Jody Watley, has a platinum album, a gold album and two gold singles, Top 10 hits, a Grammy for Best New Artist and a career that has expanded since the late 70’s. Jody is critically acclaimed and in the late ’80s, no one was hotter. Then, as it happens, the mainstream changed course. Jody’s fans remained and the critical praise and great music has continued.
America saw Watley before they ever heard her. In the late ’70s, she and partner Jeffrey Daniel were the most popular dancers on TV’s Soul Train. When the group Shalamar scored a hit with “Uptown Festival,” a national tour beckoned. One problem: Shalamar only existed in the studio. So Soul Train founder and host Don Cornelius tapped Watley and Daniel for the gig along with third member Gerald Brown who was later replaced by Howard Hewett. After a dozen chart hits, Watley exited in 1984 and moved to England, where she modeled, wrote songs and did session singing; she was also one of two American acts (with Kool & The Gang) on the 1984 Band Aid single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?“.
Returning to L.A. in 1986, she hooked up with ex-Prince & The Revolution band-member Andre Cymone, co-wrote new tunes, brought on board another Revolution player, David Z., as producer, and was signed to MCA.
When Jody Watley signed to MCA in 1985 – she said she didn’t want to be marketed like other black artists. Jody wanted to work with fashion photographers, do pictures that were classic and without the standard blue backdrop – common for R&B acts at the time other than Prince. She wanted to do her own styling, influenced by her love of glamour icons, classic screen sirens and urban styles she discovered while living in Europe. Jody Watley wanted to create videos that reflected her sense of style and attitude. She wanted to write songs, have a point of view – and to reflect a bit of herself. Jody created her own path and was ahead of her time.
her solo debut release featured the hits, “Looking For A New Love” hit #2, “Don’t You Want Me” and “Some Kind Of Lover” were both Top 10, “Most Of All” hit #11 R&B, and Jody Watley was platinum and Top 10. She also copped the Best New Artist Grammy.
Her 1989 follow-up, Larger Than Life, went gold, boosted by the Top 10 hits “Real Love” (#2 and gold), “Everything” (#4) and “Friends” (#9). That same year, her remix album, You Wanna Dance With Me?, bumrushed the Top 100, while an eight-week national tour sold out in advance. Followed by 1991’s Affairs Of The Heart (with the David Morales-produced “I’m The One You Need”) and 1993‘s Intimacy (“Your Love Keeps Working On Me”).
In 1996 Jody appeared on Babyface‘s platinum hit remake of Shalamar‘s “The Lover In You.” Over the years, Jody Watley has worked with Henry Mancini and Marilyn and Edgar Bergman. One of her songs, Sweet Sixteen, was recorded by Destiny’s Child and she later appeared on Broadway in the hit musical Grease.
Jody followed that with the release of the albums Affection (1995), Flower (1998), The Saturday Night Experience (1999), Midnight Lounge (2001) and 2006’s The Makeover.
In recent years Jody has worked with some of the best of the club and underground music scene – Kind Britt, Ron Trent, Masters at Work (Louie Vega and Kenny Dope) ,DJ Spinna, Chris Brann, 4Hero, Mark de Clive Lowe.
Currently Ms. Watley is enjoying the huge success of her current single “Nightlife” in preparation of her up-coming release “Paradise” which will be released this spring.
We selected Jody as our recipient of our UB Honors Legendary Honor for her longstanding career in entertainment. From music, to fashion, to songwriting; Jody has done it all and been a success at it all. Nobody is more deserving and despite her legendary career, Jody has always been one of the most humble artists we’ve featured on UB.
Jody spoke with Aries regarding her UB Honor, her upcoming release “Paradise,” her current hit single “Nightlife,” as well as her challenges in the industry over the years, the new crop of female artists and what she wants her legacy to be.
UrbanBridgez.com: Let’s start with the “Nightlife” movement taking over the clubs in the US and abroad. Where did the idea come from for the song?
