Ish Ledesma from FOXY: “The Billboard Charts Told Us We Were Hot”
Ish Ledesma is a humble man for someone whose music has sold tens of millions of records.
At the climax of the 1970’s, his popular funk band Foxy not only went around the world on wax, they also performed with the likes of Rick James and Kool and The Gang, and for a few years they served as the TK house band, playing tracks for their fellow Gold, Platinum, and local selling artists at TK Records and its subsidiary labels.
After Foxy, Ish fronted bands like Oxo and later masterminded Company B, a million selling dance group who hit big for Henry Stone’s HOT Productions and then Atlantic Records with the song “Fascinated.” Today, Ish is still busy at work in the world of music in South Florida, and just finished a new album album with Benny Latimore and Steve Alaimo. Here’s what Ish had to say about gigs in Ft. Lauderdale, working with Blowfly, and the famous “Oowah Oowah” chant.
HSM: Congratulations on your great success and impact on the world of music!
ISH LEDESMA: Thanks.
HSM: How did you first hear of Henry Stone?
ISH: We used to go to TK in the middle of the night after work to record and make demos and eventually he hired us to be the house band.
We were the group, but there were other people playing on sessions as well, like Little Beaver, Jerome, Latimore, Timmy Thomas, this guy Tubby, Chocolate…there was a lot of people doing sessions.
I can’t even count the number of hits we were on, but the first real big one was Blowfly Disco. That was a big, big record that sold like 500,000. The original writers didn’t like the Blowfly lyrics on their music.
We did so many sessions I don’t even know. We played on a lot of Timmy Thomas and Latimore. It was non-stop work. We were recording like five songs a day.
HSM: Were you sneaking into the studio when you started?
ISH: Not at all. Ray Martinez was the roommate of Arnold Paseiro, the bass player from Foxy; and Ray Martinez was the house engineer at TK. It wasn’t really sneaking in. Henry kind of let anybody in. When the studio wasn’t being used, it was ok for anyone to go in there and use it. In the middle of the night nobody was recording, Ray had the keys, and there was nothing behind anyone’s back. We were trying to do things they would like and show it to them.
HSM: When did you first meet Henry?
ISH: Not sure exactly when we met, maybe a few months after we were there recording. He was real nice. He wouldn’t sit there and talk to you forever or anything, but he was an interesting guy, a unique individual. And he loved music and hearing and manufacturing music. We ended up being real friends with each other through the years, talking on the phone and visiting, and we had a mutual respect.
HSM: How did you get started in music?
ISH: Seeing The Beatles on TV and going “Oh my God, I want to do that.” Learning that and putting a band together and start playing. It was all down here in Miami.
HSM: How did the band Foxy get together?
ISH: Me and Richie Puente were looking to put a really good band together and took about a year to find Joe Galdo and Arnold Paseiro. We handpicked musicians forever, then rehearsed for like six months, and then we were like, ready.
HSM: Where did you play?
ISH: We played a lot in Ft Lauderdale. It was more friendly than Miami. People like live bands over there more than in Miami, which was a disco kind of place. We had different residencies. We played at the Playpen for I don’t even know how long, and then we started at Mr. Pipps for another year or something like that. At first we played with The Birdwatchers at a place called Climax in North Miami.
HSM: Did you realize at the time the significance of what you were doing?
ISH: No. It was just music. I’m attracted to it and I like working on it all the time. I’m not as successful as I thought I would be, but it’s something I have to do. I don’t even think about it. As far as Foxy, we had a following there, and a couple of major hits, and we just kind of stopped recording. We weren’t really a disco band, but disco died kind of like TK died. So I went to California and put another group together. Oxo.
HSM: Where did you record your albums?
ISH: From when we started we only used the 24 track studio. But there was a 4 track studio upstairs with an Ampex console. The biggest hit ever out of TK was recorded there, “Rock Your Baby.”
HSM: What was the Tone Distribution warehouse like?
ISH: That was another side. We kind of knew the people there but we didn’t hang out where they distributed records. Nobody really cared about record distribution. We hung out where we recorded. I might have gone there three or four times.
HSM: What was the process for recording?
ISH: Just go and see who had a a song and figure out changes and play it. Our songs, we would just make them up, write them, rehearse, and go record.
