Saturday, August 16, 2008 4:47:34 PM
Leroy Gómez was born in Wareham, Massachusetts of Cape Verdean descent. Learning how to sing and play the saxophone, Gómez started his own band at 14, and later joined Tavares, a local group of brothers who shared his Cape Verdean heritage, and with whom he would go on to tour North America and Europe. In Paris, Elton John invited him to play sax on his classic album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Amidst this success, Gómez decided to leave Tavares and remain in Europe, getting work as a session player in Paris. There he met Nicolas Skorsky and Jean Manuel de Scarano, songwriters who had launched their own label with the aim of producing artists who would record their compositions. Santa Esmeralda was born of their collaboration, and the album Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, with Gómez on lead vocals, debuted on the independent French label, Fauves Puma. A sudden huge success in Europe, the record was picked up for worldwide distribution by Casablanca Records of Los Angeles, the preeminent label of the Disco era.
Essentially a studio act, Gómez was eager to perform, and a touring group was put together, including a troupe of dancers, one of whom, by the name of Tequila, would appear on several album and single cover photos and ultimately become his wife
Originally written in 1964 for Nina Simone, her understated version had failed to chart and the song was picked up by Rock group The Animals the following year. The Animals gave "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" an urgent, Classic Rock edge and had a #15 Hot 100 hit single. The essential nature of the song is Latin and Flamenco, which combined with that urgency lent itself to the Disco sensibility in the 1970s. With strident overload of a wall of sound of guitars and horns in the interim riffs, the song became a hit all over again, first topping the U.S. Disco charts and then matching the #15 peak of The Animals' version on the Hot 100. The album was certified Gold. The flip side of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", the love ballad You're My Everything (co-written by Gómez), became a radio request song and received much airplay, even though the song never charted. "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" would be recorded by dozens of other artists, including Elvis Costello, Joe Cocker, Cyndi Lauper and Yusuf Islam, though none to date have enjoyed the massive success achieved by these two hit versions.
Comings and Goings
Santa Esmeralda also scored a Top 20 Disco hit with a dance version of another song turned into a classic rock staple in a cover by The Animals, "The House of the Rising Sun", in 1978, although this time lead vocals were handled by Jimmy Goings, who would record for the group's subsequent recordings in the disco era. In 1978 they recorded the song "Sevilla Nights" for the Thank God It's Friday film soundtrack. In addition to their contribution to that hit soundtrack, the group had three of their own albums on the Pop Albums charts that year, including the #25 Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood and the #41 The House of the Rising Sun (also on Casablanca), which did equally well on the Black charts. The following year they returned to the Disco Top 20 with "Another Cha-Cha/Cha-Cha Suite", which peaked at #16. The group also had a minor club hit with "Beauty and the Beast." After a couple more albums which failed to produce notable hits, and in the face of an anti-disco backlash in the States which all but killed the genre and the Casablanca label, the group disbanded.
At present for Santa Esmeralda
In 2002, Gómez, who had been touring with a new incarnation of the group, released Lay Down My Love, an album of new material, and in 2004 Santa Esmeralda - The Greatest Hits, featuring newly recorded versions of the band's disco-era hits, including those which had been sung by Goings.
The group re-entered the popular consciousness in 2003 when "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" appeared on the soundtrack to the first volume of Quentin Tarantino's homage to the martial arts film genre, Kill Bill