It bears repeating but if there was any justice in this world, the one group from the 1980’s NYHC scene that should have broken out of the underground and gone on to wider commercial success, that band would be Leeway.
The critical acclaim plus rabid fan base was there as their ferocious twin guitar and pummeling rhythm section channeled the best elements of metal, hardcore, and punk with a level of technical proficiency unseen in local circles.
Plus, they had a frontman in Eddie Sutton that could actually sing when needed and shout in a clear melodic fashion with the best of them.
I saw Leeway at one of their unforgettable Rock Hotel performances in the late 1980s and they were untouchable with Sutton in full command of the audience bringing a hip-hop-like bravado that could only have come from someone that grew up in NYC’s synergistic street culture.
What really impressed me is bumping into their guitarist Mike Gibbons at the beach, some weeks after playing to a full house, he was hanging out just like the rest of us, drinking a beer and talking about music. It’s this down to earth, matter of fact vibe that permeates the newly released Leeway: The Forgotten Ones documentary that candidly dissects why Leeway never went on to bigger things.
As we learn throughout the course of the doc, the blame can be placed squarely on one person: the notorious Rock Hotel/Profile Records impresario Chris Williamson. From lack of promotional support for their delayed debut album to abysmal tour/merch support not to mention nickel and dime-ing everything for maximum personal profit.
Asking for a huge payout to release them from their contract as their sophomore album rolled around didn’t help matters and unfortunately time and musical trends passed them by. I wasn’t privy to all this background info back then, always thought it was odd that they weren’t spoken in the same breath as other titans of trash like Slayer, Metallica, Corrosion of Conformity, and the like.
I would have liked to see more background on the early days of the band when they went under the Unruled name and the voice of founding guitarist A.J. Novello is sadly missing and the clips of Sutton speaking is from a previously released conversation, even though he has good things to say; I would have preferred exclusive footage just for this project.
These are all minor quibbles as the thrust of the story is to find out what exactly happened and what could have been. I leave it up to the viewer to gleam any pearls of wisdom from what is unfortunately an all too familiar tale in music circles.
They might not have gotten as big as they deserved but they were always shining stars in our eyes, all hail Leeway!
Leeway: The Forgotten Ones is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.