Heatwave iTunes Tracks


Whilst the USA had their own hot spots of the mid-70s disco scene (CHIC, SISTER SLEDGE, ROSE ROYCE among the ones breaking through), with the exception of the Americanised/Australian-raised BEE GEES, Britain was slow off the mark to exercise its right to strut their funky stuff on the dance-floor. And as for the cosmopolitan, London-based HEATWAVE, the only link to Old Blighty was in caucasian songwriter/keyboard-player Rod Templeton; the rest of the band were made up of Afro-Americans and black Europeans. As the all-embracing Brit-soul band BLUE MINK once sang in “Melting Pot” (several years past), HEATWAVE were stirring another quiet storm of urban funk, and with the near chart-topping `Boogie Nights’ the sextet/septet were stretching their hands back across the Atlantic – they were indeed England’s answer to EARTH, WIND & FIRE.
Formed 1975 by U.S. Army serviceman Johnnie Wilder, Jr. – whose decision to stay in West Germany after his discharge was a profound one – the falsetto singer contacted his kid brother Keith (also from Dayton, Ohio) to come and join his proposed posse of players, which now included the aforementioned Rod Temperton (from Cleethorpes), who’d answered an ad in a local newspaper; others to come on board were guitarist Eric Johns (born Los Angeles), bassist Mario Mantese (from Switzerland) and drummer Ernest “Bilbo” Berger (from Czechoslavakia); note too that 7th member/rhythm guitar session man Jesse Whitten was tragically stabbed to death on his return to his hometown of Chicago.
HEATWAVE, meanwhile, were initially finding it tougher than most to chart (with `Ain’t No Half Steppin’’ and `Super Soul Sister’) among the many acts sprouting out from every mirror-ball under the sun. Relatively recent enterprise, GTO, and novice in-house producer BARRY BLUE (himself a pop star with a handful of hits) had bafflingly overlooked opening salvo, `Boogie Nights’, from their debut set TOO HOT TO HANDLE (1976) {*8}. When finally unfettered in January ’77, and a few months later in America, no one was surprised when the disco anthem raced up the charts. Twinned with the exclusive but inconsequential `Slip Your Disc To This’, the title track cracked the UK Top 20, while the album burned up the US lists when reaching #11. Sole songwriter Temperton was the obvious jewel in this crown of creation, and with the slower, last-chance-dance smoocher, `Always And Forever’, the Americans were won over in droves; note that the record took longer to hit the British Top 10 when GTO exploited its potential along with a re-mixed take of 1978’s `Mind Blowing Decisions’ (itself already a hit in its own right).
Roy Carter (rhythm guitar/keyboards) had now been added to make up the septet, and with `The Groove Line’ (from sophomore set CENTRAL HEATING {*7}), HEATWAVE had again lit up the higher end of both the UK and US charts.
A number of personnel changes duly occurred that unsettled the band; Johns was first to split (his replacement arriving soon afterwards in the shape of William L./Billy Jones), whilst Temperton left to pursue songwriting work for stars such as RUFUS, GEORGE BENSON and, his most lucrative, MICHAEL JACKSON; while he continued to supply HEATWAVE, Rod would compose three tracks each for the `Off The Wall’ and `Thriller’ albums. A testing time for the disco combo, worse was to follow, when after returning from a party at ELTON JOHN’s house, Mantese was stabbed by his girlfriend; when he awoke from a coma several months later, he was blind, mute and paralysed mostly everywhere in his body.
Needless to say, HEATWAVE needed two fresh members to fill the obvious void and, with Derek Bramble (bass) and Calvin Duke (keyboards), the stage was set for the septet to return.
But this would be minus Johnnie upon another near-fatal incident, when on February 24, 1979 (after fully completing songs for their forthcoming LP), he was broadsided by a van; yet another to be permanently side-lined due to being paralysed from the neck down; although he did return as a gospel singer in Dayton. Most music fans still unaware of the band’s plight and, with only one minor hit to speak of (`Razzle Dazzle’), 1979’s HOT PROPERTY {*6} was not indeed what it said on the tin. Despite the commercial failings of `Eyeballin’’, `One Night Tan’ and `Therm Warfare’, old homeland America still had a place in their hearts, and the Top 40.
James Dean “J.D.” Nicholas came on board in 1980, and by the following year, some UK chart action was restored by way of both `Gangsters Of The Groove’ and `Jitterbuggin’’; squeezed either side of album four, the Top 30 CANDLES {*6}. There were no serious casualties for HEATWAVE’s Barry B-produced follow-up set, CURRENT (1982) {*6}, but along the way they’d lost Nicholas to the COMMODORES (replacing LIONEL RICHIE); his berth filled by American Keith Harrison. Trying to muscle in on some KOOL & THE GANG or EW&F moves and grooves (examples: Temperton’s `Lettin’ It Loose’ and `Look After Love’), not even the inspired inclusion of IMAGINATION’s Leee John and Ashley Ingram, could add the impetus to secure sales.
With life’s trials and tribulations, the sun had been setting on HEATWAVE for some time, and with nothing new coming their way, the not-so mind blowing decision was to take a sabbatical. Unwilling to relinquish the time and energy it’d taken to keep the act on through all its adversity and misfortune, Keith Wilder called upon steadfast songwriter Billy Jones (and others: Josh Phillips – keyboards/synths, Dave Williamson – bass, and Ivan T. “Muscle” Houpe – drums/percussion) to fulfil commitments to Britain’s semi-independent Soul City Records. On the back of two club hits, `Straight From The Heart’ and `Who Dat?!’, 1988’s THE FIRE {*5} duly fizzled out having not reached its potential or the airwaves of America.
Subsequently subjected to re-releasing re-mixed old masters (the part-compilation GANGSTERS OF THE GROOVE (1991) {*4} case-in-point), HEATWAVE had lost their way somewhat, only for a rebirth of sorts by way of 1997’s LIVE AT THE GREEK THEATER HOLLYWOOD {*6} that re-kindled some of the memories; Keith Wilder, Jones, Williamson and a returning Berger were joined on stage by keyboardists Kevin Sutherland and Byron Byrd.
Fast-forward 5 years and beyond, Keith was still treading the boards with a fledgling line-up that included fellow Americans, Elliot Levine and Jeremy Crump. It was indeed still shocking news when Johnnie Wilder, Jr. died in his sleep – complications due to his paralysis – on May 13, 2006. Sadder still, and regarded by fans as an honorary HEATWAVE member (he’d written all their classic grooves), Rod Temperton died of cancer on 5th October 2016. R.I.P. or, indeed, Rock With You, brother. A year on (29th October), Keith Wilder also passed away.
© MC Strong/MCS Nov2017

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