Howard Hewett is one of the most talented soul singers of the past two decades. In group settings, as a guest vocalist and as a solo singer, Hewett's virtually irresistible voice has wrapped itself around material of various quality - turning good songs into great records and doing his best to save some of the lesser material with which he has sometimes been saddled as a solo artist.
Raised in Akron, Ohio, Hewett moved to Los Angeles and, after a period as a dancer on Soul Train, became a member of Shalamar, the centerpiece of Dick Griffey's SOLAR (Sound of Los Angeles) label. His mellifluous tenor voice mixed beautifully with the bright vocals of Jody Watley and the writing and production of Leon Sylvers III, resulting in such top hits as "The Second Time Around," "Full of Fire," "Dead Giveaway" and "A Night to Remember," as well as a number of underappreciated ballads, such as "You Can Count On Me" and "You're the One for Me."
When the most popular lineup of Shalamar broke up in the mid 80s, it was anticipated that Hewett would transition to a monster solo career. He came out of the box strong, signing with Elektra and recording I Commit To Love, a relatively solid urban album that yielded two Soul hits, "I'm For Real" and "Stay." The album also included perhaps his finest solo moment, a glorious Hewett composition called "Say Amen," the first of several gospel numbers (typically one per album) that he would include with his otherwise secular work. However, while an excellent song stylist, Hewett was not always blessed with the best material, and he was often unable to rescue his albums. An exception was his 1990 self-titled album, which included his biggest solo hit ("Show Me"), another wonderful gospel number ("Jesus"), and a number of solid compositions. More typical was 1992's Allegiance, which featured the wonderful AC ballad "How Fast Forever Goes" (as good a song as was released by any artist that year and a reminder of how Hewett could transform the right material), but had as many misses and hits. Uneven song quality has dogged most of Hewett's solo career, leaving him with many fans who still await the definitive Howard Hewett album.
After 1995's It's Time, Hewett stopped recording solo, spending much of his time providing wonderful guest vocals on albums by jazz artists such as Joe Sample, Brian Culbertson, George Duke and Everett Harp and on several gospel albums. Then in 2001, he recorded his first all gospel album, The Journey, on Sony, followed a year later by The Journey Live: From the Heart. It was six years before his long-awaited R&B return on the nice album, If Only.
In February 2014, Hewett broke another recording silence with the single "You Still Live Inside of Me," an excellent song that combined elements of both country and soul. And he has continued to tour regularly, both as a solo artist and as part of a reconstituted version of Shalamar.
By Chris Rizik