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MUSIC Jody Watley: Songs, legal battles and reloading Shalamar
by Terri-Lynne Waldron
2015-05-06

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Chicago native Jody Watley was a teenaged dancer on the iconic TV show Soul Train and in the late '70s she became a member of the R&B/pop trio Shalamar.

She quit the group in 1983, and found success as a Grammy Award-winning solo artist releasing signature songs like "Looking For a New Love" and "Friends." In 2014, Watley tapped into disco and funk grooves for her current CD, Paradise, and she has also reloaded Shalamar with two new members.

Windy City Times: You released your latest record, Paradise, in 2014 and the first single from it was "Nightlife," which came out in 2013. When can we expect the new song, "Dancer," to be released?

Jody Watley: That's probably coming out at the beginning of June. It will be the "Dancer" remixes: the singles. The thing about digital is that you kind of write your own rules and there's no real time frame. People are still discovering Paradise.

WCT: How do you decide which song would be the next single?

Jody Watley: I am able to get the reactions from fans because I am so directly involved with the social media. In the past with the record label, they would sometimes test the song, take it to a radio station and they might play it at midnight and see if anybody would call to request it. Now, when Paradise came out "Dancer" was the immediate one that everyone was asking, "Are you going to do remixes?" or "Is this going to be the next single?"

WCT: In May 2014, you became the legal and registered trademark owner of Shalamar. Two of the former members—Howard Hewitt and Jeffrey Daniel—along with Carolyn Griffey, continue to tour under the name Shalamar. How can they do that?

Jody Watley: That part is still being sorted out through my attorneys. The former members had been going to the U.K., not doing shows in America. With regard to trademark law, there are a different set of trademark and laws. We're dealing with the United States and then we will be dealing with the rest of the world. So that process is ongoing but they can't work in America, obviously.

It started with false advertising—where they were using my likeness from the early days when I was in the group—to help market their shows. My attorneys looked into it, because the former members were not really taking it seriously with the stopping, the passing-off and the bait-and-switch.

WCT: Tell me about reloading Shalamar.

Jody Watley: The new members are Nate Allen Smith and Rosero McCoy and we've already sold out shows in Japan, New York, Atlantic City and Oakland. Being the owner of the name, you can't just register it and not use it. In life or in business, you have to be smart enough to be open to the universe. To collaborate with Nate and Rosero and share ideas is fun and it doesn't feel like a rehash when we do the classic material—it feels new.

WCT: When can we expect new music from Shalamar?

Jody Watley: We've recorded a new song [that] will come out in June.

WCT: On April 11, you performed at the 29th annual "Night of A Thousand Gowns," which benefits The Center and The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. What songs did you perform?

Jody Watley: I performed "Nightlife," then I did a little bit of "Don't You Want Me" and a little bit of "Real Love." It was a fantastic event with everyone in opulent ball gowns—I love that.

WCT: You are a gay icon. What do those words mean to you and does it come with any responsibility?

Jody Watley: I'm here with music, fabulousness, determination, overcoming obstacles, owning who you are and being yourself no matter what people think about you.

I have never been shy to embrace all of my fans—even my gay fans, even when it wasn't popular to do that. Early in my career, I would get flack from my label to not acknowledge that. I was told, "Don't talk about your gay fan base." So it was walking again in my own path and I appreciate the love and I think that everyone who is a fan of mine feels that from me.

WCT: Who are some of the newer artists [who] you listen to?

Jody Watley: I still love—and they are not really well-known—4hero, who I had the pleasure to collaborate with on a song called "Bed of Roses." They are very orchestral and beautiful drum and bass. A lot of the things that I like are not really on the commercial radar.

In commercial music, I like Rihanna. A lot of my fans say that they can see me in her ever-changing style. And also she takes more chances with her music—she is a little less predictable with her collaborations. Quite a few people on Twitter and Facebook say that Solange Knowles reminds them of me. I was in my car over a year ago listening to KCRW ( 89.9 MHz FM ) which is obviously NPR, and they play really great eclectic music. Solanges' last EP came out and I said, "Wow—that sounds like me!" And also because of her style. She has created a very distinct style for herself.

Jody Watley will be at The Shrine, 2109 S. Wabash Ave., on Saturday, May 30, at 9:30 p.m. For ticket information go to www.theshrinechicgo.com/ For more on Watley visit www.jodywatley.net/.


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