In my continuing mission to celebrate the awesomeness of the 80s, I want to shine a deserving light on some work being done in this decade but with a connection to the 80s. Now I don't claim to be a professional book reviewer, but I do feel qualified to share my opinions on a book and allow you to decide whether it's right for you. No negative reviews. I only intend on sharing my recommendations which I feel that you may appreciate as much as I do. I have been pleased with the response so far and appreciate your feedback (as do the authors).
Have you ever had one of those reminiscing sessions where one memory triggers another memory which triggers another memory and this can literally go on for hours? It might start when somebody says, "Do you remember watching The Dukes of Hazzard on Friday nights as a kid?" and then someone else says, "Oh yeah, I always wanted to marry Daisy Duke and to drive the General Lee when I grew up." Then someone else says, "Poor ol' Roscoe P. Coltrane could never catch those Duke boys" and you say, "Does anybody remember Roscoe's dog's name?" and everybody yells, "Flash" at the same time. Then somebody else says, "I remember watching Dallas right after The Dukes of Hazzard" and everybody automatically thinks, "Who shot J.R.?"
Well, I recently had the pleasure of reading a book titled The 80s Were... which was just like having one of those reminiscing sessions with author Vinny Rigogliosi. The book is divided up into chapters including: Cartoons, TV Shows, Movies, Music, Video Games/Toys, Style and Headline News each including many of the predictable and even some of the more obscure highlights from the decade. As I read each chapter, it felt to me like we could've been sitting in a bar with the author recalling the good old days taking turns reminding each other of our favorite 80s memories. By the end of the book, I felt like we knew each other or were kindred spirits at the very least. Rigogliosi shares his memories of what the 80s were in a very casual and conversational style which is easy to read. If you're looking for an enjoyable walk down memory lane, I certainly recommend picking up The 80s Were... and revel in the hundreds of reminders of why the decade was so awesome.
In the author's own words: This book is dedicated to anyone who has ever worn Z-Cavariccis, listened to A Flock of Seagulls and watched the A-Team. We grew up in a generation of big hair and high top Reeboks. A generation where bell bottoms were out and acid wash was in. The music was loud, sitcoms were funny and Saturday morning cartoons were amazing. We all remember getting scolded (or worse) by our teachers and not suing them over it. Our time wasn't spent on the internet, but out in malls and in parking lots. We got into fights at school but made the best friends we ever had from them. I hope that all of you will enjoy reading about my little blast from the past as much as I have enjoyed writing about it. Our past is what has made us who we are today and has molded us into the men and women we've become.
If you've heard enough and are ready to take a walk down memory lane with The 80s Were..., then you can scroll down towards the bottom for a link to purchase it. As I have done with past book reviews, I had the opportunity for an interview with author Vinny Rigogliosi. I admire the native New Yorker, not only for sharing his 80s memories, but for how he went about doing it. His book documents some of the awesomeness of the 80s, so I say that makes him pretty awesome himself. Here are some selections from my interview with Vinny Rigogliosi...
Q: Is this your first book? Tell us a little about yourself and what got you to this point.
Vinny: Yes, this is my first book. I have always enjoyed writing and always thought that I had a pretty good grasp of the English language but never had the idea to write my own book. I am an electrician by trade and have been doing that for 15 years. I also own my own home inspection business going on two years now. I never thought about writing a book before because nothing ever really interested me until my wife and I started reminiscing about "the good ol' days". I am married with three kids ages 7, 5 and 9 months. All boys. I graduated high school in 1988 which makes me 42 years old.
Q: What inspired you to begin writing The 80s Were...?
Vinny: As I said before, my wife and I like to reminisce about the past and one night (in a drunken stupor), of course after the kids were asleep, we were listening to our local radio station and they had a segment on 80s music. That's all we needed. We laughed all night as we remembered high school and other things we used to do as kids. She then jokingly insisted that I write a book about it. I obliged after another shot of tequila and we started planning the book. I woke up the next morning, popped a couple of aspirin and looked at my scribble from the night before. I thought about it and decided that I actually could do this. I created an outline and The 80s Were... was born. I had no real agenda when writing the book except to have fun while I was doing it. I never thought it would get published at the time.
Q: What was your writing process? How long did it take for you to write the whole thing? Did you ever experience any writer's block or were there any obstacles you had to overcome to complete the book?
