SHALAMAR: Let’s make this a night to remember

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Well, well, well. Manchester what can TNT say? We were transported back, ‘waaay back, back into time’ Shalamar hit the Ritz in Manchester on Friday, 5 December and this was a definitely a night to remember.

After dancing the night away to the array of Shalamar tunes – Night to Remember, There It Is, Second Time Around and I Can Make You Feel Good – TNT was whisked back stage to meet the trio and greeted TNT with love and great hugs. Carolyn Griffey joined the group in 2003 to replace Jody Watley; TNT wanted to know why?

Jeffrey Daniel still had all the classic moves and is definitely the joker of the group. When asked to introduce himself he sung “My name is Hans Christian Anderson,” and throughout the interview would blame the rubber flooring being too hard to slide-and-glide – “Rubber is not my friend. I was battling with the floor!” – but believe, regardless of the flooring, all the moves were flawless. Last but not least, the original crooner, the guy that brought sexy back, Mr Howard Hewett.

When asked if they felt the love from the packed-to-capacity Ritz, Jeffrey replied, matter-of-factly: “Manchester always shows us so much love, as we have been here a good few times over the years.”

Howard added: “Manchester is so responsive and that all make it fun for us. We don’t have to be so ridged with Manchester. We can be spontaneous because they allow us to be creative.”

Shalamar was the all-American group, formed  in the late ‘70s and was originally a disco-driven dancing movement created by Soul Train agent Dick Griffey and show creator Don Cornelius, coincidentally Carolyn Griffey is Dick Griffey’s daughter, so it seems only fitting she join the trio her father named and engineered.

The group’s first hit was in 1977 with the Uptown Festival LP. Both Griffey and Don Cornelius then replaced session singers with the then-hot, Soul Train, dancing duo Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniels who joined the original Shalamar lead singer Gary Mumford. After Gary there was Gerald Brown and then that’s when Howard Hewett came to join the group around 1979 and this line up was the most popular trio and ultimately the most recognised. Their chemistry was undeniable, especially the relationship between Watley and Daniels; a question TNT would ask later and get the answer we thought would not be forthcoming.

Jeffrey Daniels was instrumental in introducing body-popping to the UK as well as his unmistakable fashion sense. As Daniels elaborates on the impact and influence he has had on the music industry and pioneering artists such as the King of Pop Michael Jackson.

So we started the interview with what we thought was a straightforward question.

TNT: So how old are you guys now?

Jeffrey: I can be in my 30s on the weekend but in the week be in my late 20s; we soul age children were from that generation.

There was fits of laughter from Carolyn and Howard. Carolyn then told us her age, hinting that Jeffrey’s answer wasn’t all that true.

Carolyn: I’m gonna be 46 in April and I feel like a groupie group every time I perform as these guys and Jody were my idols.

Howard: I’m 59, it’s wonderful and I love it, I love it, I love it! ‘cause you do so much in your life to get here, it’s a gift! My dad passed when he was 59 and so I’m happy to be here right now.

I got four kids and two grand kids. If I was half the musician my son is, I wouldn’t be talking to nobody. Christopher is truly amazing, he’s a great writer and a great producer and he’s working on my solo project and my son done a few tunes on there for me. 

My solo album will be released at some point in 2015 as I’m seven songs deep at the moment and I don’t have a name yet. My son changed his name to Christopher Hazel as we have Christopher Hewett which is Mr Belvedere.

Jeffrey: Let me see. Every country I go to I adopt children in Nigeria, I have about five godchildren; Japan, I have 25 godchildren.

We asked him if he had any “biological” children.

Jeffrey: All these children are biological, they’re not cyborgs!

He breaks out into rapturous laughter.

Jeffrey: If you cut them they will bleed.

TNT: So what new projects are there in the pipeline?

Jeffrey: There has been a long separation for us, not being Shalamar and then we came back so it’s not like over the years we’ve just been Shalamar, Shalamar, Shalamar and trying to sell records as Shalamar.

I mean don’t get me wrong, Howard has had an illustrious career and worked with some of the best people in the industry.

TNT: What have you been doing yourself?

Jeffrey: Doing my thing! Oh my god everything under the sun, I mean you know. I have just finished doing Nigerian Idol as a judge; I’m living in Africa now. I’ve been living there for four years. So if you’re not in Nigeria you wouldn’t know necessarily what I’m doing.

Howard: It’s about living your life having fun and doing what you feel, I mean, I have always said when I turn 60 I’m gonna say anything I wanna say and to anybody, ‘cause I’ve earned that right!

Jeffrey: Old people don’t care what they say as they have earned the right of passage. They pick their nose and look at you like ‘is there a problem?’

After skirting around the questions, we get to some real insight.

Howard: My show, which is the Howard Hewett Show, is mainly in the States. I do about 100 days a year still! It’s a lot of fun and I’m working on some charity stuff.

Jeffrey: He’s being modest, over the years he’s sung one of the songs for Soul Train; he’s sang on Michael Jackson thriller and worked with the greats Quincy Jones and James Ingram.

