Wednesday, May 17, 2006

GOSPELOBIT: Johnnie Wilder Jr

Carla Hawkins, daughter of Johnnie Wilder Junior, has announced her father has died in his sleep.

Wilder was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1950, and started to perform while still at school. He was an active member of his High School's glee club. Professional performance, though, started when he joined the army - while serving in Germany he joined a five-piece vocal harmony team which entertained both troops and locals during their spare time. Out of the army, the original line-up mutuated and relocated to West Germany, eventually settling down as the band Heatwave.

The addition of Rod Temperton to the group was key; as the man who would eventually write Thriller and Off The Wall for Michael Jackson, he gave the band enough of a flip to allow them to sign with GTO Records. By now in England, the number one smash of Boogie Nights saw CBS take on Heatwave worldwide. Three albums followed - Too Hot To Handle, Central Heating and Too Hot To Handle - selling millions on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1979, disaster struck. Visiting family in Ohio, Wilder was involved in a car wreck which left him paralyzed from the neck down. Despite being in a wheelchair, Wilder's resilience pushed him on. He rejoined Heatwave for a European tour and offered vocals for the next two albums.

Another major change came in 1983: Wilder found God, and quit Heatwave. (He gave his blessing - indeed, encouragement - to the band continuing without him). He wasn't even sure if he wanted to carry on with any sort of music:

"I know what I achieved and appreciate the benefits I received from being in Heatwave. But one thing I didn't have was the level of personal gratification that I now experience. There were times when I went back and forth about whether or not to continue singing, without ever coming up with a conclusive answer".

In the end, it was as a producer that he would return to the studio - gospel act Straight Company cajolled him into working on an album with them; following this, Wilder produced his first solo work, One More Day. Subsequently, he'd produce another eight gospel acts and see his own music win four CAMA prizes to sit alongside the two Grammy nominations won with Heatwave.

Wilder was 56.

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