As my faithful readers know, I'm from Chicago and that I'm always pleased to feature a former or current Chicagoan. Jody was born here on January 30th, 1959. This makes her even
more dear to my heart as we are only 38 days apart in age and both born here.
Jody, who grew up on the city's tough south side, got her first break into the entertainment business in 1975 when she auditioned for a spot on Chicago's own "Soul Train." The music
show was the brainchild of radio announcer Don Cornelius. After studying broadcasting in college, Cornelius got a job at WVON, one of Chicago’s most popular urban radio stations. During
this time, he pondered breaking into television with a dance and music show from an African-American perspective. In 1969, he produced a pilot episode and dubbed it "Soul Train" after a
local radio promotion he had done in Chicago. The pilot impressed the Sears Roebuck Company, which gave Cornelius funding in exchange for the rights to use "Soul Train" to promote a line
of record players. With this help, Cornelius launched "Soul Train" on WCIU-TV, a Chicago UHF station. Cornelius himself hosted the dance-stravaganza, which took place on a club-style set.
The show featured performances by top music acts, appearances by guest hosts, and scorching dance numbers from the "Soul Train Gang." Local word of mouth made the show a big hit in
Chicago, which won it another sponsor in The Johnson Products Company, makers of "Afro-Sheen." By the mid-1970's, "Soul Train" was a force to be reckoned with. Each week, the latest
hits and coolest dances were served up in a slick package that had kids of all ages and races dancing around the TV-room floor. Enter the agile Jody Watley. Stylish and super slick with her
dance moves, Jody was a favorite from the start. The exposure she gained on the show led to her big break in 1977, when Soul Train's booking agent, Dick Griffey, asked Watley to join the
newly formed group Shalamar.
Shalamar was the creation of Griffey and British disco producer, Simon Soussan. Based on the studio group of the same name, the performance group included vocalists Watley, Jeffrey
Daniels and Howard Hewitt. The first Shalamar album, "Uptown Festival," was a major hit. The kitschy "Inky Dinky Wang Dang Doo" leads off the album with it's prominent bass vocal
track. The album does however have it's moments that give us less than danceable results. Tracks like "Ooh Baby Baby," "Forever Came Today" and "High On Life" were meant to broaden
the groups appeal and pander to R&B radio. The real masterpiece and disco classic is the medley. The title track is swirled into an eight and half minute frenzied tribute to Motown. The
cuts range from: "Going To A Go-Go" and "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch (I Can't Help Myself)" to "Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart" and "Really Sayin' Something." The cover art sums up
disco and the music at the time, it was larger than life and was all about bogeying. And at the time no one boogied like Shalamar. Shalamar would change direction as would disco and that
would be the key to their longevity.
By 1978 disco had ramped up and Griffey had moved Shalamar to his own SOLAR label (Sound Of Los Angeles Records). Their second album "Disco Gardens" had Watley, Daniels and Gerald Brown as the line-up. It would
be Brown's only album with the group. It spawned their second club hit and Billboard charter (R&B #-11 Pop #-79) "Take That To The Bank."
Exit Brown and enter Howard Hewitt. With its third album, 1979's "Big Fun," Shalamar unveiled its best-known and most successful lineup. Both creatively and commercially, this album would take Shalamar to new
heights and establish the trio as one of the best soul-pop-disco groups of 1979-1983. The album had two major hits. "Second Time Around" (Billboard #-1 Club single) and "Right In The Socket" (also a Billboard #-1 Club
single). These two hits alone garnered them disco immortality, however a third single "I Owe You One" failed to ignite club-goers and only reached #-60 on Billboard's Black singles chart.
By 1981's "Go For It" the group was in a slump. The release of the title track as a 12" single failed to compete with their prior successes. Shalamar was suffering from the beginnings of inter-band strife that would
eventually cause the demise of it's classic line-up. This is evidenced in the quality of this album.
By the time of Shalamar's fourth release, "Three For Love," the group had rebounded. Largely thanks to producer Leon Sylvers III. Once again they had two more club/radio hits with "Full Of Fire" and "Make That
Move." The added bonus of a radio breakout hit, "This Is For The Lover In You," makes this their overall best album. Despite the happy looking cover on this album all was not well in the Shalamar camp. Bickering,
jealousy and rivalry were all played out behind the scenes. Jody and Jeffrey Daniels were already considering "other options." Still contracts and hits kept the trio together.
Perhaps the title of their sixth album was meant to squash the industry rumours about the group? In any case "Friends" comes through on most levels. The 1982 release only had one major club hit with "A Night To
Remember" but the rest of the album is laced with excellent R&B and Pop confections. While listening to this album one realizes what a powerful impact the trio had not only on disco, but Pop and most certainly R&B
music at the beginning of the 1980's. At this point, the separate skills of the trio were beginning to supersede the act. Hewitt got involved in writing for the group and with his charismatic good looks started becoming the
stand-out member. Jody being the only female stood out in her own right. This left Daniels slipping more and more into the background. Still the members, as a group, continued making money doing concerts and touring to
delighted audiences. Even if all was not well in SOLARland.
By 1983 the group had run it's course. At least the classic line-up had. Music had changed so radically since "Uptown Festival" and so too had the members. By the release of "The Look" they even looked more mature
and changed. The album saw the group experiment with new wave beats and bizarre Pop sounds. It yielded one club hit. "Dead Giveaway" hit #-18 on Billboard's Club play charts and would be Jody's swan song with the
group she had helped launch.
Shalamar continued on with new members Micki Free and Delisa Davis to have other hits with "Dancing In The Sheets" and "Don't Get Caught In Beverly Hills" in 1984. They limped along for two more albums and
finally called it quits in 1990. By then Howard Hewitt had also left and was replaced by Sidney Justin. Most fans had abandoned Shalamar when Watley left so it was not a surprise to find the group faltering at the end.
Still we honor them for giving us some of the best dance tracks ever.