Melody Maker Magazine United Kingdom
|Pictured: Jeffrey Daniel, Howard Hewett, Jody Watley|
As Told To Adam Sweeting For Melody Maker, July 16, 1983:
http://www.shalamaronline.blogspot.comHeavy thunder brooded over Soho as I stepped with relief into the sweating street. On my way out of WEA offices, Jeffrey Daniel had touched my arm. "Hey," he said. "I'm glad this was for Melody Maker, cos they wrote the first story about us..that's what started Shalamar off over here." I wished him luck, and he smiled.
Jeffrey had just spent an hour and a quarter trying to describe why and how his personal heaven had suddenly caved in on top of his head. The day before, Shalamar had decided to end a lengthy period of personal and professional discomfort by splitting up the group. There had been friction in the recording studios, friction with their management and with Solar, their Los Angeles based record company. Worst of all, the three members had begun to turn on each other.
"I guess the public is due some explanation." said Jeffrey. "After all, the British public has been exceptionally good to Shalamar. And we actually care about people, i do."
If I'd been Jeffrey's attorney, I'd have certified him unfit to be interviewed this particular Wednesday afternoon. He was badly confused, visibly still reeling from the shock turn of events and struggling desperately to come to terms with a barrage of emotions which at times were clearly too much for him. Still, I guess our conversation - or at least his conversation - was some kind of necessary therapy. Some of the time, I'm not sure if he realised I was there.
With a new album, "The Look", finished and ready to go, and with their latest single "Dead Giveaway" hovering nicely in the top ten, times should have been extremely pleasant for Shalamar. Instead, it seems that "The Look" will serve as a bitter-tasting requiem for the good times which peaked with the success of their 1982 album "Friends" and it's impressive clutch of hits -- "A Night To Remember," "I Can Make You Feel Good," "There It Is" and the title track. So what the hell happened?
It started in 1977, when Jeffrey and his long time friend Jody Watley were regular dancers on the American "Soul Train" TV show. "Soul Train" supremo Don Cornelius formed a record company called "Soul Train Records" in partnership with Dick Griffey, and plucked Jody and Jeffrey off the dancefloor to become two-thirds of Shalamar. After Cornelius bailed out, the record company became Solar and Shalamar followed up their debut album "Uptown Festival", with "Disco Gardens" (1978) and Big Fun ('79).
The arrival of singer Howard Hewett in 1979 replacing Gerald Brown, seemed to complete the magic circle, and 1981's pair of albums "Three For Love", and "Go For It", preceded the chart busting "Friends"...but below the surface all was not well...
On the well tried Motown pattern, Solar had made Shalamar very much a product of company philosophy and regimented studio procedure. Regular producer Leon Sylvers III dominated choice of material and regularly used his own team of musicians, Dynasty. Plainly, the system worked. Equally clearly Jeffrey and Jody are not the same dance-mad kids they were in 1977. They've seen plenty and learned a lot, but their efforts to put their developing skills into practice were brushed aside.
"Well, what it was was we were fooling ourselves, you know, because Shalamar was put together by the company, so that's why...how much can you say about the situation?" Jeffrey Daniel paused, perhaps wondering how much he could say about this whole mess. "But there was always the promise that we would grow into something and in the past six years I have grown into something. Jody has grown into something. And now that we have reached that plateau, the facilities are still closed. When it's time to do a TV show and it's time to be onstage, then that's when they leave it up to Jody and myself and they want our full co-operation, full participation to help their records sell. But when it's time for us to contribute, they're not as open any more. All of a sudden you get a lot of second thoughts and a lotta reasons why it shouldn't be done."
"What I'm looking forward to in the future is just expressing what I do, you know, cos that's all I've ever wanted to do. That's why I joined the record company, so that I can make records and so that I can write records, and create music and musical concepts, so hopefully in the future I'll find those types of facilities. Of course, I resent a lot of decisions that have been made for Shalamar but I don't hold it against my record company or the other participants."
Was this the first time this kind of tension had broken out in the group I wondered?
"No" said Jeffrey, "but it's never become so prevalent.. Because if the fact that Shalamar is becoming an even bigger group, we're going to places we've never been and the snowball is accumulating as it rolls down the hill. And it's just that the people who are responsible for the snowball are getting the short end of it, while the other people continue to roll and grow and accumulate. It just makes you stop and wonder 'who am I doing this for and why am I doing it?'"
