It was with great sadness that I learned about the passing of Rod Temperton, my favourite songwriter from my favourite band of all time, Heatwave. I don’t know what it is about this year, but we have lost so many of our well loved singers and musicians. Rod, who came from Cleethorpes in the north of England, was only 66, losing a battle with cancer after a short illness.
Heatwave was my favourite band during my teenage years. In fact it still is, and every once in a while I like to go down memory lane and reminisce. The joy upon listening, the feelings the songs evoke in me just lifts my mood like no other. I remember going to the disco with my friends, and hearing so much great music. I naively thought good music was a given, that it would always be so good – just like it was throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s. And when I heard a Heatwave song, I felt really, really good.
Rod wrote most of the songs for Heatwave before going on to write for many other artists, including Michael Jackson. He wrote many of the songs on the famous ‘Thriller’ album and ‘Off The Wall’. He really was a great and prolific songwriter, and he was also an arranger and producer. Whenever I picked up a vinyl record and saw that Rod Temperton was the songwriter I just knew it was going to be a good song. Holding a record in my hand with his name in the writing credits was like holding gold dust. And my Heatwave records were just like that, magical and golden – my musical sunshine. They always came sprinkled with a good dose of positivity and uplift.
Heatwave were an international band based in England comprising the Wilder brothers, Keith and Johnnie from Dayton, Ohio who fronted the band and who were the lead vocalists, a Spanish bass guitarist called Mario Mantese, a drummer from Czechoslovakia called Ernest (Bilbo) Berger, Eric Johns on various guitars, and Rod on the keyboards. I loved the diversity of talent that came together to make the sounds. There are plenty of stories on the internet that describe how the band was formed, so I won’t duplicate that information here.
Rod’s songwriting, combined with Johnnie’s beautiful, angelic voice was mindblowing. It literally took my breath away. And those harmonies as well…even watching the videos now on youtube leaves me spellbound – Heatwave could put on a performance. I just cannot adequately express just how much the songs affected me, and still do.
Heatwave made five fabulous albums and I’m the proud owner of every single one:
TOO HOT TO HANDLE (1977)
This was the first album released and contains many of my favourite songs: the funky ‘Ain’t No Half Steppin’, ‘Too Hot To Handle’, ‘Boogie Nights’, and ‘Always and Forever’. ‘Boogie Nights’ was the first song to become a big hit, followed by ‘Too Hot To Handle’ (I bought both of these singles). ‘Boogie Nights’ has a lovely, unusual intro with a harp which leads into an upbeat dance track. ‘Always and Forever’ was another huge hit, a slow love song which Johnnie sings so effortlessly. It has become a classic.
CENTRAL HEATING (1978)
This album is full of funky songs: ‘Put The Word Out’ and ‘Central Heating’, and it contains yet another of my favourite songs ‘The Groove Line’ which was a big hit and which is a funky upbeat dance tune. I remember hearing this at the disco, and just taking in and soaking up the atmosphere and sound. Something within was connecting so strongly with the music, and that snapshot of time resides deeply in me. I bought the single and played it over and over again. It’s one of the few singles I still have in my record collection alongside ‘Too Hot To Handle’.
HOT PROPERTY (1979)
By the time this album came out Rod had left the band to go and work with Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson, but he continued to write songs for Heatwave and for all the subsequent albums. Tragedy had also struck – Mario Mantese, the bass guitarist, was stabbed in the heart and his injuries meant he could not play bass again. He was replaced by Derek Bramble. A year later Johnnie was in a car accident which left him paralysed from the neck down.
Although this album was really good (I love ‘Therm Warfare’) a lot of people felt that it did not quite live up to the first two albums. The producer was different this time also (Phil Ramone and not Barry Blue, who produced the first two albums).
Johnnie, although paralysed, never lost his beautiful voice, and was still able to record songs – though on stage he was replaced with JD Nicholas (who also went on to sing with the Commodores). Johnnie was so brave, and used to sing from behind a curtain when the band was on stage. He still wanted to be part of the band, though not visible. Rod still wrote some of the songs. ‘Posin’ ‘Til Closin’ and ‘Jitterbuggin’ were catchy. ‘Gangsters of the Groove’ was another hit song. The album was produced by Johnnie and James Guthrie.
This was the last album which contains the uptempo ‘Lettin It Loose’, my favourite song from the album and which was another Rod song. He still wrote most of the songs, and Barry Blue was back to produce the album. Although this was still a good, solid album, so much had changed after Rod left and the tragedies happened. Heatwave finally came to an end.
Mario recovered from his injuries, and is now an author of spiritual books. Johnnie began a gospel career and made two albums. He died in 2006. Heatwave reformed later on but Keith is the only original member, and still tours.
I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Rod had stayed with the band, and if the awful tragedies hadn’t happened. It is quite well known that Johnnie actually turned down the song ‘Rock With You’ from Rod for whatever reason, which then became a monster hit for Michael Jackson. But these things did happen, and we still got five wonderful albums – five albums of magic and sunshine. The songs were like bright beacons of light to lift you out of the gloom – they were about going out and having a good time, and it was like hearing a lot of mini soundtracks to life in general.
Thank you Heatwave for the joy that you brought. Thank you Rod for the songs – you’ll never know how much those songs meant, and still mean to me. Whenever I feel down I turn to those songs – musical sunshine to my ears and to my soul.
Leave your worries behind
‘Cause rain, shine don’t mind
We’re ridin’ on a groove line, tonight