This guy does a lot of things in the industry! Some things will be noted ‘cause people know who we are and some things we’re not upfront about, so I’m bragging for him! I’m proud of him.

Howard: I’m on internet radio but you guys don’t get to hear about that.

Jeffrey: Unfortunately in today’s culture, trash is popular. Things of quality are being set here and are not as popular as running with the trash and right now. The more vulgar you can get with your song, [then] they’re promoting it the most! In order to be a female entertainer they have to be acting like pole dancers and dressing like it in their videos. What has that got to do with talent or singing?

Howard: You only got to watch the American Music Awards. I don’t even watch them anymore ‘cause sex sells it crazy out there now! I watched this recent pone and everyone had the shorts way up there [gestures towards his butt]!

The subject is now broached about the whereabouts of Jody Watley. The air grows still as everyone feels reluctant to answer. After an awkward silence, Carolyn gently speaks. “She’s not in Shalamar.”

Howard then decides to elaborate.

Howard: When we first started about ‘98, we got a call from Japan, they wanted us to come there and do the Shalamar thang.

The first thang we did, was we went to Jody, ‘check this out we just got offered this great opportunity’ and her response was ‘I don’t want to re-visit that part of my life’ and I said to myself, not out loud, this is a part of your life that has enabled you to do what you do right now! That’s your history! This is Shalamar.

I don’t care how many songs I do and how many moves Jeffrey creates, we do Shalamar.

Carolyn: It’s funny, I don’t know whether the readers know my father is Dick Griffith, he was the one of the founders and creators of Shalamar.

I grew up with Shalamar and I also loved Michael Jackson ‘cause my father was involved with all of them at that time, I had stand-up posters etc. as I had direct access to the group.

Howard: She was In lurrrrve with me!

Carolyn: It just seems really strange to me to be doing this now ‘cause they’ve always been family. I mean all of our families have grown together, it’s been a blessing for me.

Howard: I’ve known Carolyn since she was about ten years old.

Carolyn: I used to babysit his kids.

Howard: For a long while it was just me and Jeffrey. We wouldn’t just take on anyone, any girl, it wasn’t about that but Carolyn shared all our history together, it made sense to have Carolyn, who is a great vocalist and the perfect fit.

Jeffrey: The most important thang is the audience just loves to see Shalamar ‘cause they love the songs, and who are we to say we don’t wanna re-hash the past? There are groups that broke up just three years ago and no one don’t wanna pay a penny to go see them, for us to have done something in the ‘80s and in the ‘00s and people still love it, why would we not wanna be in front of those people?

Carolyn: We wanna carry on this legacy, it’s been especially hard for me to step into the shoes and not to trying to compete with, or imitate.

Jeffrey: From this moment on, people have to know this if it’s not featuring Howard Hewett or Jeffrey Daniel and baby girl, it’s just not Shalamar. Now there are some people that are trying to put together an artificial Shalamar, who’s gonna go on stage and sing Howard Hewett’s part?

It’s not going to make sense. So this! Right here is Shalamar. If it ain’t us you’ve been bamboozled!

Howard: People tell me I’m Shalamar; I say no, we all made it what it was; Jeffrey, Jody and myself. Up to now no one has tried to duplicate.

It was then that TNT threw some dynamite in the works.

TNT: Who actually dated Jody Watley? Both of you or just one of you?

Jeffrey: Aaaaaaah Aaaaaah, I’ve known Jody since 12 years old and we met through church. I knew her father, her brother and her mother before her.

So Jody and I were dancing on Soul Train together, so in answer to your question, me and Jody were boyfriend and girlfriend in the early days and so that’s it.

Around when Howard came into the group, some people were under the impression Howard had, but you know what? Some people thought the group broke up because Howard wanted to do more leads and we were in a love triangle.

I heard so many ridiculous things. We were never fighting amongst each other, it was between us and the record company.

Howard: I’m from Ohio and I came out to Los Angeles when I was around 20 years old. I always had a band since I was ten, but when Soul Train started and I used to see Jeffrey and Jody; I didn’t know their names but I knew them by sight.

We used to watch Soul Train for the girls and for whoever was performing and then I came to LA and started hanging out in clubs with the Soul Train crowd and that’s when I first met Jody.

So I used to watch them on Soul Train, it was ironic, and I started to work with them in a group which made history. We made musical history.

Me and Jeffrey always have a dressing room together. They always try and give us our own dressing room and we always just chill together as we did in the good old days.

Jeffrey: There’s so much love up in the place ‘cause we are all family and I believe it transcends on stage. When Carolyn was ten I used to go into her bedroom and she’d be jumping on the bed and fartin’ and everything; she was behaving like a little kid. She would take me out to see her horses and she was backstage at our concerts.

Howard: I was married for about three years and was only at home maybe 8-9 months ‘cause I was with these guys. So for Jody to take the stance that she has taken, we talk about it, and were cool, but it really hurts.

Carolyn: I tell you what, no one hurts these guys but that did! And does.

