Heatwave was an international funk/disco musical band featuring Americans Johnnie Wilder, Jr. and Keith Wilder (vocals) of Dayton, Ohio, Englishman Rod Temperton (keyboards), Spaniard Mario Mantese (bass), Czechoslovakian Ernest "Bilbo" Berger (drums), Jamaican Eric Johns (guitar) and Briton Roy Carter, (guitar).
They were known for their successful songs "Boogie Nights" and "Always and Forever" (from their 1976 debut album, Too Hot to Handle), and "The Groove Line" (from their 1978 follow-up album, Central Heating).
Heatwave's mainstream years
Founder members Johnnie Wilder and his brother Keith Wilder were American servicemen based in West Germany when they first began performing, and upon their discharge from the U.S. Army, the duo stayed in Germany. The brothers sang in nightclubs and taverns with an assortment of bands while still enlisted. By mid-year, the duo decided to relocate to the United Kingdom to link up with songwriter/keyboardist Rod Temperton.
Touring the London nightclub circuit during the mid-1970s allowed Heatwave to refine their sound, adding a funk groove to disco beats. The group signed to GTO Records in 1976. They were paired in the studio with GTO house producer/session guitarist Barry Blue and rhythm guitarist Jesse Whitten. Rhythm guitarist Roy Carter replaced Whitten after Whitten was stabbed to death in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. They began creating their first album Too Hot to Handle in the fall of 1976.
Their first single, "Boogie Nights" from their debut album, scored number two on the British popular music charts in January, and also became a number 2 success in America in November. The group's debut album, Too Hot to Handle, was released in 1976, giving Heatwave a number eleven success in the U.S. - reaching number five on the R&B charts, while the next single, the soul ballad "Always and Forever", closed out the year with a number two U.S. R&B success and #18 pop success in December.
Continuing to use Barry Blue's production skills, Heatwave released their second album Central Heating in April 1978. Lead single "The Groove Line," reached number seven in the charts.
During the late 1970s the band changed. At first Eric Johns quit the band and Billy Jones was his replacement as guitarist. Then Rod Temperton quit the band. Although Temperton would continue writing new songs for Heatwave, he soon became better-known for his songwriting for other artists, penning award-winning songs for some of funk's biggest names, including Rufus and The Brothers Johnson. He also wrote for Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones, but his most famous partnership remains the one forged with Michael Jackson, writing three songs for his 1979 Epic debut Off The Wall - "Rock With You," "Off The Wall" and "Burn This Disco Out", and three songs for the 1982 Thriller LP, including the title track.
Despite these changes Heatwave were about to return to the studio, only to suffer a tragedy: Mantese was stabbed leaving a gala in London by an unknown person. The knife hit him in the heart and for several minutes, he was clinically dead. When, after several months, he awoke from coma, he was blind, mute and paralysed in his entire body. Mantese was replaced by bassist Derek Bramble. Adding keyboardist Calvin Duke to the group, and now working with new producer Phil Ramone, Heatwave cut Hot Property, released in May 1979.
During the spring of 1979, lead-vocalist and songwriter Johnnie Wilder, Jr., also suffered injuries in an auto accident while visiting family and friends in Dayton, Ohio. Although he survived, the accident left him paralyzed from the neck down and unable to continue performing with the group. After the accident, Johnnie remained a co-producer of the group, along with Blue.
Determined to continue working with the band he had nurtured since the very beginning, Wilder participated with studio work and, during 1980, Heatwave recorded the Candles LP, with Temperton again providing the songs, except stand out track "All I Am", written by Blue's former writing partner Lynsey De Paul. The group recruited James Dean "J.D." Nicholas to handle vocals in concert.
Heatwave's popularity was on the wane though, as the November single "Gangsters of the Groove" proved to be their last popular music success, scoring number twenty-one in the U.S., and number twenty in the United Kingdom early in the New Year. But the album peaked at a mere number seventy-one in the United States in December 1980.
Heatwave's 1982 LP, Current, marked yet another new era for the band, as they returned to producer Blue. The album managed only number 156 on the U.S. Billboard 200, although it scored the band a number twenty-one success on the R&B charts, where Heatwave continued to be a strong presence. A Rod Temperton penned single, "Lettin' It Loose," proved a minor success during August.
The post-Heatwave years
Derek Bramble quit the band at the end of 1982, like Roy Carter, for a career in production (he would go on to work with David Bowie on 1984s Tonight LP, and later masterminded Jaki Graham's breakthrough). J.D. Nicholas left to fill Lionel Richie's shoes as the lead singer of the Commodores. After this long series of departures, the remaining members of Heatwave effectively disbanded.
Various Reunions/Side Projects
Silent since early 1983, Heatwave reconvened in a new line-up to record and release the album The Fire in 1988. However, Keith Wilder was the only original member of the band present in this incarnation (although Billy Jones, who had joined the band in the late 1970's returned as well). Meanwhile, that same year, Johnnie Wilder released a solo spiritual album My Goals on Light. The Wilder brothers once again teamed up the following year for the gospel album, Sound of Soul. None of these late-80's albums sold well, but Heatwave itself was revitalized in 1991, when a remix version of their "Mind Blowing Decisions" charted in the UK. By the middle of the 1990s, Keith Wilder had again reformed the band. Joined by bassist Dave Williamson, keyboardists Kevin Sutherland and Byron Byrd, guitarist Bill Jones, and original drummer Ernest Berger, the reborn Heatwave launched an American tour with a live album recorded at the Greek Theater in Hollywood, arriving in 1997.
Long standing favorites of the retro dance circuit, Heatwave fans were also treated to a new extended club remix of "Boogie Nights" in 2002. Keith Wilder is the lead singer of the current lineup (and the only remaining original member). The current touring lineup includes a host of lesser known musicians, including little known New Orleans keyboardist Jeremy Crump of "Water Seed" fame.
Sadly, Johnnie Wilder died in his sleep at his home in Dayton, Ohio on May 13, 2006.