So, I’m on the horn with one of my favorite musicians and I ask about a certain song to which he responds, “A good friend of mine was riding with her daughter, gave me a call from her car after she heard my version and said this is the best remake I’ve ever heard. I love it! “The sentiments were echoed by the offspring as well. Before the reveal let’s put things in context; certain songs should remain untouched. Let’s expand that thought, if the artist is special enough, none of their CATALOG should be touched. April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984, was the brief lifespan of one of those artists, Marvin Pentz Gay Jr., whose list of recordings should be approached with extreme caution if you’re looking to put a personal spin on. Back to the quote at the top, which was attributed to Janis Gaye and seconded by Nona Gaye the ex-wife and daughter of Marvin Gaye, respectively. The song itself was one of the melancholiest mixtures of angst, confusion and beauty ever committed to wax entitled “Just to keep you satisfied.” Not many have attempted this one but two that have, Nancy Wilson and Phillip Bailey, two of the most iconic voices ever, come up short. Perhaps the most definitive cover of a soul classic goes to one of the greatest most unheralded artists in soul music history, Howard Hewett.
The state of Ohio in this era is known as the state that gave us Lyfe (as in Jennings), but in the early 1970s a group in his hometown of Akron, the LYFE Band, allowed for a teen-aged Hewett to cut his teeth in the realm of R&B/soul/pop. In 1976, Hewett moved to Los Angeles seeking greener pastures and found his way into a group called Beverly Hills. In 1979 Hewett hit paydirt when he received a call from music mogul Dick Griffey of a then fledgling label SOLAR (Sound of Los Angeles Records.) The call was for Hewett to replace a member of a trio that left the group in a lurch in the middle of a promo run for their hit single “Take That to the Bank.” The then newly formed pairing of Hewett’s tenor mixed beautifully with the bright vocals of Jody Watley, the dancing skills of Jeffery Daniels, and the writing and production of Leon Sylvers III for the formation of the classic iteration of the legendary R&B group Shalamar. The group’s overall third album “Big Fun” scored a U.S. million-dollar seller with “The Second Time Around” and they were off to the races. That team remained relevant during their early ’80s run adhering to the dance music that populated dance floors and airwaves, but a string of ballads have them cemented in the pantheon of R&B music. “Somewhere There’s a Love,” “I Don’t Wanna Be the Last to Know,” “You Can Count on Me” and/or “For the Lover in You” still have memories of special people and times etched in the hearts of millions.
Being the signature voice of a phenomenally successful group afforded an opportunity for Hewett to continue to be a hit machine as a solo artist. Utilizing the same methodology that allowed him a core audience, Hewett managed to feed and grow his base. One of the first orders of business Hewett had to address was to fulfill a promise. “A few years before I left the group, I made a promise to the Lord that whenever I was by myself, I will honor you on every record.” On his solo debut album came the song “Say Amen,” that became just as synonymous to any song in his repertoire. In fact, says Hewett, “I have a song called ‘Forever and Ever’ that in Africa is just as big as ‘Say Amen’ is over here. I started in gospel and I’m not afraid to say thank you for his grace.” His latest single follows in the same vein. “‘To Thee I Pray’ [LaKiva Music] is a song that I actually wrote over 30 years ago…unfortunately the lyrics still ring true today. It was meant for my last album with Elektra [Records]. I brought it to these cats, Wav3Pop, and said flip it.”
With the ability to still record and perform at an elite level and having accomplished just about everything that he could in the industry, there still remains one thing that he regrets. When the run with Shalamar eventually ended, little did we think that it would be PERMANENT, permanent. To the chagrin of their millions of fans globally as well as Hewett himself he wants a reunion, but for him not necessarily musically. He states, “There’s a season and a time for everything and there’s a time for things to end. Jody, Jefferey and I for about 5 years spent almost every day together chasing our dreams, chasing success. We were blessed to create this entity and create substance for this entity called Shalamar, that made it live forever. At this point I realize that there were some words that I said to you, and I can’t take them back, but I can say from the bottom of my heart that I am truly sorry. I’m doing this for my spirit and for my duties as a man of God her spirit. I hope that she can find in heart and spirit to accept. Whatever words were said, those words lasted for 40 years. It’s time to lift that off ourselves.”
While we await the outcome of the olive branch he extended to his bandmate, we only have a few days to see Howard Hewett perform in the flesh as STEPHANIE MILLS & HOWARD HEWETT on Saturday, April 2, 2022, at 8 p.m. perform at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Lehman College/CUNY at 250 Bedford Park Boulevard West, Bronx, N.Y. 10468. Tickets prices are $100, $85, $75, $65, $50 and can be purchased by calling the Lehman Center box office at 718-960-8833 (Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and beginning at 4 p.m. on the day of the concert), or through online access at www.LehmanCenter.org.
Over and out. Holla next week, til then, enjoy the nightlife.