Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Shalamar: Friends Forever ('Friends' 35th Anniversary interview)

Shalamar Shalamar Shalamar Shalamar

To celebrate the 35th Anniversary of their UK Platinum-selling album “Friends”, US soul/disco trio Shalamar this month return to Britain for an extensive national tour. Which, running from October through to December, marks the longest tour the group will have undertaken since the Eighties. All of which is accompanied by the eagerly-anticipated release of a new Shalamar single “The Real Thing, whose funky, joyous bounce interestingly not only marks the first-ever release by the threesome’s current line-up comprising long-term members Jeffrey Daniel and Howard Hewett alongside latest female recruit Carolyn Griffey, but also the first Shalamar release in over 30 years to feature Howard and Jeffrey, with production being handled by the outfit’s original Eighties producer Leon Sylvers III.

Originally conceived in 1977 in Los Angeles, California as a disco-driven vehicle by US TV show “Soul Train” producer Don Cornelius and booking agent Dick Griffey, Shalamar would attain instant international notoriety with their debut single “Uptown Festival” and its accompanying album of the same name. Success which would, in turn, inspire Cornelius and Griffey to replace the session singers of the original record with popular “Soul Train” dancers Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniel to, alongside new lead-singer Gerald Brown, comprise a new, permanent line-up which would be first showcased on Shalamar’s 1978-released second LP “Disco Gardens.” An album which would mark the beginning of the group’s ongoing relationship with chart-topping producer Leon Sylvers III (known as “the creator of The Sound Of Los Angeles”) as well as their debut release for Griffey’s 1977-founded Solar Records.

Nevertheless, it was not until 1979 when the “classic line-up” of Shalamar would finally come into existence, when male vocalist Howard Hewett would replace a departing Brown for the group’s Gold-selling third album “Big Fun” and its Platinum-selling US Top Ten single “The Second Time Around”. All of which would soon be followed by two further US Gold albums (1980’s “Three For Love” and 1982’s “Friends”) in addition to a string of hit singles. Success which, following the arrival of the aforementioned “Friends”, would also find the trio making a significant impact internationally. Particularly in the UK where said album’s Platinum sales would additionally result in three enduring Top Ten singles - “I Can Make You Feel Good”, “A Night To Remember” and “There It Is” - a breakthrough helped significantly at the time by an iconic body-popping solo dance routine by Jeffrey on BBC TV’s music show “Top Of The Pops”, which prestigiously marked the first time The Moonwalk (then known as The Back Slide) had been performed on television.

Nevertheless, despite Shalamar’s next, seventh album - 1983’s “The Look”, which took them into a more new wave/synthpop direction - attaining Gold status in the UK and spawning further international Top 20 singles with “Dead Giveaway” and “Disappearing Act”, all was not well internally, and following its release Shalamar would suffer a major blow with both Daniel and Watley leaving to eventually be replaced by new members Micki Free and Delisa Davis, who would join Hewett for what would be the group’s final hit, the Grammy-nominated 1984 US Top 20 “Dancing In The Sheets”. Success which nevertheless would not prevent Howard also leaving in 1985 to be replaced by new lead vocalist Sydney Justin. After which Shalamar would begin to lose popularity, eventually resulting in them breaking up shortly after the release of their unsuccessful 1990 album “Wake Up”.

… Fast-forward to the end of the Nineties meanwhile and following a one-off reunion of the three “classic line-up” members for a guest slot (alongside rapper LL Cool J) on US singer/songwriter/producer Babyface’s 1996 Platinum single “This Is For The Lover In You”, 1999 would find Jeffrey and Howard deciding to permanently reform Shalamar. Which, with Jody reportedly not interested in a permanent reunion, would in 2001 result in them in turn bringing aforementioned group co-founder Dick Griffey’s daughter Carolyn on board to complete the line-up which regularly tours internationally to this day.

…Cue a chatty Jeffrey, Howard and Carolyn on the line to “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a revealing chat prior to Shalamar’s upcoming “Friends”-celebrating UK tour.

