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LMT and the Marvin Gaye connection

Historic album release puts one more spotlight on guitarist, singer, songwriter Leroy Emmanuel

There is no doubt that the influence of the right person - the one with talent, vision, and the ability to teach - can change the artistic landscape of their surroundings.

For the last 40 years, Niagara and the GTA have been blessed with the presence of such a musical influence in the form of Leroy Emmanuel.

Emmanuel and his band, the LMT Connection, have enjoyed a long standing run as the area's premiere funk and soul band.

This year, to honour Marvin Gaye's 80th birthday, Motown/UMe released Gaye's never-issued 1972 album, You're The Man.

Emmanuel played guitar on the title track and that has attracted an extra spotlight on the entertainer.

According to Universal Music, shortly after Gaye released his universally acclaimed album What's Going On, he released the single, You're The Man. It was a sarcastic riff on political non-action and came out as the U.S. presidential campaign was kicking off. But it was shelved until this year. 

In an interview with the Thorold News, Emmanuel said he met Gaye when he was 13.

"We moved in Indiana when I was five and by the age of seven, I knew I wanted to do something in music," he said.

"Eventually we moved to small cities in Michigan and we moved to Detroit when I was nine," he added.

He bought a box guitar when he was 10 and taught himself to play it and, "I was ready to hit the stage by the time I was 12."

He recounted, "I met Marvin at 13 and went to school with the guys from the Temps (Temptations) and the (Four) Tops. I hung out with Carolyn Franklin (Aretha's sister). We all grew up together."

Emmanuel went on to record with Gaye, and play with other giants like John Lee Hooker, Bohannon, and Bettye Lavette.

He said that while in Detroit, "It was blues, blues, blues - I loved it."

The art form is still a part of him from an emotional and historical perspective.

"The (Canal Bank) Shuffle in Thorold is strong because it’s keeping the tradition alive and you see that in very, very few places in the world," he lamented. 

The guitarist with his nearly equal iconic green 1971 Gibson guitar went on to have hit records of his own and front the Fabulous Counts.

He recalls how Gaye was well ahead of his time.

"He was a brilliant man but he hung out with the wrong people. It was hard for him to make contact with the people in his circle. Motown made millions from taking simple R&B records and dressing them up. But his mentality and talent was beyond them."

Still Emmanuel credits these early years with his growth into a professional musician.

"Motown was producing pop love songs mostly in those days. They had catchy music with something different. And I was a part of it growing into a professional entertainer. I learned from all that - being around songwriters like Stevie Wonder and entertainers like Michael Jackson."

LMT plays the area constantly but also tours often. "We've played China, Italy, Germany Austria and Serbia. We've been together 30 years with a cult following but most people don't have a clue about what I've done."

He laughed, "If you get past your 70s and still doing what you've done, you're a historian. I'm a living breathing, walking historian."

Emmanuel recounted how he came to Niagara about 40 years ago.

"I came to play at Sheraton Foxhead. I was hired through an agency when the guitar player, who was from Detroit, quit the band. The band, mostly from Toronto, played all kinds of music from Sinatra to the Carpenters, Dionne Warwick; great show band stuff. A guy who knew somebody, who knew somebody, who knew me said I could do the show, no problem."

After the gig he went back to Detroit to play again with Gaye, but was called back the next year to do the Niagara Falls show. There, he met his future wife, Lucia.

"She's from Italy, not this area, but we decided to stay," he said.

"Then Mark Rogers approached me. He said, 'Man, I'd love to play with you.' He was just out of high school," recounted Emmanuel.

John Irvine eventually provided the bass to Emmanuel's guitar and Rogers the drums to form the trio that has been together ever since. All three have been lauded for their respective abilities.

Emmanuel still remembers the genius and genuine emotion and talent that Marvin Gaye brought to the world. And with the release of the album, Niagara knows just a little more about why they love the LMT Connection so much.