Heatwave Biography

Although based in Britain, Heatwave was formed by the Wilder brothers, Johnnie (3 July 1949, Dayton, Ohio, USA, d. 13 May 2006, Clayton, Ohio, USA) and Keith, on their discharge from the US Army. An advertisement in a music paper yielded Hull, England-born songwriter and keyboardist Rod Temperton, while further members recruited were the American guitarists Eric Johns (b. Eric Johns Rasmussen) and Jessie Whitten (b. Chicago, Illinois, USA, d. 1976, Chicago, Illinois, USA), a Czech, Ernest Berger (drums), and a Spaniard, Mario Mantese (bass). Their sound, created in tandem with producer Barry Blue, fused elements of contemporary disco with funk and R&B. Between 1977 and 1981 the group enjoyed a series of hit singles in both the UK and USA, including ‘Boogie Nights’ (number 2 in both countries), ‘Too Hot To Handle’/‘Slip Your Disc To This’, ‘The Groove Line’, ‘Mind Blowing Decisions’, ‘Always And Forever’ and ‘Gangsters Of The Groove’.

Despite maintaining some links, Temperton officially left the band in 1977 to forge an impressive songwriting career. His compositions have been recorded by George Benson, Herbie Hancock and Michael Jackson, and included the title song to the latter’s multi-million selling album Thriller. Heatwave’s own progress was marred by a series of morale sapping tragedies and defections. In 1976, prior to their breakthrough, guitarist Whitten was stabbed to death (he was replaced by Roy Carter). Then, with second album Central Heating riding high in the charts, Johns and Temperton left and Mantese was forced to quit following a severe car crash. New members Derek Bramble (bass), William Jones (guitar) and Calvin Duke (keyboards) helped record Hot Property, but despite extensive songwriting input from Temperton the album was a commercial failure. Carter then left for a career in production and was replaced by Keith Harrison, but worse was to follow when founder member Johnnie Wilder was paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a road accident. Wilder courageously remained at the group’s helm, producing their work and singing in the studio, while another vocalist, J.D. Nicholas (b. James Dean Nicholas, 12 April 1952, Watford, Hertfordshire, England), took his place onstage. However, Heatwave were unable to withstand these traumas and when, in 1984, Nicholas opted to join the Commodores, the group opted to call it a day.

Johnnie Wilder went on to release two gospel albums and defy medical opinion which had given him a week to live after his 1979 car accident (he finally passed away in May 2006). The Wilders released the duo album Sound Of Soul in 1989 before Keith Wilder revived Heatwave in 1994, recruiting Andy Blackwood (vocals), Alex Charles (vocals), Dave Williamson (bass), Bill Jones (guitar/vocals), Kevin Sutherland (keyboards/vocals) and Byron Byrd (keyboards) for live and studio work.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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