Jody Watley’s Second Time Around

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Posted October 4, 2016 by J Matthew Cobb in Features
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In new phase of music, the Grammy-winning Jody Watley shows off new Shalamar offspring while fighting through growing field of social media drama

Screenshot from Shalamar Reload video / The Mood

Screenshot from Shalamar Reload video / The Mood

In the mighty Eighties, an era lauded by the creation of the music video and the consumption of 24-7 music television, the world got its chance to see what a mega superstar looked like. There was Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince and even Whitney Houston. We can safely add Janet Jackson, George Michael and Cyndi Lauper to that short list. And there were also the next batch, artists that tasted superstardom, but never quite basked in it. Jody Watley would make that list.

With Watley’s 1987 eponymous debut solo album, she rose to the top of the R&B and pop charts. “Looking for a New Lover,” a number two pop hit, started the ball rolling, then came a series of infectious rhythmic dance-pop tunes, the Bernard Edwards-produced “Don’t You Want Me” and “Some Kind of Lover.” The hit formula remained in full force on the very last single to be released from her eponymous LP, the gloriously feelgood pop of the Patrick Leonard-arranged “Most of All,” which showcased a type of glamour and grace that affirmed her place in the realm of reigning pop divas. Her meteoric rise to the top was only christened when she was bestowed with a Grammy for Best New Artist the following year.

With Prince apprentice André Cymone once again in her production corner, 1989’s Larger Than Life gave Watley even more room for domination, with the hip-hop-glossed radio smash “Real Love” rushing to number two pop and the top spot on the R&B and dance charts. Only Paula Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl” kept her song at bay. The follow-up singles of “Friends” and “Everything” were all Top 5 pop hits. It seemed as if nothing could get stop or block Watley’s ascent, especially when the gold-certified “Real Love” came packaged with a stunning concept video, earning her a truckload of MTV Music Video Award nominations — six in total. Up to this point, Watley had staged a world record for having the most nominations for MTV Music Video Awards. But along with music, Watley became a fashion icon, a symbol of female empowerment and trendsetter, even pushing hip-hop further into her carved R&B sound evidenced on the Eric B. & Rakim-guested, new jack swing-spiked “Friends.”

Although Watley has never really been on hiatus, working fervently with new independently-released singles and consistent touring, she is jumping back into the public conversation, and in more ways than one. For starters, she’s launched a new group, Shalamar Reloaded. It’s a modern-day reinvent of the same group that once propelled her into the spotlight in the late-’70’s/early ’80s while signed to Dick Griffey’s Solar Records. Watley’s reincarnation of the group doesn’t borrow the talents of former Shalamar singers like Howard Hewett and Jeffrey Daniel. No, she is surrounded by young handsome and agile gents, Corbin Bleu lookalike Nate Allen Smith and Hollywood dance choreographer Rosero McCoy.

For nostalgia gluttons, the idea of an authentic Shalamar reunion is something that has been fervently kicked around for decades. Much of the conversation is supported by concert and tour promoters looking to make bank on the prospects. All of Shalamar’s cast is still living, and quite capable of pulling off an unforgettable memory-lane march. Shalamar’s finest male crooner Howard Hewett, who walked into his own solo career after Shalamar originally split, hasn’t performed with Watley since she originally departed in 1983. So the idea of Hewett, Daniels and Watley together feels like an urban jackpot, the equivalence of Diana stopping in the name of love with Mary and Cindy.

It’s an idea that Hewett and Daniel encouraged, evidenced in their interviews with the producers of Unsung for a special on Shalamar. Even Jody was down for it. Then all hell breaks loose. Thanks to instigations, petty finger-pointing, unfinished business and silly online slander from Jody’s toughest haters, the riffs between the three started to spread across miles.

In an exhaustive open letter, Watley set the record straight about Shalamar Reloaded and shut down all Haterade coming from cynics aimed at her independence and hustle.  And it was epic.
Screenshot of Jody Watley's magazine memorabilia (JodyWatley.net)

Screenshot of Jody Watley’s magazine memorabilia (JodyWatley.net)

For those somewhat unfamiliar with Watley’s work ethic, the open letter proved to be a re-introduction to her career’s highlights and some of its overlooked blessings. Snapshots of many magazine covers and centerfold layouts, like her shot for Harper’s Bazar, Rolling Stone coverage, a 2014 article in V, Fashion Canada and her 2008 entry into Vogue Italia, are etched throughout the long piece.

She recites quotes from various music critics, one being from Wax Poetics‘ Dean Van Nguyen who hailed her as “one of music’s most prominent visionaries.” She takes a swing at those who choose to label her “unsung.” She reminds us of when she was chastised for exploding into the mainstream and appealing to the wide ocean of pop music by the black press, when it wasn’t exactly righteous for black artists to do such a thing. And that it’s because she, like Whitney Houston, was “booed for being crossover” because she was a black woman (“I never remember Michael Jackson being booed”). There’s even fun factoids from Watley’s career sir planted into the mix; such as the “hasta la vista, baby” line in “Lookin’ for a New Love” that Arnold Schwarzenegger used in the blockbuster action film Terminator.

