'Wake For It'
The summer is a good time for Johnny Wakelin. He's got his weight down and looks suntanned and healthy. And now, over a year after he made his name with his first hit, 'Black Superman (Muhammad Ali)', the African rhythms of 'In Zaire' are causing a big stir in the charts and discos alike.
He waited 15 years to seriously attack his career in the pop business and now at 37 has proved with his second hit and an impressive debut album that his patience was worthwhile.
Johnny wrote his first song at the age of 16 and threw it into the wastepaper basket immediately. Any further plans to expand his musical career suffered a cruel set-back shortly afterwards when a motorcycle accident put him in hospital for a long spell. He takes up the story.
'I lost a leg in the accident and for a long time this made me very self conscious. I was in and out of hospital for three years an although I felt I could make it as a singer at least, my start was very slow.
'When I got my confidence as an established singer it was by covering ballads and well-known tunes.'
He gradually built up a following in and around his native Brighton, in clubs and on the dinner jacket circuit. The years of singing Jack Jones and Tony Bennett, he remembers, were the inspiration for a new attempt at writing.
'To start with, I'd go back to it every two years or so, then I began to write the sort of love songs everyone does when they start. The publishing company thought I had some talent but wanted me to come back with something more commercial. I could see it myself too, one hit song and I'd be made.'
Johnny was still surviving as a singer when the hit came. The record took the charts by surprise and for a time Johnny Wakelin and 'Black Superman' were a big mystery, heightened when he appeared on Top of the Pops in an Afro wig and shades.
'I love playing live,' he asserts. 'But there were a few problems on the tour after that hit, My local fans thought I was selling myself short and I think the younger people thought I might be black.'
The long period between the hits hasn't been a smooth passage. First an Australian tour where he sang ballads again, then two singles which didn't break: 'Cream Puff' and 'Reggae, Soul and Rock & Roll' which nearly made it in January.
He looked at the day's sales of 'In Zaire' (12,000 actually), smiled and patiently considered his past.
'I've always known I could fit into the modern sound and write that way. I like a lot of the things my 16-year-old daughter plays, especially American soul. What I want to do is write songs, get big names to cover them and keep recording. My range of writing is very wide, the album [Reggae, Soul and Rock & Roll] shows that and I'm very pleased with it, but I can't say I'm doing exactly what I want to do now.'
Johnny hopes he can forget the more unpleasant aspects of being a commercial 'product' now.
'I've always been a late starter. I was in no hurry to make it and always felt I would. 'In Zaire' is really me, I love African music and I'll write more songs like that. Alternatively, on the album I have my favourite track 'America (You've Been Good To Me)'. It's nearer to Elton John than to African soul, but that's how wide my range is. I'm not just about discos, and I'm glad to get any chance to show people that.
'I'm over the moon at the moment, obviously, and I hope people come to accept Johnny Wakelin for what he is in the future.'
Tips for the Top
Tips for the Top