Vinny: The night my wife and I gave birth to The 80s Were... was a Saturday night. They had the same 80s segment every Saturday from 8pm until midnight (and still do). I wrote every Saturday while listening to the radio and my favorite music. I never wrote any other time. It probably took me about 2 years to complete. It was so easy to write because I enjoyed the subject matter. I wrote the whole thing by hand because I write faster than I type and can complete a thought much easier by writing it out. I still have the original manuscript with scribbles, cross-outs, notes in the margins, and all sorts of post-its all over the place. Some of it was done out of memory but most of it was research. You have to be accurate. Not once did I come across writers block. The only obstacle I encountered was how to present the chapters. At first, the name of the book was going to be "Gag Me With A Spoon - the complete guide to everything 80s". My wife thought it would be looked at as a Valley Girl thing so I changed it to "Remember Yesterday" but that was a lyric from Skid Row so I finally came up with "The 80s Were...". The chapters were originally going to be in chronological order by year (example Chapter 1 - 1980), but that would have meant incorporating everything from that year like movies, music, and so on so I decided to focus the chapters about movies, music and so on. It was my best decision during the process.
Q: How difficult was it to get published and how long did that take?
Vinny: It was extremely difficult to get published. Since my name isn't Tom Clancy, I didn't have publishing houses knocking down my door. I wrote over 50 or 60 publishers and agents to try and get published but no one wanted to take a chance on an unknown author during these economic times. At least that's what they said. The book is written very casually and, as far as the critics are concerned, not very "correct". This proved to be to my advantage. If a big publisher took it on, they would have ripped it apart to their liking and I probably would not have recognized my own book. I decided to self-publish the book for three main reasons. One was to make sure the book stayed the way I wrote it, two was to keep the rights to the book and three was to be in control of marketing. This also proved to be to my advantage. It has been published now for just over a year and a half.
Q: Who do you feel will enjoy reading The 80s Were... and why?
Vinny: The best part about the timing of when the book was published is that we are going through a huge 80s retro movement. This means that even 20-somethings are now enjoying the 80s. This book is relevant not only to the people that the book naturally appeals to age-wise, it's relevant to the youth of today as well. We know that 30 and 40-somethings are interested in the book. The bonus is that the younger generation is reading the book because they see the media storm that is the 80s. Timing is everything.
Q: I know you document many in the book, but what are some of your favorite personal memories from the 80s decade?
Vinny: While the book is not really about me, I did add some personal touch to it so that people could identify with me as a person and not a writer. That being said, my favorite year was 1986. I live in New York and that was the year of the Giants and the Mets. I am a big fan of both teams. I was a junior at Valley Stream Central High Sschool in Long Island. I made great friends there and still keep in touch with many of them (although mostly on Facebook). I am a hair band fan and I saw Bon Jovi and Cinderella that year at Madison Square Garden. I had a mullet (oops), wore Levis 501 jeans, a concert tee shirt, high top Reeboks, denim jacket with a Motley Crue patch on the back, and my brush in my back pocket. What the hell was I thinking?
Q: Favorite 80s Saturday Morning cartoon?
Vinny: Being a guy, my favorite cartoons were ThunderCats and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I enjoyed The Smurfs unadmittedly and loved Tom and Jerry as well as The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show. Dick Dastardly was my favorite villain and Hong Kong Phooey was my favorite hero.
Q: Favorite 80s Prime-time TV shows?
Vinny: Sitcoms were so funny in the 80s. My favorites were Cheers, Silver Spoons, Mork & Mindy and The Greatest American Hero. Hill Street Blues was my favorite cop show and The Love Boat and Fantasy Island were my favorite bed-time shows. I also loved Family Ties and The Wonder Years. There were so many more I watched. Charles In Charge, Gimme A Break, The Facts of Life... it really is endless.
Q: What posters did you have hanging on your bedroom walls in the 80s?
Vinny: Wow, posters. As I said before, I was a hair band fan. I had KISS, Crue, Ratt and Guns N' Roses posters. That was above my headboard. In front of my bed (and in full view of me) was a Heather Thomas poster where she was in a pink bikini in a hot tub. Next to her were Heather Locklear, Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Tiegs. My mom really didn't like those too much.
Q: You may have answered this with your poster choices, but hottest girl from 80s Movie or TV show?
