By S. Victor Aaron:
In this sizzling summer weather, what better time to revisit the foot-tapping joys of Johnnie Wilder Jr. and Heatwave?
If you attended any discos or high school dances during the time that Jimmy Carter reigned supreme, there’s a 100% chance you’ve shaken your booty to Wilder’s vocals. Remember “Boogie Nights”? …”Groove Line?” … (the very timely) ”Too Hot To Handle”?… ”Always And Forever”?
About 30 years ago Johnnie and his brother Keith assembled Heatwave in Europe after an Army stint in Germany. The band consisted of musicians from Spain, Czechoslovakia and the UK. The keyboardist bloke of the band, Rod Temperton, served as a valuable chief songwriter, provided crack musicians with killer material and the band soon took off shortly after “Boogie Nights” was rolled out.
Other hits soon followed and the groove line rolled until tragedy hit the band at a Badfinger-ian scale: 1) the disco backlash that started at the end of the me-decade 2) The steady loss of bandmembers, most importantly, Temperton, who was now writing songs for Rufus, The Brothers Johnson, Quincy Jones and and 3) Johnnie Wilder was involved in a horrific car wreck that left him quadriplegic.
Johnnie and Keith soldiered on although Johnnie was limited to the studio until the shifting trends in music forced them to disband by the mid-80’s. Johnnie had then gotten involved with a cappella Christian music, as a singer, producer and distributor, before his untimely passing a few years back.
Now, I was never a big disco fan; but it’s possible to come to appreciate some songs that get branded in your brain at a young age. Heatwave was somehow different from the other bands that were labeled “disco” at that time. As in Earth, Wind & Fire good, if only for a couple of years.
Temperton wrote some killer tunes for the band; they never had any more purpose than to get you on the floor and dance your ass off, but they did the job supremely well.
And the band had above-average chops and snuck in all their various influences in the overall sound; note for instance how “Boogie Nights” is bookended by a jazz shuffle.
And “Always And Forever” is simply the best slow dance song ever written.
Yeah, I said it.