Jeffrey Daniel grew up in the housing projects of east LA - "we grew up on welfare, I've never had my father in my family" - and he owes everything he has to the street-dancing which first earned him a break on "Soul Train".
"I was only a street dancer, I was dancing on 'Soul Train' for free. The only reward we got was a box of chicken at lunchtime, okay, bu we were getting national exposure as dancers on television - everybody knew our faces and stuff snd we got popularity, and it helped a lotta other people lead to bigger things by being seen on 'Soul Train', so it was a good outlet for people who took street dancing serious."
As much as anything, it was Jeffrey's flabbergasting bodypopping dance routines which led to Shalamar being taken to enough British hearts for them to pack out Wembley Arena last year. The balance seemed to work effortlessly, with Howard as lead vocalist, and the more athletic and photogenic Jody and Jeffrey tackling the physical projections and backing vocals.
"That never bothered me," said Jeffrey, "because I accept Howard's voice and I think Howard does have a great voice. I've never tried singing more songs than him or anything like that, you know, because I feel that Howard is good at what he does. I feel I'm good at what I do. And Jody had developed into a very good vocalist over the years, and it's just sickening to see that over the last six years she's not getting any more play on our records than she does."
"Y'know, she gets her usual duet with Howard, maybe she gets to lead a song, and fine...but it's 'okay, now let's get the best material and give that to Howard, that type of attitude is what we're being given."
It's especially galling for Jeffrey that it was he who introduced Howard into Shalamar. Much of the cause of Shalamar's sudden demise stems from the fact that Howard has apparently taken steps to ingratiate himself with the group's management and record company, leaving Jeffrey and Jody outside looking in.
The fact is that when people you're working for and you're working with don't give you the consideration as a mutual artist or a mutual human being, then that's when you stop the ball and say 'wait a minute', why in the hell am I here?"
I've always told them, when I no longer enjoy this I will never do this for money. I would never just do it for the money. Because I could do other things for money, I can't, you know, just bullshit an audience and the public believe in what I'm doing, and it wouldn't be so important if I didn't believe in it, alright?
If I didn't have a purpose or a cause, and if I wasn't struggling for something, well then it wouldn't matter, it would just be a concept and it would all just be for fun and I'd be making money and the public would enjoy it and everything would be dandy, you know, Solar could do whatever they want to do with Shalamar.:
Jeffrey paused, trying to disentangle his whirling thoughts. "I believe in myself, you know, and after that then I believe in Jody and Howard, then after I believe in them I believe in Shalamar okay? I lost my belief in Shalamar a while back, and here recently I've lost my belief in Jeffrey, Jody and Howard being together. Now before I lose belief in myself I'd better stop things and regroup the situation."
The pressure inside Shalamar had been mounting steadily over the last few days the group had been in England. An interview with Howard appeared in Black Echoes, which contained some veiled digs at Jeffrey and Jody. Howard didn't want to do photo sessions. "Jody and I will be friends for life, okay" I've known her since she was 12 years old and we've been family friends I know her entire family. We've always been close.
"Jody and I have had serious fights. We went through a period when we weren't speaking to each other. We had a fight onstage one time, this was back in the states. We were doing a routine and she kicked me and the audience couldn't tell what was going on you know. It was really funny, but when you love people you can do that, because if we didn't love each other we would have split up the group and went our separate ways back then and we'd no longer be friends now, you know? So that's genuine love. When you love people and care about them then you don't mind fighting to get things right."
Lately, though, attitudes had changed.
"Recently there's come a day that Howard has had the attitude of 'screw you guys, piss off.' I'm not downing Howard, I understand where Howard's coming from because actually, when I selected him to join Shalamar, I think he wanted to purse a solo career then, but I think the best thing he could have done at that moment was to join Shalamar, and that's what he did. And he did it for the money as well, you know, and I don't think he believed in it when he did it, I think he did it to earn a living. He needed work, so of course.."
And, as Shalamar's success grew, the group's earlier intimate relationship with management and with Solar became increasingly distant.
