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The Okayplayer Interview: Jody Watley Speaks On Rakim, Soul Train + Reclaiming The Name ‘Shalamar’

The Okayplayer Interview: Jody Watley Speaks On Rakim, Soul Train + Reclaiming The Name ‘Shalamar’

Jody Watley in the Soul Train tunnel

Jody Watley in the Soul Train tunnel
Jody Watley at the entrance to the Soul Train tunnel.

JW: Yeah. Mark de Clive Lowe produced and wrote with me the title track, “Paradise” which also features strings by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. I really was happy to be able to get him on there. And also with the song “Nightlife”, that has production by Soulpersona out of the United Kingdom.

With Masters at Work, when I worked with them we did “I Love to Love” and Roy Ayers was on it and it was cool to collaborate with him. I tend to gravitate to what I’m into and not so much to what’s popular or might be a hit. Throughout my career, now, it’s still about what feels right for me.

With Spinna, we did a makeover of Chic’s classic “I Want Your Love,” from my last release The Makeover from 2008. And it ended up being a #1 dance hit here in America and in the UK. And I’m trying to get him to remix this, because we’re working on a Shalamar single and I want him to do a mix for it.

OKP: When you were talking about doing these new Shalamar remixes and things—it’s my understanding that you just got back the legal rights to use the name Shalamar, correct?

JW: Correct. I acquired the rights last year and the first show we did was in Washington D.C. and it was a private event. Since then, we sold out B.B. King’s in February, we’ve done Harris Resort, Yoshi’s in Oakland, we just did the Shrine in Chicago this weekend and totally killed it. I was kind of sad, because my guitarist Levi Seacer—who a lot of people know from Prince and and NPG—he fell ill with some heart issues and he had to go into the hospital and couldn’t do the show. But we dedicated the show to him and rocked the house. We’re a well-oiled machine now and are having a great time. We just did the Happy Days music festival in the UK. It’s really a business I’ve learned to just keep paying attention to and keep growing within. There were some misuses of my likeness, and that’s what first got my attention about it. Looking into how to have greater control with what was going on with it, that’s how it came to be.

Once I acquired [the rights to perform as “Shalamar”] the thing was: How can I re-brand it and make it fresh? And make it not just a nostalgia show–that’s boring to me. I think it’s important with any business to reach new fans and a younger generation. To bring forth fresh imaging and to do new music, which we’re working on. And to have fun. To enjoy the people that I’m working with and spending time with…and I get to do that with them.

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OKP: It sounds like there was an unrelated party? I was wondering if the issue was if the name was owned by Soul Train…

JW: Oh no, it was last used by [the Soul Train label imprint] S.O.L.A.R. Records, which went out of business in 1990. And so it was just really in many ways a dead brand, but there were some people doing shows in the UK using my likeness and tried to do a couple shows in America doing the same. And that’s not good business.

OKP: I think a lot of people who are solo Jody Watley fans might now know all of your history with Soul Train. You actually started as a Soul Train dancer, is that correct?

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