Vinny: The girls of the 80s really played an integral part in my "growing up". The first one that comes to mind is Daisy Duke [Catherine Bach]. Short shorts and high heels. What else could a 12-year-old boy ask for? That was TV. My "hottest" movie girl was Kim Basinger. 9 1/2 Weeks did it for me. I did, however, have a huge crush on Lea Thompson, Justine Bateman and Nicole Eggert. I'm sure there were more. After all, I was 12 years old.
Q: First album you purchased? Do you still listen mostly to 80s music today? Any bands that you did not love so much back then that you've grown to love more now?
Vinny: The very first album I purchased was Kiss Destroyer . I was a huge KISS fan growing up. I had most of their albums. I even had The Elder (a much underrated album). I still do listen to mostly 80s music today although I am a fan of Stone Temple Pilots and Green Day. I like all types of music. I grew up on Doo-wop from my parents. I mostly listened to metal in the 80s but today I find myself listening to every genre of music from the 80s. The music they play on the radio from the 80s is mostly new wave or pop. Occasionally you hear Whitesnake, Skid Row, Ratt, Poison or Def Leppard but it's mostly pop. If it's 80s, I love it!!
Q: Which 80s fashion statement you participated in yourself back then are you most embarrassed about looking back now?
Vinny: If it was 80s fashion, it was bad. I regrettably had a mullet. It was a football thing for me. Long hair flowing from under my helmet. Don't ask. I had a pair of parachute pants that I am not too proud of either. I never indulged in spandex. I did not have a "Choose Life" sweatshirt or different color converse sneakers. Oh my God, I did have a purple suit with a half-length jacket. I wore it with a white shirt and a skinny black leather tie. I can't believe I just told you that. The sad part is that when I put it on and looked in the mirror, I thought I looked good. We all did!!
Q: You mentioned that there is a possibility we will see The 80s Were... in concert venues all over the world with a concert promoter interested? Please tell us more about that.
Vinny: Gabe Reed Productions contacted me very recently about possibly carrying and selling The 80s Were... at the concerts that they promote. They just came back from overseas with The All-Star Band that featured members of KISS, Skid Row, Guns N' Roses, Def Leppard and more. The talks have moved to contract negotiations and I couldn't be more excited. Mr. Reed has an idea to get LiveNation to license the book and to sell it as official concert merchandise on tour with all of the 80s bands that he represents. It would be sold with the tee shirts and other merchandise. We'll see what happens. No promises. If nothing else, it is very flattering and by far the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me to date.
Q: What's next for Vinny Rigogliosi?
Vinny: What's next? Let's see. I am thinking about two projects. One is a book about other decades like The 90s Were... or The 70s Were... I wrote this book in a format where I can do any decade I want and keep the exact same chapters in the same order. The other is a more politically motivated book called "It's Our Fault". Billy Joel wrote the song "We Didn't Start the Fire" where he hints that the world was in bad shape before our decade. I disagree (somewhat). Without giving too much away, our generation is the first to raise our kids differently than the way we were raised and rely on technology to communicate. Because of this, kids are generally anti-social and obese. Amongst other things, we don't play with our kids, moms now have to work and we have no time for anyone but us. And it is all our fault. Enough said. I am also concentrating on building my home inspection business as well as really enjoying my career as an electrician.
You can keep up with Vinny on his The 80s Were... Facebook page at www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-80s-Were /170856632961341 and if you are already convinced you want to order The 80s Were, then there is a direct link below that will allow you to do so at a very reasonable price. Just for the record, I have no direct affiliation with Vinny Rigogliosi other than our mutual admiration for 80s pop culture, but thought his book would be enjoyed by many of you and wanted to be sure to make you all aware of it. Hope you are inclined to support it, too.
That's all for this special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope these book recommendations are enjoyable. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. Be sure you haven't missed any of them. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. If you're on Google+, you can find us there, too. Let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.
Quote of the day: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." -John Lennon from "Beautiful Boy"
As I feel the need to say each time, I am so pleased that interviews continue to be a legitimate part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Michael Des Barres. As an actor, singer and songwriter, he certainly left his mark on the 80s. Many may remember him best as the villainous "Murdoc" on MacGyver among his many acting roles, but he also co-wrote a memorable 80s hit song and fronted the band The Power Station replacing Robert Palmer after he left. He is still a very active musician and actor, but you will find out a little more about his 80s work as we get on to some selections from my interview with Michael Des Barres...
