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.
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. . .
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.
•There’s a brief biography of Heatwave at Soul Tracks.
•Visit Johnnie Wilder’s site.
•Read a review of Teddy Pendergrass’ autobiography.