Maestro of the Mac

By Linda S. Gower

New machines help man-made music come from the heart for Johnny Wilder Jr., who was the lead singer of the hot 70s group Heatwave.

During Wilder's stay with the group, Heatwave literally exploded onto the music scene with two platinum albums, followed by two golds consecutively. The impact of success, however, was replaced by the scorch of reality when an automobile accident left him a quadriplegic. He now has no body movement below the neck.

The collision could have brought Wilder's music career to a dead end. It proved, however, to be a crossroad. Now his creative juices flow through a Mac computer.

Wilder, who lives in Dayton, Ohio, came to Louisville recently to promote the Technology Fair held at the Free Public Library on March 7. He performed four shows at the Oxmoor Center. Those who saw were enlightened.

While demonstrating how high technology can assist the disabled, Wilder uplifted the audience with waves of sound produced from four keyboards and a synthesizer, via a Macintosh computer. By using an apparatus called a Headmaster, he makes music by blowing into a tube and maneuvering the mouse with his head.

His music could be described as contemporary pop, though one onlooker referred to it as New Age. Wilder calls it "inspirational." Actually, it is he who is the inspiration.

Both composer and producer, Wilder's expansive vocals are the result of overdubbing accomplished with the computer. His newest release, Johnnie Wilder Jr. My Goal, is done a cappella, singing with no instrumental accompaniment. A mix of talent and technology, some songs comprise 24 layers of Wilder's voice.

Despite the radical changes, Wilder puts the Heatwave days in perspective. "I know what I achieved and appreciate the benefits I received from being in Heatwave. But one thing I didn't have is the level of personal gratification that I now experience," he says. In a cathartic manner, he shows us that music is a universal language that overcomes any obstacles.