HSM: Who decided what would get released?
ISH: Well that would be like Henry Stone and Steve Alaimo. They were the ones, they didn’t listen to us, they were the ones. When you’re recording your stuff, you don’t know what’s good or not. You depend on other people to tell you what’s good or not. The people that have to like your recordings is other people, not you.
HSM: What was it like working with Steve Alaimo?
ISH: Steve and I always had a real close relationship. We understood each other and are still friends today. I just worked on a new album he did with Benny Latimore that’s coming out on the second. We got that done real fast. The first time I met Steve Alaimo, I was singing a song upstairs with The Birdwatchers. That was my first time in TK and then I wasn’t there till years later. Steve walked in on whatever we were doing and I recognized him from Where The Action Is. I used to watch it every day. That was a national show.
Steve ran a lot of those sessions. He was working it, so was Henry each in their own way. But Steve had a lot to do with a lot of the hits coming from TK that he’s not credited for. He was the overseer of a lot of the hits coming from TK that he’s not credited for. He took “Get Down Tonight” and made it into a four minute record. He put in the horn section. The instrumental break. The verse. He did a lot of things. The original “Get Down Tonight” was only like a minute long. He said it was too short, chop it up, do this, do that.
HSM: Did you have anything to do with radio promotion?
ISH: We had nothing to do with that. We played the songs and then they would put it out and promote it and distribute and we had nothing to do with that.
HSM: How did you know when your records were breaking outside Miami?
ISH: Billboard would tell you. Billboard Magazine. The charts went everywhere. And the radio stations were all owned by different people, and you could go down there and they’d put your record on. Now you can’t do that here. You can’t go to y100 and have them play the record you just recorded. We used to finish songs and go to those stations and play it and see if it gets phones. We were all friends. Back then the local stations wanted to play local music. A lot of the TK Records all had their start in Miami. A lot of groups used to break out from Miami into regional hits. Those were the ones that would become nationwide hits, so regional music was a big part of the radio back then. If it worked in Miami and South Florida they would try it over here in this place. That broke a lot of records, but it doesn’t exist anymore.
HSM: Did Foxy tour much?
ISH: I toured with the Jacksons, Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Rick James, Hall and Oates, Manhattan Transfer, Kool And The Gang, I mean, a ton of people. All of those except for Oxo were with Foxy. We opened up for all those people. Oxo opened for Hall and Oates.
HSM: Did the band’s heritage ever come into play?
ISH: We were Latin people but we didn’t do Latin music. We were just a band. A funky band. Funk Pop I would call it.
HSM: Where did that Oowah Oowah chant come from?
ISH: People did it in the clubs. And there was a record by the Michael Zager Band called “Let’s All Chant.” They did it before us. We were obnoxious with it. It started out live. We did it in a packed club in Ocean City, Maryland after the owner told us not to. He said, “Don’t do that oowah oowah shit or I’ll choke tie you motherfuckers and throw you in the bay. So we went home and I wrote a song with a whole bunch of oowah’s continuously one after another to make him explode and then the next day we got onstage and I said, “Let’s do the song.” The guys were all like “No.” I was like, “Fuck this asshole,” and we started playing the song and we didn’t even finish before the bouncers were onstage throwing our shit out the door. It got us kicked out the club. We had finished recording our album and it was gonna come out and I told Henry, “I wrote a song to aggravate the guy that got us kicked out of the club. I think we should record it.” He said, “Go ahead. Maybe we’ll put it on the album.” Then when he heard it he said, “Guys, this is the single on the album.”
HSM: Was there any turmoil or drama in the band?
ISH: No. We liked it. It’s what we were trying to do. The band got along fine. It was a business. The record label closed down, and so we just disbanded.
HSM: Henry mentioned something about a singer leaving the band?
ISH: Carl joined and left. The rest of the band didn’t like him. I brought him into the group because I didn’t wanna sing. It was cool, it happened for a while, but the band didn’t like him much. Nobody got pissed off. I never really wanted to sing. I just wanted to play.
HSM: What are you working on with Latimore?
ISH: I got the top players down here and did four tracks a day with Him and some really great musicians. I’m the guitar player.
Story ©Ish Ledesma
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