Jody Watley: The idea came from a desire to create some glamour through the music. There are a lot of songs about going to the club, but this was not the type of club song I wanted to do. Like it isn’t about going out, getting drunk and falling out or backing that thing up (laughs). It’s a more glamorous version of the nightlife experience. Having fun, more classic to forget the stress of life and worries. Hopefully inspire people to step up the glam a notch. And celebrating being with friends and having a great time, but it’s all about the glamour.
UrbanBridgez.com: Nice, we’re all excited about “Paradise,” which “Nightlife” is the first single from, tell us about that project and what we can expect?
Jody Watley: Paradise is again a classic, but in a modern way. You know everything with me is my journey and what I’m feeling at the time. Paradise is soulful, it’s funky, it’s me now, it’s warm and again it’s to create a feeling. Now songs really are not about, to me like how you want the listener to feel like music makes me feel when I listen to it to evoke a feeling. So in contrast, let’s say like The Makeover or Midnight Lounge, the sound has progressed it’s more up-tempo. I’m just really calling on some of those classic inspirations. Without being nostalgic about it. Those classic sounds and feeling. I’ve been tweeting because I go to Giorgio’s (a modern discotheque in L.A.), it’s classic soul and classic disco. It just so happens that the songs are from the 70’s and early 80’s but everybody that’s there is young and young at heart. It’s just the feelings that songs and music evokes which is a good feeling. Like you dress up and the songs have a more uplifting feeling to them. It just so happens that was the mindset I had as this project continued to develop. I really feel like the project developed itself in a weird way. Because it started out several years ago as Chameleon. I recorded some songs and it’s about change and all of the different aspects of being a woman and different things like that. Then I kind of went away from it and my inspirations changed. So then it turned into the feeling of paradise.
UrbanBridgez.com: I can’t wait to hear it! What has been your biggest challenge staying relevant in this industry for so long?
Jody Watley: I think throughout my career really, has always been the challenge to keep hold of myself. And to remain authentic to my voice and what it is that I want to convey. That being from my first album to this one, the challenge in the last decade or so. I’ve been independent since 1995, but I think those are challenges not having the infrastructure of the major label system. The great thing about it is I don’t have to try to convince anyone why I should be doing what I’m doing. I just do it, it’s a lot of work. You know when you run a business and you are the business and you’re really just trying to do what you believe in, the music. Not being in a box and trapped in a box. The box of expectation of well, staying in the pop box after I first came out. I succeeded strongly and my goals changed, my goals are always changing. I think you stay relevant, because for me because it’s real. Not getting stuck in the past, it’s really a big pet peeve of mine. Challenges of bringing people a long on the musical journey. Doing what they want you to sing. Then if you stay the same, those same people are like wow she’s still doing that (laughs)? It’s just being a woman is a challenge because especially with black women artists, we tend to get marginalized. More so than others, a lot of what we do has to be explained more fully. It’s like just except the fabulousness, why do I have to explain it (both laugh)?
UrbanBridgez.com: I love the way you put that! You started Avitone in 1995, you and Prince were like the first mainstream artists to really start your own labels. What was your vision when you started the label.
Jody Watley: I think initially it was always going to be the vehicle for me to release music. Initially I wanted to develop and work with other artists and I’ve never gotten to that point. I mean it’s such a responsibility just being me and doing it the way I want to do it. So with working with other artists, that’s a task that I haven’ taken on. So that’s something that I wanted to do when I started and I still have time to do it, but I would say that’s probably the main thing.
UrbanBridgez.com: Let’s take a trip down memory lane, so I’m going to name some of your album titles and you tell me the first thing that comes to your mind with those memories of that album. The first one is “Larger Than Life” my absolute favorite Jody Watley album and one of my top favorites period.
Jody Watley: Thank you thank you! The first thing that comes to mind is Real Love, the Real Love video is still thick, bad ass and timeless. Fashion forward and actually there was a lot of stress at that time too, so it was
UrbanBridgez.com: Midnight Lounge:
Jody Watley: Relaxed, Ambient and good vibes. Those three things come to mind, just forward always forward. I just love the underground ambiance, it’s one of my best albums as a whole. It just has such a warm feeling to it.
UrbanBridgez.com: The debut Jody Watley:
Jody Watley: Take that bi*ches (both laugh)! And I say that because nobody expected it. It was just the smack down of the most fulfilling order for me. You didn’t see that one coming did you?