But Watley’s recitation of her bio isn’t merely about affirmation of her legacy, it’s mostly about shutting up the loud noise that’s come to try to diminish her. “Neither Shalamar not any former member has achieved what I have,” she writes halfway into her philippic. “Yet, curiously, I’m the one attacked, harassed, disrespected, belittled and thrown into the tired narrative of the alleged ‘bitter black woman.’ Stop it. I’m a successful [black] woman. My career continues as I create my own path like anyone else in this world should do.”

jodywatley-03Then Watley produces pounds upon pounds of evidence from online attacks and email correspondence, possibly arising since the drama from the Unsung episodes of Shalamar and Howard Hewett. Some of the screenshots are coming from the show itself (“Not even Babyface could get Jody Watley in the same room with Howard Hewett! What kind of shade went down?”), aimed at building up hype for their shows. Others are coming from loud Shalamar followers who feel Watley is totally responsible for the inside beef. “This isn’t about a Shalamar Reunion,” Watley concluded. “This is all anti Jody Watley from my point of view, rooted in envy. ‘Unsung’ I am not. Having achieved what many black artists strive for — crossover success, there’s no reason for me to have a grudge with anyone, but there are those who definitely have a grudge against me.”

One conversation screenshot from Twitter shows Hewett dancing around the myth that Shalamar’s success only came when he entered into the picture after replacing departed Gerald Brown. Phil Perry, a R&B singer known for his session background work in the ’80s, added more heat to the fire. “Actually you built [the legacy],” he tweeted. Another commenter added, “[There] was no Shalamar until Howard Hewett came along.”

It seems like things have gotten so bad between Hewett and Watley that Hewett actually blocked her on Twitter, something she realized while trying to reply to one of the tweets she was tagged in. The two still communicate, something she addresses towards the end of the post. But the rift that Hewett testifies to the public is one that’s totally fabricated, she states. And Watley validates her POV when she produces the receipts, recent emails of respectful and cordial correspondence of the two.

The riff between Watley and her former Soul Train dancing partner Jeffrey Daniel, the third part of Shalamar — that’s another story. “Hadn’t spoken to Jeffrey in over nearly fifteen years,” she wrote. Yet when Watley premiered Shalamar Reloaded, she alleges that Daniel was livid. “He, Howard, Carolyn (Griffey) and their manager Michael Gardner were up in arms about the fact I’d started a new group.”
The rant touches on so many unsolved mysteries and issues that Watley wants to settle once and for all, including the big question about who owns the rights to the group name, the legalities of Shalamar Reloaded and if Watley is seriously sold on moving forward without ever regrouping with the former Shalamar. But what is in stone is that Watley, now 57, is excited about the new group. A new album Bridges is in the works, and a new music video for SR’s latest single, “The Mood,” is going viral. The video’s world premiere landed on Perez Hilton’s website, attracting over 58,000 hits on Facebook and with over 570 shares.

Dropping the vid on Hilton’s website may seem a bit outrageous for classic Shalamar fans, but after watching the video you get why they choose this route. The video, shot mostly on an exotic beach front, features a scene where a young gorgeous actress is joined in a shower scene by Rosero McCoy and a beefy gent. It’s an on-screen ménage a trois, but one that suspiciously looks gay-centric. Yeah, the gents give off hints of fluid sexuality, something hardly captured in accessible pop and R&B music videos. And it’s already generating headlines for being “controversial.” But it’s a good slice of controversial as Shalamar bends with the latest trends and social media smartness.

With the recent hype swirling around the video, Watley and Shalamar Reloaded are prepared to entertain the thousands of gays and allies in Piedmont Park for Atlanta Pride as its headlining talent. “We know that before we play a Pride show, we better be ready to bring it and work it,” she told Georgia Voice.

Watley also reprises her reasons for writing the long-winded open letter to the LGBT paper. “I wrote it because former members put lies out about me. One of the unfortunate things in our society today is the lack of follow-up or fact-checking…That’s why I felt like I had to write the letter and show proof to defend myself.”

The chapter of drama inside the Shalamar saga hasn’t exactly passed yet. Since Watley’s post went live, there has been no response from Hewett and Daniels. In March, Carolyn Griffey, daughter of the late Dick Griffey, told EURweb.com that the name actually belonged to her. “I have all the documentation. I was given the right to continue to use the name by my father,” Griffey said, while also mentioning Watley successfully claiming ownership of the trademark rights in 2014, a move Griffey is disputing and still fighting with.

Still, with new projects on the horizon and what feels like a comeback in the eyes of others (despite so many overlooking Watley notching Top 20 hit singles on the dance charts with her 2007 cover of Chic’s “I Want Your Love,” 2008’s “A Beautiful Life” and 2013’s “Nightlife”), Jody Watley is still defying the odds. Her career is still steady and she’s still packing venues, as a solo artist and also with Shalamar Reloaded. And she is making every attempt to differentiate the two groups. “For those who are intimidated by the progress of Shalamar Reloaded, and are upset because it has ‘Shalamar’ in it…we’re not trying to be ‘Shalamar’ of old. Be clear on that. Relax, no one is here to steal your memories.”

When one commenter congratulated Watley on her official Facebook page and accrediting Shalamar, Watley quickly responded: “We are not Shalamar, that is my former group from the past. Our name is Shalamar Reloaded. That’s what our music is sold under as the [article] says.”

Clearly, Watley is doing things differently the second time around. And it’s looking promising.

 


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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