How Shalamar today look back on the 1982-released “Friends” album and the role it played in their career

JEFFREY: “It’s funny because there was so much going on at that time. Like we were doing pretty much an album every year, a tour every year, plus we’d just come back from our first shows in Africa... So when we were going in the studio to make the “Friends” album it was pretty much work as usual. You know, Leon Sylvers had a collection of songs for us to choose from, then once we got the songs we put our own input into them - for example on songs like “On Top Of The World” and “Playing To Win” I got involved musically by playing instruments like the vocoder and the guitar... But at the time we had no idea it was going to become what it became. Because now, looking back in retrospect, in a lotta ways it was very much a breakthrough album, particularly internationally. Like it gave me the opportunity to come to London and do my dance performance of “A Night To Remember” on “Top Of The Pops”, which was definitely a significant moment in that performance just took Shalamar to a whole new stratosphere, especially in terms of Europe and the UK… So yeah, though as I say at first it was pretty much work as usual, ultimately it did turn out to be something much more. Which is just one of those things you just can’t predict. You know, you always go in and you try to do your best work, but at the end of the day, you never know how it’s gonna turn out. Just like, I’m sure Michael Jackson didn’t know “Thriller” was gonna become the biggest album of all time when he was actually working on it!”

The new single “The Real Thing” which finds Howard and Jeffery reuniting with their original late-Seventies/Eighties producer Leon Sylvers III

JEFFREY: “Well, since Howard and I reformed Shalamar around 1999/2000 it’s been a step-by-step thing to rebuild the brand to where now it’s finally working in terms of us being able to put new material out. I mean, at first, I was sceptical about it because if you look at acts like Earth, Wind & Fire and even Stevie Wonder, while they may still be making albums they’re not actually selling like back in the day. Plus the whole industry has turned upside down in terms of how music is marketed and sold these days. Burt then at the same time, I did realise that to take it all to the next level it did only make sense for us to start putting out a new song together… So yeah, what happened was, while at first, we were thinking of a lot of contemporary producers who are out there doing a lotta stuff today, one day we just sat down and suddenly thought ‘Wow, let’s see what’s going on with Leon Sylvers!’. Because at the end of the day, we’re not a new group that’s suddenly gonna come out and be like ‘OK, let’s imitate the new trend’ and then end up releasing something that’s not really us. But then at the same time we do still wanna be conducive to what’s going on out there today. And I think with Leon Sylvers we have captured that blend of the two. Because while he always has a current and contemporary attitude about everything he does, he’s also able to still maintain that integrity of the Shalamar sound.”

With Jeffrey having in the Eighties become a dance mentor for Michael Jackson to the point of co-choreographing and featuring in The King Of Pop’s “Bad” and “Smooth Criminal” videos, how he now looks back on what would end up a 20-year creative partnership

JEFFREY: “There’s just so many facets to that. Firstly because me growing up watching Michael and The Jackson 5 on TV was something I found very exciting in itself. And then going from that to seeing him grow in the industry was almost like witnessing the blossoming of a family member. So for me to then find out that he was actually watching me dance on “Soul Train” and that I was one of his favourite dancers was something I’d never have imagined, even in my wildest dreams - until he actually contacted me to come and teach him some dance moves!... So yeah, I guess next to Shalamar that’s got to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Because just to have a chance to collaborate with someone like Michael who was going to become the Number One entertainer in the world and The King Of Pop was just unbelievable! You know, to be a part of that legacy is just something I genuinely find very, very humbling.”

Shalamar’s “Friends - 35th Anniversary Tour” runs from October 26 to December 3 inclusive, taking in such UK cities as Norwich (October 28); St Albans (November 3); Wolverhampton (8); Glasgow (9) Coventry (17); Cardiff (24); Sheffield (25); London (December 1); and Brighton (2).

New single “The Real Thing” is released in October

You can read more from our "Friends" 35th Anniversary interview with US soul-disco greats, Shalamar, including what Jeffrey and Howard feel about original member Jody Watley who, after leaving Shalamar, later refused to rejoin them and Carolyn Griffey's thoughts on becoming the newest member of Shalamar - a position she’s actually held since 2001, in turn, making her the group’s longest-serving female. All in the current issue of Blues & Soul Magazine - click the 'BUY NOW' link below to order straight from the B&S shop or read on for high street retailer details...

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