Q: Which came first, the music or the acting? Do you love one more than the other?
Michael: I went to drama school first to act. But the wicked blues and rock and roll grabbed me and wouldn't let go. What does a poor boy do, but to sing for a rock and roll band? I simply want to express myself in every way I can!
Q: We'll jump right to when you co-wrote the 1984 hit "Obsession" with Holly Knight. The two of you originally recorded it as a duet in 1983, but it became a big hit for Animotion the following year. First, how did you end up working with Holly Knight? What can you tell us about Knight and your experience working with her?
Michael: Holly and I were both signed to legendary Mike Chapman's label. He put us together and we wrote "Obsession". Holly is a brilliant writer. Challenging and very gifted.
Holly Knight is a very accomplished songwriter with additional 80s credits including "Love is a Battlefield" (Pat Benatar), "Never" (Heart), "The Warrior" (Scandal), "The Best" (Tina Turner) and "Love Touch" (Rod Stewart) among many more.
Q: Please take us back to when the song was written. Any back story about how that song was conceived and written? What inspired the lyrics? How did it all come together?
Michael: I wrote the lyrics in literally ten minutes. It was one of those wonderful moments as an artist you are so grateful for. I was newly sober so essentially the lyrics were about being under the grip of narcotics.
"Obsession" was originally written and recorded by Holly Knight and Michael Des Barres, but it received very little attention until it was covered by Animotion and released in late 1984. The Animotion single was quite distinctive and would make it all the way to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as #3 on the dance chart in 1985. I always fondly remember the song from its use as the theme for the WWF Saturday Night's Main Event. Here is the video for "Obsession" by Animotion (written by Michael Des Barres & Holly Knight)...
Q: Did you have any feeling that this song was going to be something special when you wrote it? What were your feelings about the Animotion version when you first heard it back then? What are your feelings about the song now nearly 30 years later?
Michael: I'm infatuated with every song I write... until the next one. The lyric for "Obsession" is a poem of longing and addiction. My interpretation of the song has very little to do with Animotion's version. However, I enjoy their interpretation a lot... as does my accountant.
Q: Then in 1985, after Robert Palmer withdrew from The Power Station, you were chosen to take his place for their summer tour. First, do you know why Palmer decided to leave the group before completing that tour? Second, how did you end up being the one chosen to take his place?
Michael: Robert Palmer did not want to appear before 20,000 screaming topless girls! I did. John and Andy [Taylor] had seen me when Chequered Past opened for Duran Duran.
Des Barres, who had previously fronted the bands Silverhead and Detective, formed Chequered Past in 1982. In 1984, the band opened for Duran Duran during The Sing Blue Silver Tour in the U.S. which is apparently when Des Barres left an impression on those Taylor boys. The Power Station was a supergroup that formed in 1984 during a Duran Duran hiatus and included Robert Palmer on vocals along with Andy Taylor and John Taylor from Duran Duran and Tony Thompson from Chic. They had a big hit in 1985 with the single "Some Like It Hot" and again with a cover of T-Rex's "Get It On (Bang a Gong)". After this success, the band decided to headline a 1985 summer tour in America with Paul Young, Nik Kershaw and OMD. Robert Palmer had other ideas leaving the band to take advantage of the attention and refocus on his solo career. This worked for him because his 1985 solo album Riptide was a huge success including the hits "Addicted to Love" and "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On", but left the rest of The Power Station hanging. Des Barres was recruited to take Palmer's place on the summer tour which included an extra special performance in Philadelphia (at Live Aid).
Q: What can you tell us about Andy Taylor and your experiences working with him?
Michael: Andy is a much underrated guitar player. He is incredibly talented and rocks like f**k. I adored him.
Q: Did you know any of The Power Station songs previously or did you have to learn them all very quickly?
Michael: I had ten days to learn 25 songs while also flying back and forth from London to New York. My first real gig with them was Live Aid.
Q: Please tell us about performing with The Power Station at Live Aid in Philadelphia for that iconic event. What songs did you perform that day? What do you remember about that performance in front of that huge crowd and being broadcast all over the world? How was the experience of just being part of that amazing day?
Michael: We played "Murderess" and "Get It On (Bang a Gong)". It was a beautiful day... surrounded by rock's elite. I kept asking myself, "How did I get here?" The answer is I was ready and blessed. Since we all stayed in the same hotel that night was as degenerate as your readers can imagine.