Howard: If you see some of the things on Jody’s website, that her fans have written and are writing…

Carolyn: I reached out to her! Howard talks over her and defends his family: These fans on Jody’s site have been totally disrespectful. Yes I said it, that’s how I feel; now that’s childish and stupid.

TNT: How much flak have you taken for taking over Jody’s role?

Carolyn: I‘ve taken a lot, I’ve just never responded. It’s so painful though.  The first time I went out with these guys was 2003, I loved Jody so much. I would start almost every performance: ‘I would like pay homage’ because I had so much respect for her. Professionally, not personally, I would feel intimidated because I forget at times how iconic they all are.

Howard: For the record, Carolyn didn’t audition, we chose Carolyn, because of the history and even more so than that because she family.

Jeffrey: People need to understand it was never an intention and we did not replace Jody Watley. What we did was replace the third member ‘cause we needed a balance.

Shalamar is three people and at first it was just Howard Hewett and Jeffrey Daniel and then I would be dancing with myself, that wouldn’t make sense.

I need a partner to work around and this all lends balance to the stage. We got Dick Griffiths blessing to have his daughter join us.

Howard: We were supposed to do BET and they have over 5 million people watching or whatever. They got in touch with us ‘cause they wanted to do a surprise thing, ‘cause you know every year they bring a nostalgic band or group back.

We were going to be the Lifetime Achievement Award this year. My thing was we were having discussions as far as to creative content. I then said, this is what I think should happen, let’s let Jody open it up with I’m Looking for a New Love. Then people will be like Howard and Jody on the same stage, for real! What’s the deal right!

Then break that down, lights come up and Jeffrey starts back sliding to Make That Move and then The Lover in You and Night to Remember. Jody wanted to do I’m Looking for a New Love, Friends, Real Love, then bring Rakim out – and you know he was no part of Shalamar whatsoever – and do a rap on Friends or whatever, then she said ‘Howard can do one song solo and one song for Shalamar’.

Jeffrey: No, no, no, here’s the wording, we talking to BET, it got to the last month and the word was she wanted to be ‘Jody Watley featuring Shalamar!’ Now that’s what she asked BET. Now what sense does it make? How can it be Jody Watley featuring Shalamar if Howard is the primary lead vocalist? What sense would that make, it don’t make logical sense.

Howard: BET said ‘we asked for a Shalamar reunion not Jody Watley’. Then she went on her website and said ‘I wanted to make it fabulous’. Which is cool, if they just asking you to do it, but when they say they want a Shalamar reunion, this is Shalamar.

Jeffrey: She deprived herself, which is like shooting yourself in the foot. Why would you deprive yourself the opportunity to be in front of the industry and the world and receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for what you have done and deprive your fellow artists?

Jeffrey: The only thing I would like to say about it is, we pray for her, ‘cause we don’t wish anything bad for her and we are not fighting nobody. If we see someone in our industry or family that we can’t help, rather than just leave them we will pray for them.

Howard: We are trying to arrange something for April to come back to Manchester.

TNT: What legacy would you like to leave?

Howard: My integrity, especially with my music can live on and continue to touch people.

Jeffrey: I’m a pioneer and I’m always evolving, I went from Soul Train to Shalamar, choreographer, producer, TV shows, radio, I’m always doing something.

Carolyn: First of all, I no longer feel like an outsider! Because this is my legacy! This is my family.  It’s a part of history my father put together. Families fight, they don’t always get along, but we all love each other, period! This legacy should be celebrated long after we gone. This ship sales with class.

Howard [breaks the conversation when asked about links with Michael Jackson]: Nah, nah, let me say, we used to do Disneyland all the time, we did grand nights at Disney and regular nights etc.

And so Mike would come to the shows all the time and he would stand backstage with his surgical mask on and he would watch the show. In the middle of one of our songs we used to pull this imaginary robe and Jeffrey would come sliding down the stage but it would look like we were pulling him or he was on a conveyer belt.

Michael wanted to know how to do the back slide and we were on our way out to perform somewhere so Jeffrey sent some of his guys from a dance group called Eclipse to teach Michael.

Michael couldn’t grasp it from them so when we got back, he asked Jeffrey to come over and teach him the back slide and then how many months or years later he performed it on the Motown.

Howard: Jeffrey’s moonwalk is flawless and I’m not hating on Michael ‘cause he gave Jeffrey props.

Jeffrey: Michael didn’t perform it ‘til ’83. Did you guys know I choreographed Smooth Criminal and Bad and I also danced in them too? A lot of people didn’t and don’t know that.

You can see and feel the love between the three of them and sincerely how much love they still have for Jody Watley despite their issues.

TNT couldn’t help but feel Jody, in saying no to Japan and especially not agreeing to Shalamar at the BET Awards, has shown a blatant disregard to her fans as TNT for one would love to witness Shalamar as-was, once again, for that ultimate performance.

In 2015, original member Jody Watley is now reportedly the legally registered trademark owner of Shalamar. Go figure.

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