It all began in West Germany when 5 young men stationed in the U.S. Army came together after work, went to the social clubs to play pool and sing a little harmony. This group was known as The Cashmeres. They joined with 3 young female vocalists and called themselves “The Cashmeres and The Black Pearls,” patterning themselves after “The Temptations and The Supremes.” Time wrought change as 3 of the men and ladies departed, leaving Johnnie and one other group member to form a new 4 man vocal group called The Nobelmen. They picked up a backing band called The Soul Sessions, an all-German Band that liked to play Soul Music.
Faces continued to change within the band and Johnnie ended up being the lead singer of the group that then became known as J. Wilder and The Soul Sessions. After his military tour ended, Johnnie went to an ex U.S. Air Force friend named Tommy Harris who had a group in West Germany called The Upsetters. The remaining members of Johnnie’s group combined with Tommy’s to become the nucleus of the now famous group known as HEATWAVE.
The name derived from the days when they were rehearsing in an old rundown building in Germany with a radiator that kept percolating on the heat year round. As Heatwave worked throughout Europe, personnel continued to change, and the group also suffered the tragic loss of one of its original members, Jessie Whitten, who lost his life in an accident. Although devastated, Heatwave regrouped, and the musical flame was rekindled.
Heatwave was now working more in England than anywhere else and subsequently moved to Northern England. The first demos were recorded here, all original songs written by Rod Temperton. Records were printed and the group began shopping for a recording deal. At this time, another lead vocalist, Keith Wilder, Johnnies brother, was added to create a more full and diverse sound, and they emerged as the 2 lead singers for the group.
The groups popularity increased throughout Europe. Heatwave generated a large following at the time when the age of disco was becoming more popular. In London, there was interest from a small, independent record company, GTO Records. While other record companies were rejecting Heatwaves advances into the record industry, GTO thought otherwise and Heatwaves recording career began.
The inaugural album “Too Hot To Handle” first single release was “Super Soul Sister”, a great dance tune that received very little airplay. The second release “Aint No Half Steppin”, was a popular dance song in the nightclubs of the disco scene and received moderate airplay. The third single “Boogie Nights” was released January 7, 1977. A major success, “Boogie Nights” was a No. 1 single in Europe and provided an opportunity for people to hear Heatwave in America for the first time. Later that year the release of the classic love ballad, “Always And Forever” demonstrated the group’s versatility, showing their ability to do both dance songs and ballads.
Album number two, “Central Heating was recorded in London, England. With their multi-Platinum hits taking off in America, CBS Records’ interest was sparked and they invited Heatwave to perform in front of an audience of 16,000 at the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.
Now more visible than ever, Heatwave toured with major recording artists in the US, enjoyingd tremendous popularity through increased radio airplay of the first single “Groove Line. Expanding media coverage hailed the group as exciting, and a “must see in concert.” While the second single “Mind Blowing Decisions was climbing the charts, Heatwave decided to return to the studio when tragedy struck the group again. A near fatal car crash caused band member Mario Mantese to leave the group.
Then on February 24,1979, another catastrophic blow was dealt when Johnnie Wilder was involved in a traumatic automobile accident which left his body paralyzed from his neck down. Johnnie was hospitalized for a year. During this time, the completion and release of the album “Hot Property took place. The group continued to tour with the addition of a lead vocalist, James Dean Nicolas, better known as JD, who would later sing with the Commodores. After his dramatic recovery, Johnnie continued to accompany the group on occasion for performances in America or in Germany. The group returned to London to start the recording of the fourth album, “Candles.
Johnnie took the co-producer seat on “Candles, while still singing on the album. As the group found the determination and willpower to carry on, the album was completed. Fueled by great songs written by Rod Temperton, showcasing the emerging writing ability and continued singing of Johnnie Wilder, the group ended up with another successful album. Heatwave enjoyed another series of American concert dates before they decided to move back to England where their popularity had not wavered and their records were still very successful. After completing a series of dates in Europe, Johnnie decided to move back to America to live in a more permanent home-based setting. Life on the road had taken its toll on him despite his heroic efforts. In spite of this, he lost no interest nor his love for his creation of Heatwave or his passion for Heatwave’s music.
Back in America, plans were being made to record a fifth album, “Current.” Once again, the album boasted great songs from Rod Temperton, a beautiful song by Derek Bramble and two songs by additional writers.
In the tradition of previous Heatwave albums, Johnnie sang lead and background vocals throughout;. Heatwave also employed additional vocalists, some of which were musicians in the group – Keith Wilder, Billy Jones, Calvin Duke, Keith Harrison and session musicians were also hired for the first time in this album to create a new style of recording, yet not departing from the Heatwave influence. Moderately successful, the album entitled, “Current’ was the last of a 5 album record deal that Heatwave recorded with CBS/ Epic Records.
The journey of Heatwave is one of a group that surged to international prominence, which threatened to be eclipsed by tragedy, yet continues to shine intensely in the hearts of those who were ignited on the dance floor by the infectious grooves, electrified at live concerts by the fiery showmanship, and warmed by the smooth ballads that have made them internationally famous.
Johnnie Wilder used his experience as a spiritual awakening and became a noted producer of a cappella gospel in the 90s. He released two gospel albums, “My Goal” and “One More Day,” and produced a number of gospel albums for other acts.
During the same decade, Keith Wilder re-formed Heatwave with some old and new members. The group recorded a live 1997 disc, and continues to tour regularly, making sure that audiences all over the world will have many more “Boogie Nights”.
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