Johnnie Wilder Jnr

Soulful singer with Heatwave
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The Independent Online

Johnnie James Wilder, singer, songwriter, producer and percussionist: born Dayton, Ohio 3 July 1949; married (one daughter); died Clayton, Ohio 13 May 2006.

Heatwave were a form- idable funk group who burst on to the scene with the infectious "Boogie Nights" in 1977. They went on to score further hits the following year with the ballad "Always and Forever", which showcased the group's lead vocalist Johnnie Wilder Jnr's falsetto to great effect, and "Mind Blowing Decisions", a gorgeous song written by Wilder.

Then, in February 1979, while he was taking a break from recording the group's third album, Wilder's car was hit by a van. At first given a week to live, he was left paralysed from the neck down. He nevertheless contributed to subsequent recordings by Heatwave before turning to gospel music and recording the a cappella albums My Goal (1988) and One More Day (1996). "The music that I'm doing is my way of giving thanks to God for being alive," he said.

Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1949, Wilder studied music at Central State University. After graduating in 1969, he joined the army and was stationed in West Germany, where he formed a harmony vocal group called the Cashmeres to entertain fellow soldiers.

This evolved into Johnnie Wilder and the Soul Sessions until, demobbed, Wilder recruited the American singer and guitarist Jessie Whitten, the American guitarist Eric Johns, the Spanish bassist Mario Mantanese, the Czech drummer Ernest "Bilbo" Berger and the English songwriter and keyboardist Rod Temperton to launch Heatwave in 1975.

The sextet left Germany for the UK and signed to GTO Records in 1976. When Whitten was stabbed to death in Chicago, Wilder asked his younger brother Keith to join them. Heatwave recorded Too Hot to Handle (1976), their début album, under the aegis of the producer Barry Blue. Two singles, "Super Soul Sister" and "Ain't No Half Steppin' " became floorfillers but the disco-infused "Boogie Nights" - with lead vocals by Wilder - stormed the charts across Europe and reached No 2 in the UK and the US. It earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rhythm'n'Blues Performance the following year.

With another Brit, Roy Carter, on bass, guitar and keyboards, Heatwave recorded their second album, Central Heating (1978), charting with "The Groove Line" and "Mind Blowing Decisions", and drew rave reviews for their concert appearances. Then both Mantanese and Wilder were involved in separate car crashes in 1978 and 1979 and spent months in hospital. The bassist Derek Bramble and vocalist J.D. Nicholas replaced Wilder for live appearances, although he continued recording vocals, writing and producing the group alongside Blue.

Temperton by now was spending time away writing material for George Benson, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones and Heatwave lost momentum, even if they managed another Top Twenty hit in the UK with "Gangsters of the Groove" in 1981. Three years later, Nicholas left to replace Lionel Richie in the Commodores and the group disbanded until the early Nineties, when a compilation album, also called Gangsters of the Groove (1991), reawakened interest in their brand of disco-funk. Keith Wilder leads the current line-up.

Pierre Perrone

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