The now-iconic charity event Live Aid took place on July 13, 1985 with amazing performances taking place both at London's Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia's JFK Stadium. In addition to those in attendance, the event was broadcast across 150 nations with an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion. Here is a video of The Power Station's performance at Live Aid in Philadelphia featuring Michael Des Barres on lead vocals...
Des Barres' friendship with actor Don Johnson led to the band's guest appearance on a 1985 episode of the TV drama Miami Vice. Similarly, his friendship with producer Joel Silver led to The Power Station writing a song called "We Fight for Love" for the Arnold Schwarzenegger action film Commando (1985). A previously unreleased live version of "Dancing in the Street," recorded at the Hartford Civic Center in 1985 and sung by Des Barres was later included on a greatest hits compilation. The Power Station folded late in 1985, as its members turned to other projects. Des Barres released a second solo album in 1986 titled Somebody Up There Likes Me.
Q: In 1987, you first appeared as "Murdoc" on MacGyver which would become a recurring role for you. How did you end up getting cast on the show? Was he always intended to be a recurring character or did that happen later?
Michael: I auditioned after The Power Station tour. I don't think it was intended to be a recurring character, but MacGyver fans enjoyed my performance and the producers brought me back to try and kill him again and again and again!
"Murdoc" was introduced in season 2, episode 18 originally airing in March of 1987. Des Barres went on to be featured in seven episodes over the final six seasons of MacGyver (not including flashbacks). He became MacGyver's most frequent opponent on the show with each appearance ending in another apparently certain death which he somehow survives to return again in a later episode. Here is a fan video including some highlights of Des Barres playing the "Murdoc" character on MacGyver...
Q: How much did you enjoy reprising your "Murdoc" character each time on the show? What can you tell us about working with Richard Dean Anderson?
Michael: I adored playing "Murdoc". I was able to learn stunt-driving and how to use weapons. Richard was a prince and we did some good work. The most interesting thing about the experience is how Murdocs's vibe has endured with the fans.
Q: You seem to play a bad guy really well. Why do you think that is?
Michael: I have consistently been cast as a murderous villain. I think it's because of my cheekbones!
Des Barres is probably best remembered for his character on MacGyver, but he made many other appearances on television shows. Just in the 80s these included: Hart to Hart (1980), Cagney & Lacey (1983), St. Elsewhere (1985), My Sister Sam (1986), Sledge Hammer! (1987), ALF (1988), again on Miami Vice (1988) and 21 Jump Street (1989). He also appeared in many films.
Q: You played "Alex" in the 1989 film Pink Cadillac which starred Clint Eastwood. What can you tell us about your experience working with Clint Eastwood?
Michael: Clint was fantastic. He works fast which I prefer rather than laboring over a scene. My first night on location, having heard I was a musician, he showed me a documentary on Thelonius Monk. He loves jazz.
Q: I read that you have been completely sober since 1981 and that you actually created the "RAD - Rock Against Drugs" program. What was your mission with RAD? Who did you recruit to help get the message out?
Michael: "Rock Against Drugs" was a result of me quitting narcotics. I just wanted people to know that they had a choice. Ozzy [Osbourne], Billy Idol, Jon Bon Jovi, Steve Jones and many more participated in the campaign. I pray that the burden of addiction can be removed from those suffering its insidious hold on their souls.
Here is an example of a public service announcement from the "Rock Against Drugs" campaign in the late-80s...
Q: Please tell us a little about where your career has taken you since the 80s. How have your priorities or goals changed over the years? What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?
Michael: I'm proud to still be here on this beautiful, challenged planet. I play rock and roll because I love it. It remains life's blood to me.
Q: Please tell us about The Michael Des Barres Band and your new album Carnaby Street. How much fun are you having with this latest project?
Michael: Whatever I'm doing at that moment is the most fun and the most rewarding. I seldom look back, only when I'm asked to. I'm in a kick ass band and I live to play live. Our album is everything I wanted it to be.
Q: What else is Michael Des Barres up to nowadays? Musically, acting and otherwise? What can we expect in the future?
Michael: My autobiography will be out soon along with a documentary on my mad life. Obviously there are many more stories to tell, so be sure to check that out. I only hope that you guys enjoy our joyful work on this album and thank you so much for your interest. Love everyone now.
