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Heatwave was a very hot group

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I discovered or rediscovered Heatwave as a result of reading Teddy Pendergrass‘ autobiography, Truly Blessed, and recalling their memorable hit, “Always and Forever.” A purchase of the best of collection, Heatwave: Always and Forever,” has me harmonizing and boogeying around the house. Highlights of the album include “Always and Forever,” which features one of the most impressive uses of the rhythm and blues falsetto ever. Lead singer Johnnie Wilder breathes verve into a romantic ballad that is ageless. His holding of the high note rivals the mythic Marvin Junior of the Dells‘ breathtaking display on “Stay in My Corner.” The lyrics of the song also exude the same kind of innocence — quite a contrast to today’s in-your-face sexuality.

First stanza

Always and forever

Each moment with you

Is just like a dream to me

That somehow came true.

And I know tomorrow

Will still be the same

Cause we’ve got a life of love

That won’t ever change and. . .


Every day

Love me your own special way

Melt all my heart away

With a smile.

Take time to tell me

You really care

And we’ll share tomorrow together

I’ll always love you forever.

Heatwave warmed hearts and bodies from the mid-1970s into the early ’80s, so I suppose the fast numbers would be called disco, despite their jazz influences. Unfortunately, the word ‘disco’ has become grounds for raised eyebrows. Tunes such as “Boogie Nights” and “The Groove Line” capture the pure joy of dance music and there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t let the ‘D-word’ prevent you from giving these well-wrought dance hits a new listen. The very jazzy “Ain’t No Half-Steppin'” should act as an antidote if the disco aspect leaves your eyes stuck in mid roll.

One feature of Heatwave that made it different from other groups of the era was its international cast. The group was founded by Johnnie and Keith Wilder in Germany after they ended their tours of service with the U.S. Army there. They recruited whoever added flavor and talent to the group. Members hailed from Czechoslovakia, Spain and Britain, as well as the United States.

The Wilder brothers’ soulful lead vocals were important to the identity forged by the group. The other key ingredient in the recipe that produced Heatwave is songwriter British Rod Temperton. He began his career as the pianist for Heatwave and wrote most of the songs on Heatwave: Always and Forever. You may know that he went on to write for Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, George Benson and other ‘names.’ With Heatwave, Temperton’s focus was on creating club band music, utilizing Johnnie Wilder’s distinctive tenor and introducing electronics, especially the synthesizer.

One reason Teddy Pendergrass talks about Johnnie Wilder in his book is that Wilder, whose star was on the rise at the same time his was, was a good friend. The other reason is that Wilder was paralyzed in an automobile accident in 1979, three years before Pendergrass suffered the same fate. Wilder, who is paralyzed from the neck down, was one of the people who helped Pendergrass survive periods of depression during his early years of being a quadriplegic. Though Wilder sang lead vocals on the album Candles after he was paralyzed, the touring was too taxing. Guest vocalists filled in for live performances for a time, but by the mid-’80s, Heatwave was dormant.

Johnnie Wilder, who also wrote songs for Heatwave, now writes, performs and produces Christian music, mainly a cappella vocals. Keith Wilder formed a new verison of Heatwave in the 1990s. The group performs on the oldies circuit and at corporate events.

Reasonably related

•There’s a brief biography of Heatwave at Soul Tracks.

•Visit Johnnie Wilder’s site.

•Read a review of Teddy Pendergrass’ autobiography.

Note: This entry also appeared at Mac-a-ro-nies.

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About The Diva

  • trevan fairfax

    05/16/06 johnnie wilder jr. died over the weekend

  • The ’70s were, well, the ’70s. As I said in the entry, I’ve been tracking the music in the back of my head. It kind of started with a remark Janet Jackson made about Teddy Pendergrass. That led to rediscovering Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes. T.P. referred to Heatwave and others in his autobiography, Truly Blessed. I’ve listened to and bought his favorite group, The Dells, who inspired many acts, but not gotten around to blogging that. The two production companies vying for attention at the time were Philadelphia International Records and Motown. So, of course I have to follow Motown artists, too. Right now, I am concentrating on Marvin Gaye. Incidentally, Rick James was a producer there during the ’70s and ’80s.

    There are a lot of intriguing connections among the people involved in the soul and pop music of the ’60s through ’90s. For example, the songwriter for Heatwave also produced “Thriller” and other songs for Michael Jackson. But, he is also writes for jazz musicians.

    The title of this entry is purposely tongue in cheek, of course. All of Heatwave’s album titles are plays on the ‘heat’ theme. The group’s name came about because they practiced in an overheated warehouse in Germany when first starting out.

    An irony is that Johnnie Wilder has repudiated secular music because of its sinful nature. As you observed, Heatwave’s material was actually rather sweet. Innocent even.

    I’ve posted some of the music entries to Blogcritics. Click on all posts by Mac Diva at the the top of the entry and you can identify them by their titles.

  • Chris Kent

    lol…..Well MD, thanks for answering a nagging trivia question which has been haunting me for a couple of weeks. I was standing next to the BBQ grill at a recent party with old high school friends. We were discussing the skating rink of our childhood – you know, one of those warehouse-like buildings on the outskirts of town with a snack-bar (nachos and Dr Pepper were my favorite), pinball machines and a slowly-spinning disco ball. Back then, my hair was long (we all tried to look like Shaun Cassidy) and I wore bell bottoms and puka shells. I was trying to remember the name of the band that sang both “Always and Forever” and “Boogie Nights.” None of us could remember (if only we had kept those 8-tracks!).

    I am relieved the nagging thorn has finally been removed by your Heatwave was a very hot group post (I can see headline writing was not one of your many past professions). I had always wondered what happened to this faceless band, as I thought I could recall an appearance by them on The Mike Douglas Show or some other cheesy broadcast, though could have just as easily been confused by such dynamos as The Sylvers or Brick.

    Anyway, was not aware of Johnnie Wilder’s unfortunate accident, though do recall Heatwave sort of disappeared as quickly as they appeared. “Always and Forever” was always (and forever) THE great couple-skate and makeout song during the years of elementary and junior high. Why, even today when reading the lyrics you have so thoughtfully included, I can’t help but blush. It was a sweet song, infused with corn stretching a mile high. I don’t think these cats rank anywhere near Earth, Wind and Fire or even The Ohio Players (gotta love those album covers), but any post that reminds me of kissing girls with braces while stumbling around at the skating rink deserves a nod of approval…….