The Emotions: Boogie Wonderland and more...
July 1979 interview
By David Nathan
MOST musical observers would have to agree that the emergence of The Emotions into the full musical spotlight in 1977 with "The Best Of My Love", the subsequent "Rejoice" album and their extensive touring during that year, heralded a near revival in popularity for female groups. No, it wasn't quite like the mid-60s when everyone from The Marvelettes to The Chiffons were frequent chart visitors, but The Emotions certainly helped to open the public's consciousness up again to the soulful sound that vocal trios have been renowned for.
The group's own change of fortune came when they pacted with Maurice White (of EW&F) and his Kalimba Productions, and right from the outset, it was evident that the combination would blaze a golden trail. The initial album, "Flowers" sported the hit "I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love" as well as indicating the prowess of members of the team as songwriters. However, it was the success of the platinum single, "Best Of My Love" that put the stamp of approval firmly on the ladies' ascendancy.
Prior to their association with Mr White & CBS Records, the group had, of course, notched up hits in their own right with the defunct Stax label and many of those gems — "So I Can Love You", "Show Me How" and "The Best Part Of A Love Affair" have been made available again through Fantasy Records who acquired the Stax-Volt catalogues. But to today. It's been almost a year since the group's last album, "Sunbeam", which unfortunately didn't quite match up in terms of longevity and strength to "Rejoice". However, undeterred, the group have rebounded back into prominence with their Earth, Wind & Fire duet, "Boogie Wonderland". With five Emotions to talk with (brother Joey and younger sister Pamela are now part of the organisation and will travel and perform with the team, eventually recording on some of the solo projects that are being planned for The Emotions), we naturally got answers to all our questions!
State Jeanette, Sheila and Wanda: 'Maurice first came up with the idea of a duet between EW&F and ourselves back in 1976 when we were touring. Well, it seems he heard "Boogie Wonderland" a year before we actually did it, but he didn't immediately react to it. However, when the song was brought back to him again last year, he felt it would be the right vehicle for the two groups." It seems that The Emotions actually cut their vocal before EW&F added their vocal parts. "We actually heard them rehearsing their lines whilst we were cutting ours!" the ladies advise.
"The record has kinda solved the problem we were having about how to get involved with disco without selling out to our fans," the group explains. "We feel that 'Boogie Wonderland' represents sophisticated disco music at its best. It's not the conventional thing by any means — it's original and it has the stamp of quality that you find in all Maurice's productions. Yes, we're very proud ot it!"
Indeed, the whole subject of disco as a music form was one that brought forth a multitude of response from the five members. To Sheila "disco is a fad — it's all about the beat. The lyrics seem less important and I have to be honest and say that I'm really waiting for real music to come back — especially ballads, because that's what I've always been associated with in The Emotions."
Joey adds: "To me, disco takes totally away from the creativity of the artists and limits what they can do. Music is about unifying people through a message and disco is just about exercising! It does have its positive side in that its opened up the market to a whole lot of people to get more into music and maybe, just maybe, once people get tired of dancing, they'll want to listen to some good music again!"
To balance it all out, Jeanette is quick to express her view. "I like to dance and I see disco as a challenge to us as a group, because if we can get over with it too, it only shows again that we are a versatile group. As a songwriter, I'd have to say that disco has its limits — it's not jazz, funk or soul, although it does have it's undertone of funk. It means simplifying lyrics and condensing them on down. But I can't say I hate it!"
Pamela, the youngest member of the aggregation agrees that "disco can be somewhat limiting from the songwriting standpoint — I've written two tunes in that veing myself! I also feel that disco can be a handicap to people really relaxing, so perhaps in time, they're going to want to revert back to ballads." Wanda adds that "It's obvious that people are veering towards listening as well, because the success of the Peaches & Herb song, "Reunited" shows that. So I believe that what will happen is that once the disco market settles, a lot of the one-song hits will be gone and everything will stabilize with only the very best in disco surviving."
But whilst the interest in "dance music", as The Emotions like to put it, continues "we'll be right in there with it". "Best Of My the disco people and certainly helped it and Maurice (White) feels that our next album should basically be an uptempo kind of set. Sure, we'll have a couple of ballads but the basic theme is going to be up. He's said he wants this album to be made up of only "A" sides and we've already begun submitting tunes. The first single from the sessions should be ready by late July and meanwhile, we've got "Boogie Wonderland" keeping our name out there." As a final thought on that disco theme and The Emotions' approach to it, the members are adamant: "The next album may well be uptempo on the whole, but it won't be digital music or computerized music, that's definite."
The group are going to be kept fairly busy because they'll actually be recording whilst they do dates for the annual Kool Jazz Festival. "That's going to take us from the end of May through to August and we'll be travelling the country. Aside from some dates in Trinidad in June, it's basically going to be weekends performing and weekdays recording. We hope to get over to Europe once we complete this tour because although we've been there to do TV, we've yet to perform there."
Whilst The Emotions have been away from the stage, we discovered, they have hardly been idle! Jeanette and Wanda have been busy writing tunes. "I did a tune for Patti Labelle's album, "Deliver The Funk" with my writing partner Wayne Vaughan, from the Brothers Johnson band," states Wanda. "And we also have a single coming from the sessions Aretha Franklin did with Van McCoy — a tune called "The Reasons Why". Meanwhile, Jeanette is busy with some tunes for Phillip Bailey and Pamela, Joey and Pamela's fiance, Keith Henderson, have been doing their own thing in Chicago. "Keith has his own demo studio so we've been laying down tunes there," the duo reports. Sheila, noting that "I'm the least of the writers!" has also come up with a song of her own "but it took me one and a half years to write! But I'm more into writing standard kind of tunes — I guess I'm not inspired quite the same way. But I sure am glad to see all the activity." Eventually, The Emotions want to have a "full catalogue of tunes that we can send to everyone".
And to looking to the future, the group sees more involvement with production. "I want to produce a girl group once The Emotions have reached certain levels," says Wanda and all the members of the group agree that there are many other avenues for them to explore in the production field. On top of all that, Pamela is "getting into acting and dance classes" with a TV special in the works for the group. Hopefully, it will give everyone an opportunity to see not only the musical virtuosity of the group, but also the fact that they are also talented comedians! "That's something that's going to come through in our act! We probably inherited from our father," the group chorus together, "and it's something we can do quite naturally — just be funny!"
And agreeing that people need to be entertained, The Emotions also agree that "people need to laugh more!" If they're as comical as they are musical, that should prove no problem!