Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Near the end of “Bustin’ Loose,” Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers’ R&B hit from 1978, the late D.C. go-go funk pioneer exclaims, “Hey Leroy, gimme some of that horn right here!” On cue, Leroy Fleming explodes into a glorious tenor solo. That might be Fleming’s most famous recorded moment, but the D.C. saxophonist’s talents also carried him through a stint with local group The Young Senators and ex-Temptations vocalist Eddie Kendricks.
As TMOTTGoGo first reported, Fleming died March 8. He was believed to be 64.
“LeRoy was naturally a very gifted and talented musician from an early age,” Soul Searchers multi-instrumentalist John JB Buchanan writes in an email. “We played together in the D.C. Youth Orchestra in high school (clarinet and bassoon), and in the Soul Searchers more than 10 years later (tenor saxophone, harmonica, and vocals). His demeanor was usually quite mellow—-that is, until he got on stage where he became a real showman.” In 1967, Fleming, Buchanan, and future Soul Searcher Donald Tillery chatted on the football field at Eastern High School, playing some riffs after a junior ROTC cadet drill competition. Tillery says, “We never dreamed we would end up in the same band.”
In high school, Fleming joined The Young Senators. The group started as a Motown-style soul combo, but gradually became funkier and went on to release several singles. In 1972 the group was invited by former Temptations singer Eddie Kendricks to back him on his People Hold On album and join his tour. “Girl You Need a Change of Mind,” a Kendricks/Senators track, later became popular in New York City dance clubs and has been since credited as a proto-disco classic. The Senators in 1973 added backing vocals to Kendricks’ pop hit “Keep on Truckin’.”
In an email, Young Senators vocalist and percussionist Jimi Dougans speaks fondly of Fleming as an impressive musician—-and also quite the jokester when the band hit the road. In 2002, the Young Senators were inducted into the Go-Go Hall of Fame.
Saxophonist Lloyd Pinchback left the Soul Searchers in 1978, only to be immediately replaced by Fleming that year. In 1980, Pinchback rejoined the band, sharing the stage. “We were both quite different individually,” Pinchback writes via email. He says Leroy was “rather gregarious and outgoing,” while he was more reserved. “Leroy [was] a more flamboyant dresser while my simple attire was never a match for his flash and flare,” he writes.
Tillery, like Dougans, was wowed by Fleming’s musical range: “Keyboards, oboe, clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, piano, guitar; he wrote, sang, and arranged. I thought he was a musical genius and a good showman,” he says. “As I knew him, Leroy was flamboyant on and off stage. He loved to wear hats and scarves—flamboyant scarves and high-heeled boots. Red ones. He wore Revolutionary War-type coats with leather pants. Everybody knew Leroy. He was the tallest in the band. That look was his marketing tool.”
Throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s, the Soul Searchers played spots like St. Mary’s Church in Landover, Md., the Knights of Columbus downtown, the Squad Room in Palmer Park, and later, the Capital Centre, says Tillery. “We would do double gigs—a cabaret at Byrne Manor and then to the Washington Coliseum,” he says. With the success of “Bustin’ Loose,” they toured the country appearing on bills with Gladys Knight and Bobby Womack. In town, Tillery remembers NBC4 news anchor Jim Vance coming to see them perform, as well as Harry Thomas Sr. and of course, Marion Barry. Fleming played with the Soul Searchers till the turn of the 1990s.
Sometime after leaving Chuck’s band, Fleming faced health issues. Friends say Leroy suffered from diabetes-related complications. In recent years, he performed occasionally with another former Soul Searcher, organist Curtis Johnson, and reportedly wrote more music at home. But his kidneys gave him trouble and his health deteriorated. According to Pinchback, Fleming eventually had to have both of his legs amputated.
When news of Fleming’s death circulated online, fans came together to share their memories of the musician. But they didn’t all focus on the sadness of his passing. Among them, a common sentiment emerged: that now, Chuck has Leroy with him to give him some of that horn.
Services for Marion Leroy Fleming Jr. will be held at 11 a.m. March 22 at Albright Memorial United Methodist Church, 411 Rittenhouse St. NW. Viewing at 9:30 a.m.