That autobiography sounds like it will be a must-read. I am very honored that Michael was able to take some time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. Special thanks go out to Billy James for helping to coordinate it all. You can find out more and keep up with Michael at his official website www.desbarres.com where you will also find details on how to purchase Carnaby Street. I want to take this opportunity to again thank Michael Des Barres for his contributions to 80s pop culture in so many ways and, even more, for going back to the 80s with us here for a little while as well.
That'll do it for another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying the interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. Be sure you haven't missed any of them. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. You can also hook up with us on Google+. Please leave comments so we know you're out there and let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.
Check this out: You should know by now that I always enjoy a good Star Wars reference to "These aren't the droids you're looking for" and this one also combines that with Lionel Richie's 1984 hit song "Hello". Made me chuckle, so wanted to share it with you here...
Quote of the day: "You go through stages where you wonder whether you are Christ, or just looking for him." -David Bowie
As I feel the need to say each time, I am so pleased that interviews continue to be a legitimate part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is JoJo McDuffie. If you don't recognize that name right away, you should remember her as the lead singer of the Mary Jane Girls. The all-girl group was a project by Rick James who wrote and produced the music. McDuffie was originally a Rick James protege' and sang background vocals for him on several albums and tours. Then she became the vocal talent behind the Mary Jane Girls and had the 1985 crossover hit "In My House". Find out a little more about the group, their hit single, Rick James and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with JoJo McDuffie...
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a professional singer? When and how did you get your own start in the music industry? Please tell us a little about what you did prior to the Mary Jane Girls.
JoJo: I became a professional singer not by choice, but out of necessity. I was a very young single parent, and I lied about my age at first to sing in the nightclub circuit in Buffalo, New York. I sang with a local Top 40 band and a jazz band for eight years before the Rick James and Mary Jane Girls experience.
Q: How did you meet Rick James and begin working with him? What can you tell us about Rick James as a musician and as a person? And your experiences working with him over the years?
JoJo: I met Rick James just after I graduated from State University College at Buffalo while at my job in a record store. He was looking for a background vocalist for his Street Songs tour. I knew his bass guitarist, whom I had worked with on many jazz jam sessions in the clubs previously. The whole entourage came into the store and Oscar, the bass guitarist (who had gone on to work with him at the time), introduced me to him.
As a musician he was good. Much better as a songwriter. As a person, he was a good friend and mentor in the beginning. He was an innovator, someone who wasn't afraid to take risks with the creation of music and I followed his lead on this because I liked the new and the different approach he had in creating songs. I loved that he didn't always do what was "expected".
Q: At what point did you begin working with James? Did you sing on background on the recording of his 1981 hit "Superfreak"?
JoJo: No, I was not on "Superfreak". I was on "Standing on the Top" featuring The Temptations and pretty much all else after. I was also background vocalist for most of the tours and videos after "Superfreak".
Q: Please tell us a little about how and why Mary Jane Girls came to be. Were you really the only girl in the group who could sing having had to sing both lead and background vocals?
JoJo: The Mary Jane Girls were originally called the "Mary Jane Band", which was the name given to Rick's background vocalists. At the time, all the artists had names for their background groups like Hot Buttered Soul (Isaac Hayes), Love Unlimited (Barry White), etc. I originally worked with two other vocalists, Lisa Sarna & Taborah Johnson back then. There was material done and pictures taken for this group, but it did not come to fruition. Lisa and Tabby left and Rick wrote new material, which he told me was for a solo project for me. The songs were "Musical Love", "Prove It", "Boys" and "Candy Man", which he pitched as a group (unbeknown to me) to Motown and a few other record company execs. Motown of course ended up with the winning bid and he immediately had to produce multiple girls. For the demo, I had done the lead vocals with session vocalists on backgrounds. Enter Cheri [Wells] first, Candi [Ghant] and Maxi [Wuletich] to follow. Unfortunately, Rick did not choose people who had the vocal expertise to sustain recording or live performance duties, aside from myself.
Q: Who picked the group's name and was it really inspired by marijuana?
JoJo: Rick chose the group name, "Mary Jane" himself, inspired by his love for marijuana, LOL. We could not say that then. We had to say "it was for the shoes (mary janes) and the candy because we're sweet".
