Heatwave was a popular international R&B/Funk band with Americans Johnnie Wilder, Jr. & Keith Wilder (vocals) of Dayton, Ohio, Englishman Rod Temperton (keyboards), Spaniard Mario Mantese (bass), Czechoslovakian drummer Ernest "Bilbo" Berger, Jamaican Eric Johns (guitars) and British guitarist Roy Carter.
They were known for their hits "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 emerged as one of the disco-era's funkiest dance groups. American serviceman brothers Johnnie Wilder and his brother Keith Wilder were based in West Germany when they first began performing, and upon their discharge from the U.S. Army, the duo stayed in that country. Both singers, the pair gigged in clubs and bars with an assortment of bands while still enlisted.
However, they were constantly looking to expand their horizons, and in mid year they relocated to the United Kingdom to link up with songwriter/keyboardist Rod Temperton.
While touring the London club circuit during the mid-1970s, their experience allowed Heatwave to define and refine their music, eschewing straight disco beats for a sound that certainly contained that element, but fused it with a rich funk groove. As a result of their inventive music style, the group signed to GTO (Epic Records) in 1976. They were paired in the studio with GTO house producer/session guitarist Barry Blue, and rhythm guitarist Jesse Whitten. Whitten was replaced with rhythm guitarist Roy Carter after being stabbed to death in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. They began creating their first album Too Hot To Handle in the fall of 1976.
1977 was a big year for Heatwave, as their first single "Boogie Nights" from their debut album, reached number two on the British pop charts in January (it wouldn't appear on the American radar until later that summer, when it also became a #2 hit in November). The group's long-awaited debut album, Too Hot to Handle, finally appeared in late-spring 1977, giving Heatwave a number eleven hit in the U.S. - it cruised to number five on the R&B charts, while the next single, the sweet soul ballad "Always and Forever", closed out the year with a number two U.S. R&B hit in December.
Continuing to use Barry Blue's production skills, Heatwave released their sophomore album Central Heating in April 1978. The album rode firmly on the tails of its massive single, the classic "The Groove Line", a hard hitting dance groove that rocketed up the charts, leaving the album's other single, the beautiful ballad "Mind Blowing Decisions" gasping for air in its wake.
Although their star power seemed unstoppable, Heatwave were dealt with some challenges during the late-1970s, as first Eric Johns, then Rod Temperton quit the band. Although, Temperton would continue writing new songs for Heatwave, he swiftly became better-known for his songwriting for other artists, penning award-winning songs for some of funk's heaviest hitters, 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, "Rock With You", "Off The Wall" and "Burn This Disco Out" for Jackson's 1979 Off The Wall LP. He then returned to Jackson's camp in 1982 with three songs for the Thriller LP, including the seminal title track.
Shaken, but undaunted by recent events, Heatwave were about to return to the studio, only to be dealt another blow as Mantese was stabbed walking home from a party in London. He, too, had no alternative but to leave the band, and was replaced with Derek Bramble. Adding guitarist William Jones and 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. suffered a tragic 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 with Barry Blue.
Determined to continue working with the band he had nurtured since the very beginning, Wilder remained on board for studio work and, in 1980, Heatwave recorded the Candles LP, with Temperton again providing the songs. The group recruited James Dean "J.D." Nichols to handle vocals in concert.
Heatwave's spotlight seemed to be waning though, as the November single "Gangsters of the Groove" proved to be their last pop hit, reaching number twenty-one in the U.S., and pulling in a surprisingly impressive 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, bringing a tumultuous time to a somewhat disappointing close.
Heatwave's 1982 LP, Current, marked yet another new era for the band as they returned to producer Barry Blue. The album managed only a desultory number 156 on the U.S. Billboard 200, although it scored the band a number twenty-one hit on the R&B charts, where Heatwave continued to be a strong presence. A Rod Temperton penned single, "Lettin' It Loose" proved a minor hit in August. However, it also sounded a death knell for the group.
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 1984's Tonight LP, and later masterminded Jaki Graham's breakthrough). J.D. Nichols, too, decamped to fill Lionel Richie's shoes in the Commodores. At the end of a staggering series of departures, the remaining members of Heatwave essentially brought down the curtain -- the band was rendered inactive, and for all intents disbanded.
Silent since early 1983, the Wilder brothers resurfaced in 1989 with the gospel album Sound of Soul. In 1988, Johnnie Wilder released a solo spiritual album My Goals on Light. Neither sold well, but Heatwave itself was revitalized in 1991, when a remix version of their "Mind Blowing Decisions" charted in the UK and, by the middle of the 1990s, Keith Wilder had reformed the band. Joined by bassist Dave Williamson, keyboardists Kevin Sutherland and Byron Byrd and guitarist Bill Jones, the reborn Heatwave launched an American tour with a live album, At the Greek Theater, 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.
Co-founder, and lead vocalist, Johnnie Wilder, Jr. passed away at his home in Clayton, Ohio on May 13, 2006 at age 56.