Johnnie Wilder, Jr.

Johnnie Wilder, Jr., led the disco group Heatwave, which in 1977 launched the dancefloor classic "Boogie Nights." Despite a car crash that left him paralyzed from the neck down, he later pursued a solo career singing contemporary gospel music. Born July 3, 1949, in Dayton, OH, Wilder spent his childhood singing in his church choir alongside brother Keith. Both siblings later joined the U.S. Army, and while stationed in Kaiserslautern, West Germany, in 1972 they formed an R&B vocal quintet dubbed the Noblemen. After fulfilling their military duty, the Wilders remained in Europe, relocating to London and teaming with American-born keyboardist Rod Temperton to form Johnnie Wilder and the Chicago Heatwave. Spanish bassist Mario Mantese, guitarist Jesse Whitten (the lone Windy City native), and Czechoslavakian drummer Ernest Berger completed the original lineup. After honing their slick funk sound via regular live dates across the London club scene, the group abbreviated their name to Heatwave prior to signing to the U.K. label GTO, issuing their debut single, "Ain't No Half Steppin'," in late 1976. Galvanized by Johnnie Wilder's soulful baritone lead, the anthemic "Boogie Nights" followed in early 1977, reaching number two on the Billboard pop chart and rocketing Heatwave's debut LP, Too Hot to Handle, into the Top 20. However, the first in a series of tragedies followed that Christmas. While spending the holidays in Chicago, Whitten was fatally stabbed on the street outside his family's home. Then, during the summer of 1978 Mantese was critically injured in an automobile accident, forcing his retirement from the lineup. Despite the losses, Heatwave forged ahead, in 1978 scoring a number two R&B chart smash with the quintessential slow jam "Always and Forever." But while visiting Dayton in June 1979, Wilder suffered a car accident of his own that forced him to spend the remainder of his life confined to a wheelchair. He nevertheless returned to Heatwave for the club hits "Eyeballin'" and "Gangsters of the Groove," but as the disco era faded, the group's chart momentum waned, and after a series of personnel defections the Wilder brothers called it quits in 1984. A half-hearted Heatwave reunion, 1989's Sound of Soul, preceded the 1990 release of Wilder's debut solo album, the spiritual effort My Goals. One More Day followed in 1996. Wilder died May 13, 2006. ~ Jason Ankeny

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