Q: Each girl in the group took on a different look and persona. Your persona has been described as almost a female version of Rick James himself. You even wore the braids and beads hairstyle. Who decided what each girl's character would be? Were you on board with this strategy?
JoJo: The decision for a "persona" or "character" for each girl was all Rick's idea. One would wear braids & leather and would be "streetwise", one would be glamorous, one would be a biker chick and one would be a L.A. "valley girl". I was okay with the idea because it set us apart from previous female groups. Our music was different, we would be different.
Q: Jumping right to your biggest hit "In My House" in 1985, Rick James is credited with writing and producing the song. Please take us back to when "In My House" was written and recorded. What can you tell us about back story about how that particular song was conceived? Were you involved at all in helping to create that song other than obviously singing it?
JoJo: "In My House" was originally conceived during a soundcheck on the Throwin' Down tour. It was a groove that happened. Rick originally said it would be for himself, then for Eddie Murphy's album (Party All the Time), then for the Mary Jane Girls finally in 1985. I created the harmony double on the hook and the "ooo ooo" parts. None of the other Mary Jane Girls are on this song. Just me on lead and background vocals with some session vocalists, as on almost all the material recorded for the Mary Jane Girls. The exception is that on the second album, Rick gave Candi, Maxi and Corvette one song. Cheri also had a song on the debut album.
The Mary Jane Girls' 1983 self-titled debut album had several singles reach the Top 40 of the R&B charts like "All Night Long", but none that cracked the Hot 100 of the pop charts. In 1985, "In My House" was released as the first single from their Only Four You album. This single reached #1 on the Dance chart in April and peaked at #3 on the R&B chart as well. More importantly, "In My House" crossed over to the pop charts peaking at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June and remaining in the Top 40 for 12 weeks. Here is the music video for "In My House" by the Mary Jane Girls...
Q: Did any of you have any feeling that the single was going to be something special or have the success that it did? What changed for the Mary Jane Girls and for you personally, if anything, after having this legitimate hit?
JoJo: I had no idea that "In My House" would become the mega hit that it did. Recording it, I remember only trying to do a good job with it like I did anything else I was blessed to record. The only change was in the attitudes. Egos emerged and not in a positive way. There was major success on the debut album with "All Night Long", "Candy Man" and "Boys" in the R&B market. "In My House" crossed the group over to a worldwide audience.
Q: The song surprisingly ended up on the Parents Music Resource Center's "Filthy 15" list due to alleged sexual innuendo. What were you feelings regarding it being called out in that negative way? Or was it a case of the notion that there is no such thing as bad publicity? Can you share with us the intended meaning behind any of the lyrics for "In My House" and what "house" might have referred to? I assume the sexual innuendo was really intended?
JoJo: At the time, I was very disappointed in being part of that list. I did not write the lyrics, and quite frankly, it was pretty silly to me that such an issue was made about lyrics at the time. The "explicit" label applied to the album prohibited it from being considered for the Grammy, American Music, VH-1 and MTV awards that year. At the time, I could say yes there was such a thing as bad publicity. Today, that same lyrical content would go unnoticed. The lyrics to this song were written by Rick. And yes, they spoke of lovemaking which of course is not a bad thing, but because of the age range of our audience at the time, the lyrics were considered taboo not to mention controversial. And innuendo to what "house" meant... welllllll... LOL. I didn't write it. I just sang it. That was the whole idea at the time. It went along with the persona of the group. No offense, but we were so not trying to be the Supremes or the Ronettes. The Mary Jane Girls were the trailblazers for many female groups to come, actually the template for The Spice Girls and a whole lot of others. But no one gives credit because of the controversy of the music and who wrote/produced it.
I am actually surprised this song made that list. It does refer specifically to making love, but it doesn't seem that bad to me (especially compared to today's standards). Some lyrics are "I'll be your sugar in the morning and the sweet stuff you need at night" and "I'll keep you happy and so satisfied, in my house." Sure there is some double entendre there, but relatively harmless.
Q: What are your feelings regarding "In My House" today 27 years later? Do you still perform it now? With a big hit like that, do you or did you ever get sick of performing it?
JoJo: (sigh) 27 years later. Has it been that long? Yes, I still perform it, choreography and all, live. Never get tired of doing it!! As long as the fans still enjoy it, I'll do it. Talk about controversy? My children and grandchildren are usually mortified, LOL.
Q: What are some of your best memories and coolest things you were able to do at the height of popularity for the Mary Jane Girls?