"I remember a time when Dick Griffey, who's our manager and record company president, would come down to the studio with us, when he took us off Soul Train, he'd be there in person, y'know. Once the business started rolling and the money started coming in, I guess for business reasons as well he just drifted farther and farther apart from us, and we spent less time together at that point."
So strained had relations become, claims Jeffrey, that Solar even refused to pay for eight hours of studio time which he used to record some demos.
"it's like they're saying, 'hey okay, fine, yeah you can write, yeah you can do this, but just shuddup and dance. Yeah that's nice Jeffrey, let's get back to rehearsal now.' And that's what we felt when it was time for 'Dead Giveaway' yesterday.
The group did their best to finish the video session at Camden Palace, but it was a little difficult since they couldn't talk to each other.
"I walked over to Howard" Jeffrey recalled, "and stood toe to toe to him and just looked at him. He said 'hey man, what's happenin' Then I just gave him a punch on the arm, y'know, like 'don't worry about it'. So then he came across the stage and punched me on the arm and then walked back to his side, and that was all for the entire evening. It was so strange because at that exact moment I was caught between wanting to...er...y'know, hug him or something or tell him I love him or something..."
Suddenly it all became too much, and I watched in amazement as Jeffrey's face crumpled and tears started to roll down his face.
"I know Howard's not totally responsible for what he's doing, " he sobbed, struggling to regain control. "i think if the management team doesn't pull us apart, yknow..and they're encouraging him. Because they've done it with the other lead singer like 'Jeffrey and Jody and just the kids, they're just that, you are the important thing, you are this, you are this and you are this ..' And they make people believe this stuff, and I can understand why Howard probably feels the way he feels."
After a couple of minutes, Jeffrey was a little steadier. Obviously, you feel betrayed by Howard?
"Yeahm Jody and I both do. And even if he did decide to go back to the management, at least tell us, let us know. I can only respect his reason even if I don't like his reason. I have to respect it cos it's his decision, he's his own person."
Phew. "Crossroads", anyone? With all this brewing up, perhaps it's no surprise that recording sessions for the forthcoming album "The Look" were marred by all kinds of bitterness.
"I'm not pleased with 'The Look', and it's very impersonal to me. " said Jeffrey sharply. "in fact it's the biggest slap in my face for as long as I've been in this business. It was like 'you're gonna accept this whether you want to or not' and then 'after it's put on tape and when the record's released, you're gonna get onstage and perform this stuff, like it or not, and act like you believe in it.' Y'know, you know what your role is and get out there and do your role is so get out there and let's help make this project successful.' I
mean, how can you live like that? How can I sleep like that?
Jeffrey has taken under his wing the six LA kids who comprise the song and dance troupe Eklypse. He's trying to bring them over to England, but on the day we met they were stuck in Paris because British Immigration officials wouldn't let them in. Also, Jeffrey has his alter ego Colonel Pop to think about. The Colonel is the guy Jeffrey always wanted to be with Shalamar but wasn't allowed to, a dancer/singer/writer expressing himself in as many forms as he could find.
"Howard never wanted it to happen," he continued. "He expressed it openly in meetings, and he told that I was just believing in my own bullshit and once you believe in your own bullshit you just get lost. He told me to my face that Eklypse and Colonel Pop and the whole thing was nothing but bullshit.
"But yet there's a 'Flashdance' with people bodypopping in it, and it helped spin off this breaker thing that's going on in New York, and Paul McCartney selected me to be in his film which was great not as a member of Shalamar, he selected me to do this dancing bit in his film which was a great privilege. This bodypopping thing is what established Shalamar over here, y'know, the appearance helped spin it off. But yet at home thet tell me it's just bullshit and forget about it."
At the moment, the future is unclear. Jeffrey says he's going to rescue Eklypse from Paris, then he's going on holiday alone for a couple of weeks to clear his head. The fate of jody and Howard remains to be seen.
"Everyone's kinda lost right now, cos everything happened so bitter at the end." says Jeffrey quietly. "The only thing that I resent is just that the hatred was allowed to accumulate. I don't mind the split because I think that's gonna allow me to do what I always wanted to do.
It's just the hatred and dislike that has grown between the certain individuals, y'know, between the company, between the group itself. That's what I really regret. And I just hope everyone finds their happiness, and I just hope the public accepts what we do in the future. I know a lot of people are gonna be disappointed, because a lot of people believe in us now."