Paul Leka is one of those names that keeps turning up in stories regarding many fondly remembered songs and bands (and even one non-band) from the 1960s onward. He was one of those rare genuinely prodigious musicians who was too talented to limit himself to actually being a member of one group or recording project. Recognizing this early on in his career, he became a composer and producer, and also applied his skills to arranging and orchestrating when that became necessary to realize one of his songs. He did this in association with the Lemon Pipers, the Peppermint Rainbow, and -- perhaps his most lucrative yet amorphous association -- Steam, with the songs "Green Tambourine," "And I'll Be There," "Will You Be Staying After Sunday," and "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)."
Leka grew up in Connecticut, and his interest in music manifested itself early in life. He became proficient at the piano -- and eventually a multi-instrumentalist -- and his formal training included a thorough grounding in the classics. That didn't stop him from joining the Chateaus, a Bridgeport-based outfit that was good enough to cut some singles for Coral and Warner Bros. in the early '60s. He later left the band and gave up the performing end of the music business in favor of composing, arranging, and producing. Among his earliest successes as a composer was "Falling Sugar," recorded by the Palace Guard in 1966. He was particularly successful working with harmony groups, including the Lemon Pipers, who had a hit with his "Green Tambourine," and the Left Banke, and he put the Peppermint Rainbow on the map as well with a pair of hits, "And I'll Be There" and "Will You Be Staying After Sunday."
His biggest success, however, came from a series of recordings made with his ex-Chateaus bandmates Gary DeCarlo and Dale Frashuer, which yielded "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)." Originally entitled "Kiss Him Goodbye," it was Leka who added the chorus spontaneously, at the piano, while recording what was supposed to be a throwaway B-side. It ended up selling several million copies, while the song was widely covered across the decades and even ended up as a sports anthem in Chicago. Credited to the nonexistent group Steam, it was a chart-topper that required a group be put together to actually perform it -- here, Leka took over and gathered together some of the best available musicians that he'd worked with in Bridgeport. It was also the capper to a string of hits by Leka that was difficult to follow up in terms of numbers. He remained active through the 1970s and 1980s, however, working with acts including Jimmie Spheeris, Harry Chapin, Gloria Gaynor, REO Speedwagon, and Lori Lieberman. Paul Leka died of lung cancer at a hospice near his home in Connecticut on October 12, 2011; he was 68 years old. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi