Jody Watley, singer/songwriter/producer/businesswoman, is one of the architects of 21st century pop. From her groundbreaking marriage of rap & R&B (1987’s “Friends,” a collaboration with hip-hop legends Eric B. & Rakim) to her vision-forward marriage of high fashion, street fashion and music in the ‘80s (long before it became the norm), to her fusion of jazz and underground club culture with keen pop instincts, and the ease with which she crossed and still crosses genre, Ms. Watley forged the template that is now everybody’s playbook.
Winner of the Best New Artist Grammy in 1987, Jody Watley’s entire career has been about looking forward, drawing inspiration from personal heroes like Grace Jones, David Bowie, Diana Ross and jazz great Nancy Wilson – iconoclasts who were always ten steps ahead of the pack. The Chicago native’s eclectic repertoire – R&B, hip-hop, House, jazz, pop, drum & bass, ambient, spoken-word – is built on a positive vision and a strong taste for artistic and aesthetic risk.
Her self-titled 1987 solo debut – a showcase for her vocal chops and songwriting skills – was a beats & grooves tribute to her club kid roots, from the underground spots she frequented as a teenager to her stardom (while still a teen) as one of the most popular dancers in the history of iconic TV show “Soul Train.” It yielded the chart topping hits “Looking for a New Love” (which launched the Jody-penned phrase “Hasta la vista” into popular vernacular, becoming so huge that Arnold Schwarzenegger jacked it for his signature line in the movie The Terminator), “Don’t You Want Me,” “Most of All,” “Some Kind of Lover” and “Still a Thrill,” whose video was the first (and as yet unmatched) time a pop star flexed their skills at waaking, the underground Los Angeles dance that is a sibling to both breakdancing and voguing.
1989’s Larger Than Life, her blockbuster sophomore album, yielded the hits “Real Love” (whose influential music video – nominated for seven MTV Video Music Awards – was her second collaboration with acclaimed film director David Fincher, the first being her sleek video for “Most of All”), “Friends,” and the sultry ballad “Everything.” They were all huge hits.
Like many artists who top the charts, Ms. Watley soon found herself stymied by the limited vision of her label, who wanted to shoehorn her into formula. The albums Affairs of the Heart (1991) and Intimacy (1993) displayed her deepening songwriting skills and singing prowess, as well as her assured experimentation with layered musical textures, but label support was missing in action. The powerful, beat-driven spoken-word track “When a Man Loves a Woman” from Affairs sparked controversy for addressing AIDS and domestic violence long before they were topics of national conversation, and her skittish label turned its back on the track and album. Though Ms. Watley’s artistry continued to deepen and grow, she was hamstrung by her label’s lack of support and their adherence to the same narrow definitions of success that saw her leave iconic R&B group Shalamar at the height of its popularity in 1983. Her own definition of success centered then and now on artistic growth and freedom, not simply replicating whatever was or is hot at the moment.
After breaking from the majors and starting her own label Avitone Recordings in 1995, Ms. Watley began collaborating with a Who’s Who of visionary producers and remixers, many of whom were longtime fans and jumped at the chance to work with her: 4 Hero, King Britt, Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez & Little Louie Vega, Mark de Clive Lowe, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Ron Trent, Moto Blanco, and Alex Di Ciò. Thanks to her non-stop touring, her global fan base remains as fervent as ever and they’ve made chart and club hits of Ms. Watley’s indie albums – Affection (1995), Flower (1998), The Saturday Night Experience (1999), Midnight Lounge (2001), and The Makeover (2006) – and her 2014 EP Paradise.
For the past five years, the ever multi-tasking Ms. Watley has focused on both her thriving solo career and the group project “Jody Watley featuring SRL.” Much like Prince had The Revolution, NPG, and Third Eye Girl (among many other projects and aliases) as extensions or branches of his music and creativity, Jody Watley feat. SRL allows Ms. Watley another outlet for her artistic expression. SRL members Rosero McCoy and Nate Allen Smith – gifted singers, dancers, and choreographers in their own right – bring their own cool style and vibe to Ms. Watley’s trademark high-energy, all-love live performances, and the trio’s critically acclaimed concerts draw SRO crowds around the world. With musical influences that include Kaytranada, Anderson Paak, and Little Dragon, they’ve released several chart-topping hit singles in Europe, including the Alex Di Ciò remix of “The Mood.” Their forthcoming album will be a seamless mix of dance grooves, funky beats, deep House, R&B, trap, rock, and ambient ballads accented with guitar flourishes.
Also in the works is Jody Watley: The Jazzy Sessions, a longtime dream project finally come to fruition. Fans were given a taste of what to expect from that forthcoming EP on the bossa nova tinged cover of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain,” which shot to the top of the jazz charts within weeks of its release. A lilting, gorgeously melancholy take on the classic tune, the track simmers with tension between the longing of the lyrics and the lush, languid music and arrangement. Though some newer fans were pleasantly surprised that Ms. Watley pulled off a jazz tune, longtime fans saw it as simply the artistic thread being pulled forward from Ms. Watley’s show-stopping cover of Cole Porter’s classic song “After You,” from the landmark AIDS benefit recording project Red Hot & Blue, released in1990.
What links “Waiting” to the rest of Ms. Watley’s far-ranging and impossible to pigeonhole catalogue (which has seen her hit the charts in every decade of her career, from 1977’s Uptown Festival album with Shalamar to 2018’s “Waiting in Vain” single) is the sincerity and honesty from which it springs.
