty Thau, he set up production company Instant Records, and co-produced Richard Hell's first EP, tracks on Blondie's 1977 debut, and the self-titled debut by electronic duo Suicide. Leon also produced, engineered, or played on records by a wide range of artists including Rodney Crowell, the Roches, and Sir Douglas Quintet.
In 1981, John Fahey's Takoma label released Leon's debut full-length, Nommos, an electronic concept album inspired by the creation myth of the Dogon tribe of Mali. Featuring vocals by Leon's wife, Cassell Webb, the album was composed using an early LinnDrum and several Roland synthesizers. This was followed by the similarly styled Visiting in 1982. Leon also collaborated with Arthur Brown on his Speaknotech LP, later reissued as The Complete Tapes of Atoya. Leon moved to England during the mid-'80s, and remained highly active as a producer for Virgin subsidiary Statik Records. During this time, he worked on records by the Fall, the Chameleons, the Go-Betweens, the Pogues, and dozens of other acts. He also produced Blondie's 1999 comeback album No Exit, including the single "Maria," which reached number one on the U.K. chart. By the end of the '90s, however, he'd begun working almost exclusively on classical projects. He produced several albums by Izzy which topped the U.K. classical album charts. He also produced and arranged Andreas Scholl's 2001 album of folk songs titled Wayfaring Stranger, Sir James Galway's Wings of Song (2004), soprano Natasha Marsh's Amour (2007), and the London Chamber Orchestra's Midwinter's Eve: Music for Christmas (2011), among other releases. Leon also co-produced and composed music for the 2012 PBS film Quest Beyond the Stars.
In 2013, Aparté released Early Electronic Works, a CD which combined a re-recording of Nommos with a remastered version of Visiting. (A reissue of Nommos also appeared on Superior Viaduct, without Leon's consent.) A vinyl edition of Early Electronic Works, retitled Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music, Vol. 1, was released by RVNG Intl. to wide acclaim in 2014, and Leon performed the works at several venues and festivals throughout the world, including Moogfest, Unsound, and London's Cafe OTO. In 2015, Sony Classical released Leon's Bach to Moog: A Realisation for Electronics and Orchestra, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Moog modular synthesizer. The Film Scores and Original Orchestral Music of George Martin, performed by the Berlin Music Ensemble and conducted by Leon, was released through his Atlas Realisations imprint in 2017. Leon returned to minimalist electronic music with Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music, Vol. 2: The Canon, released by RVNG Intl. in 2019. ~ Paul Simpson