JoJo: I was able to make my family proud and leave a legacy to my children and grandchildren. At the height of the career, I couldn't do much because of all the security. It's so different today. I was pretty isolated although I have to admit some of that was self-induced. I've always been a notorious loner. I loved the fans; the whole meet and greet, autograph signing, sold out shows, the travel... great!
After "In My House", the Mary Jane Girls released two more singles from what would be their final album. Those singles, especially "Wild and Crazy Love", performed well on the R&B and Dance charts, but could not crack the Top 40 of the Hot 100. They also recorded a 1986 cover of Frank Valli & the Four Seasons' hit "Walk Like a Man" which would be included on the soundtrack for the film A Fine Mess and peak at #41 on the Billboard Hot 100. The group's final single, "Shadow Lover", received little promotion or attention resulting in the Mary Jane Girls never releasing a third album and breaking up by 1987.
Q: After the success you had with "In My House", why do you think the Mary Jane Girls were not able to have sustained success after that? Why did the group end up going its separate ways?
JoJo: Um, did I mention the ego thing? LOL, there were too many large egos, no talent and no work ethic on the part of certain group members, not to mention the drugs and Rick's descent into drug use. Because of this and many other factors, the group dissolved in late 1986.
Q: Did you continue to work with and keep in touch with Rick James after that point? Did you remain close with him at all until his untimely passing back in 2004? What legacy do you feel he left behind?
JoJo: Rick and I lost touch with each other for ten years. In 1996, we re-connected and started working together again on his Urban Rapsody project following his incarceration. I did the promo tour for Urban Rapsody and backgrounds on another project with him, but he started with the drugs again and I left again in 1998. The last contact I had with him was in November 2003. We would always disagree, make up, back and forth. When he died, we were in disagree mode. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. In my humble opinion, his legacy was that he left some music for his fans that to his day can fill a dance floor, thought provoking lyrics on some songs, memorable, innovative, groundbreaking material. I learned a lot from him.
Q: What do you remember best about the decade of 80s music? What lasting impact do you feel music from the 80s has made?
JoJo: The 80s music was a transition from soul to disco, rap and hip hop. You name it, it was there. I recall music being very strange and wonderful and different. I remember being glad that I was a small part of its creation, wondering how long my contribution would last because it all came and went so quickly. Hence, the "one hit wonders". Huge impact on music forever; after all, my music is still in regular rotation. And so is Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and a host of others. The 80s produced some great hybrid music with an everlasting effect.
Q: Please tell us a little about where your music career has taken you since that time. What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?
JoJo: My career has had some twists and turns, as I guess most other artists have had. I've gone from singing background to lead and back again. I've been in corporate America and the music biz. I've been a school teacher, a receptionist and back to the music again. These days, I perform as "JoJo original lead singer of the Mary Jane Girls". My latest project is called Slightly Dangerous (adult contemporary/jazz). I'm also currently working on "The Shameless Hussy Project" which is contemporary dance music. I'm having a blast, still creating, still singing, writing. One of my tracks from Slightly Dangerous ("You") has been used in an episode of the television show Criminal Minds (I wrote the lyrics and melody). This was pretty great as far as accomplishment goes, but I also had the honor three years in a row (2009-2011) to go to Iraq and perform for America's finest. That was kinda up on the top of my list, too. I don't know if I've achieved my proudest yet, even though I've been blessed to do a lot.
Q: What else is JoJo McDuffie up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise? Any remaining ambitions or regrets?
JoJo: What I'm up to nowadays is trying to improve my songwriting skills, keeping the old bod healthy, stuff like that. I have no regrets. My motto has pretty much been "consider anything... but don't cry". Life's good!!
I am very happy that JoJo was able to take some time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. You can find out more and keep up with JoJo at her official website www.jojourbandiva.com and at her official Facebook page www.facebook.com/pages/JoJo-Urban-Diva /190541165842 . I want to take this opportunity to again thank JoJo McDuffie for her contributions to 80s pop culture with the Mary Jane Girls and, even more, for going back to the 80s with us here for a little while as well.
That'll wrap up another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying the interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. Be sure you haven't missed any of them. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. You can also hook up with us on Google+. Please leave comments so we know you're out there and let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.
Check this out: I was sent this card recently and thought it was humorous and also often quite true. Hope you agree...
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