“Everything I’ve ever done has been to be distinctively Jody Watley,” says the pop icon herself, “from my first solo album through right now. Everything that I will ever do always has to be authentic to me, work that I can always be proud of first and foremost. It’s not so much about, ‘Oh, this is going to be popular,’ or ‘Oh, this is going to be a big hit.’ It’s always been so personal to me, everything that I do. And the fans can feel that. They connect with the honesty.”
When releasing ‘Winter Nights’ in February my goal was to release a series of seasonal EP’s – with ‘Spring’ on the horizon. Now with the self quarantine my plans will have to adjust to the circumstances of not being able to get into the studio for the full recordings.
“Winter Nights” is as Albumism said “Jody Watley has delivered another dose of sophisticated soul..” is available at all platforms (Apple, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify etc).
The limited edition digi-paks had come in and I was excited to make them available at my concerts in the Jody Watley pop-up tables – that will have to wait. Online is hold hold as well as shipping wouldn’t be an essential outing under this self quarantine for the merchandise team.
Ironically, I’d just finished a song called ‘The Healing.’ The song is perfect for where we’ve all found ourselves. Contemplating if putting ‘Spring’ on hold would be the way to go, the feeling is that the message is one that some may find inspirational in some way, especially now. With that ‘The Healing’ will precede the EP – it’s timely and necessary with a thumping remix from RedTop. Stay tuned.
None of us want to emerge from this self quarantine in diminished health, unnecessary weight gain by being sedentary and not making wise choices on what we eat. As someone who usually only kept a day or two of food in the fridge it’s been a new adjustment to have to shop for a week or two at a time. Now that we’re into this self quarantine a couple of weeks now, I’ve started making large pots of soup to sustain me over several days at a time. There are so many soup recipes and variations to dress them up to suit your personal taste. Soups are super easy, filling and very comforting – not to mention cost effective.
Organic is best, but if budget doesn’t permit just make sure you’re getting fresh veggies, and that you wash and rinse carefully.
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Small Onion or Shallots
1 cup fresh uncooked green beans
6 stalks of celery
6 Fresh Garlic Cloves (minced or chopped)
2 tablespoons – Ginger (grated or chopped)
2 teaspoons Turmeric
1 teaspoon Paprika
2 teaspoons Curry Powder
Cayenne Pepper – to taste
1 Bay Leaf
1 Sweet Potato – chopped
1 cup of chopped carrots
1 cup organic corn (not a necessity)
**Artichokes are a great addition as well, though I didn’t include in this recipe
Tomato – chopped (I take the skin off)
1 cup Chickpeas rinsed and drained
1 cup Lentils of your choice (red, green or black) – you can substitute the bean of your choice such as black beans
2 cups Kale – de-stemmed and chopped
2 cups red cabbage
1 bundle of parsley – rinsed and chopped
6 cups Vegetable Broth
Cracked black peppercorns or Red crushed pepper (to taste)
1/2 cup water
** you can also add 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to the pot
Heat large pot
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, heat – add and saute’ garlic, 1/2 cup chopped celery, onion or shallots, a splash of black pepper, himalayan sea salt, saute’ until transluscent.
Add vegetable stock, additional ingredients carrots, green beans, chopped celery, reb cabbage, lentils, chickpeas chopped tomatoes – season with turmeric, garlic cloves, paprika, cayenne, red crushed pepper, parsley.
Cover and simmer 20 to 30 minutes minutes – stir, give it lots of TLC., add additional olive oil – taste while simmering to determine if you’d like to add more curry, cayenne, turmeric or garlic. Add a bit of water if needed.
Add kale last to not over cook – stir and simmer an additional 15 minutes.
You can also put this soup in your blender or bullet for a creamier version – add a tablespoon of almond mild depending on how much you’re blending.
You can have it solo or add salad, crackers (I enjoy the multi-seed gluten free crackers) – I don’t keep bread around because it’s too much temptation but would love to dip a nice warm sourdough in the broth!
Before serving cup or bowl, add a bit of the fresh chopped parsley you have have left or dried if you have it on hand.
It’s always a nice touch to light a small tea-light or candle of any kind if you have them around, a nice napkin; really treating yourself to a restaurant experience – at home while self quarantining though it’s a good idea in general.
Rest in peace to legendary photographer Victor Skrebneski who passed away at the age of 90 years. He leaves behind an indelible archive of iconic images from launching the career of supermodel Cindy Crawford, Diana Ross, David Bowie, Iman, Bette Davis, Orson Welles Andy Warhol among so many others.
A few of my favorites with Ms. Ross –
I had to honor to work with him for an unprecedented 16 pages for the 1995 Saks Fifth Avenue Fall Catalog. Here are a few of the images, thank you Mr. Skrebneski – Rest Well.
Timely. Safer at home. #StayHome Let’s all do our part to helot flatten the curve of Covid19 Virus. “Fill these rooms with happy times, fill these rooms with peace of mind..”
I’ve written a lot of songs.. they’re all favorites in different ways.. this one is extra special to me because the meaning. At the time I thought it would be a great reminder of the importance of our home environments as a safe haven from the ills of the world.
All Jody Watley music is available at the streaming service of your choice – tops with my fans is consistently Spotify – thanks to all who continue to listen to the music from the classics to the current releases and adding to your personal playlists.
I filmed these will at sea back in February. The sound of the ocean, an unfettered sky are very calming and feel appropriate to re-share during this time along with a few of my favorite inspirational ocean quotes.
“Life is like the ocean. It can be calm or still — rough or rigid, but in the end it’s always beautiful.”
“Dream higher than the sky and deeper than the ocean.”
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”