I’m continually amazed by the sheer mass of quality music that exists, hidden in the the dark grooves of records long forgotten by listeners.
I heard Bill Wolfer’s “Wake Up” recently while searching for samples. I thought to myself: “Hmm, this is a perfectly pleasant spin on Michael Jackson and 80s era Stevie Wonder in a neat little package, like ‘I Can’t Help It’ with Stevie’s social consciousness.”
A little research led to the revelation that not only had Wolfer played an instrumental role in Wonder’s Hotter Than July (1980), he also played synthesizer and keyboard on “Billie Jean” (and, on a slightly less impressive note, produced records for Shalamar–further attesting to his imprint on 1980s soul)*. After his behind the scenes work with Wonder and Jackson, Wolfer put out solo album Wolf which spawned a few moderate hits and featured guest performances from his notable collaborators. “Wake Up” is by no means a classic track, but it has enough soul (vocalist Jon Gibson was a star gospel singer) to carry it its 3 min. 47 sec. runtime and it’s got a warm, evocative bassline similar to that which “I Can’t Help It” (and later De La’s “Breakadawn”) rode to audio bliss. Definitely deserving a few spins and a worthy addition to a stylistic canon bracketed by names like Wonder, Jackson, and the illustrious Shalamar.
*This may make Bill Wolfer the Scott Storch/Mike Elizondo of 1980s soul, or perhaps Scott Storch/Mike Elizondo the Bill Wolfer of late 90s/early 2000s Hip Hop. If I had the resources, I’d love to put together a series of accounts of studio musicians and producers who put in work on classic records. Bill Wolfer’s story must be heard, people. Bill, if you’re out there, hit me up!