UrbanBridgez.com: Not at all (laughs), last let’s do Affection!
Jody Watley: Jazzy and soulful. With each album I’m always exploring a different element. I think that with Affection it kind of blended and brought into what my music journey is a bit more. A different kind of funk, a different kind of soul and a little bit of jazz. That was the first time I think that element was the first time it came into my music overall. Bold as well, because the song Affection…not just unique to that record because all of my records are honest. A song like Affection, “doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay, everybody needs to feel love.” I mean it’s nice if it gets played on the radio but that’s not really why you write a song. As a songwriter I’m always coming from an honest place. Friends from my second album, you know trendsetting and groundbreaking because Friends started a trend of rap and hip-hop with R&B. So I think with Affection, specially again being a black woman artists, it’s like oh my god she can’t say that, we’re not going to play that. I do think racial politics comes into it. Otherwise, oh she’s pushing the envelop (laughs).
UrbanBridgez.com: Exactly (laughs). You have so many female artists that have came after you that look up to you like Coko from SWV and Faith Evans, who inspires you from the crop of female artists that have came after you?
Jody Watley: I really like Erykah Badu, because she’s undefinable. She does records that some of her hard-core fanbase probably say why don’t you do another Call Tyrone record. They still want that again, like give me Baduizm like 25 more times. She’s always doing different things and works with different collaborators. Her style is uniquely her own, I like her very much. I love the warmth of Jill Scott’s music. I like Rihanna, I like her because of her style; she’s not a songwriter or anything but she keeps people guessing with her look and style. She can be funky or she can be elegant, I think there is an authenticity to her. I mean Coko, she’s just like a ridiculous singer come on and I love SWV. And I’m biased because when you meet artists and they’re nice you’re going to like them anyway. Faith Evans, again I have always loved her and the same thing with being biased, she’s great. I’m always inspired by artists who are not necessarily in the mainstream. A lot of my inspiration actually comes from a lot of underground artists. Foreign Exchange, For Hero and acts like that who are obviously doing it for the love. I’m not saying everybody else isn’t doing it for the love.
UrbanBridgez.com: Such a wide-rang, I love it.
Jody Watley: Yeah, I grew up on all types of music & love all kinds. I still do, I like Aloe Blacc, he’s actually the voice on the song Wake Me Up. But I’ve known of him since around the time I think I did Saturday Night Experience. Which is my experimental record, actually when I started going into electronica. So he’s been around and out there on the grind. So it’s nice to see him connect to something commercial like that.
UrbanBridgez.com: As a team we honestly couldn’t think of anybody better to be the first recipient of our legendary honor for UB Honors than you. You’ve been around forever and still doing it (laughs).
Jody Watley: Thank you and I’m so honored and humbled. You know the funny thing is, as long as I’ve been in the business I never think about it much until it comes up. I think it really hit me in particular with seeing Nightlife on the charts. Seeing Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, R. Kelly, Jody Watley and then some artists I’ve never heard of. You know and that’s a really rare feat. I mean even when I’ve had songs that the masses may not have heard about compared to others, I’ve always been charting and making music. For different audiences and what not. That’s not easy to do at all and all of it is always coming from a very authentic place. I’ve accomplished a lot but I still feel like I have other accomplishments to still make…and I still have a few surprises up my sleeve (laughs)!
UrbanBridgez.com: And we’re waiting for them all! What do you want your over-all legacy to be?
Jody Watley: Defied odds and expectations..helped raise the bar for a new generation of young women in music. With merging designer high end fashion with individual street style in tandem with the music as female artist and writer with a strong vision. A quiet pivotal pioneer of many firsts, appearing in early celebrity ad campaigns cross marketing, fashion layouts in the mainstream and started the first of Pop/R&B singers with Hip-Hop & Rap doing the custom 16 bar verses in an original multi format hit single. Crossing genres and also one of the first to introduce underground club culture kids from b-boys with gay and transgender in the video for Friends. Always authentic and true to myself and my creative vision no matter what!
JODY THANKS UB AND THE FANS!