The former Shalamar frontwoman is a Grammy Award-winning pioneer in music, video, fashion, and style and set to be inducted into NMAAM this month. Today on The Carlos Watson Show, she shares her selection process and a preview of her upcoming launch signature home line of candles. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.
A Long Winding Road
Carlos Watson: Jody, what have been some of the best moments in life? Was it the Shalamar time? Was it when you went out on your own? When was it? When was one of those special windows, special moments?
Jody Watley: Today
Watson: Oh, I love that. That’s exactly the right answer.
Watley: I’m very much a person of the moment. The greatest day of my life is today because I’m here. We are here today. That’s the greatest moment that we’ll ever have, is today. And sure, there are pinnacle moments and benchmark moments along the way.
I am not a nostalgic person. The only thing I’m nostalgic about really is I loved going to the park with my kids and going to games with my son and taking all his friends with their sweaty socks to tournaments all over California.
But my solo career, which is ongoing, it is really a testament. I just feel like it was God’s plan for me to be able to shine as Jody Watley. This is the 34th anniversary of my solo debut. Time flies. I’m still 34, by the way.
I don’t know how it all happened. I’ve always said through the decades that it was such a message. And I always tell this in every interview when I’m asked about it, I say, “What do I represent?” I always hope that I represent being fearless to go out and live your life with joy. And if you find yourself in a situation, no matter how it seems to the public that, oh my God, that must be everything. If it ain’t everything, have the courage to remove yourself from it, whether it’s professionally, romantically, whatever it is.
And so, that’s something that I’m very proud of, and when I do reflect upon it, I just say, “Wow.” Twenty three, I quit a group. I wasn’t happy with it.
Watson: How did you end up deciding to do it? Because my guess is at 23, a lot of people were telling you, “Jody, you’re crazy. You’re going to leave Shalamar? You’re going to leave all this?”
Watley: The thing of there was no “all this”, because I was broke. There was no mansion. When you realize that you’re the cash cow for other people… Other people are benefiting. Like I said, this is not something I’m saying for the first time, but sometimes people overlook it because they love the music.
There’s somebody right now: minimum wage. I got bills to pay. I can’t quit. I hear you, Miss Jody, but I can’t quit my job. That fear will keep you in that spot, so you’ll miss the next opportunity that will pay you tenfold. And I love your show because I wanted to be able to say that. Don’t be afraid to live the life that is meant for you based upon opinions or fear, insecurity, voices, whatever it is, because you’ll never get your blessing if you live in fear. You’ll never know. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. You can always regroup. Well that didn’t work. Let me try this. But you’re not stuck in a rut. And I don’t like people being stuck in a rut.
I would not be here today as Jody Watley with my solo career if I had let in anything negative that someone said to me almost 40 years ago. So in essence, it was an easy decision
Watson: Your mom and dad? What were they like?
Watley: My dad, rest in peace, was the one that said I was going to be a star.
Both my parents, my first fashion influences, because my dad was flamboyant. He was getting custom suits. He was monochrome before it was a thing, lime green head to toe, shoes included.
It wasn’t Diana Ross, who I loved, who was an early influence on me, but my mom, she’s the first woman I saw with dolman sleeves and a zebra print. They were my first influences for better, for worse, because they both had a lot of things going on and brought some great difficulty to me growing up. But also, all of those difficulties and watching them spiral out of control in many ways, it helped me be stronger.
Often, those things, when you have parents that end up with the addictive behaviors, it hits people different. Not every child recovers from that.
I have a son and a daughter and neither one were raised as show business children. I really made a point to let them be and grow into who they are and their capabilities and possibilities. And I’m just the backdrop and the launchpad of…the support system. So they’ve traveled with me and I’ve taken time off over the years to raise them.
So when people see the name Watley, they’ll always, to this day, there’s a pause, like “Watley. Like the singer Jody Watley? Do you remember her?”
Advice to Younger Self
Watson: What advice, if any, would you give her, young Jody Watley?
Watley: I would go back and tell my younger me, who still lives in me by the way, she’s still here. And I think that’s very important that as adults, we keep the essence of our youth
I started writing poetry, which turned into songwriting. I’m blessed to have that gift to be a songwriter and a storyteller. Storytelling has helped me heal from things or always keep a positive attitude, whether reading it or writing it. My most recent song, “The Healing”, is about the now. Learn the lessons of the past and let it go. Create more love, create more peace, embrace the possibilities of the now as we move into the future.
That’s the same thing I would tell my younger self. And I think that I got that embracing the possibilities and it just has to be the voice of God. I’m not religious, but I’m very spiritual.
Watson: Jody, what’s one of the hardest things that you’ve been through?
Watley: My mom, seeing her go through so much, so many different addictions and I can say it. I would never say it to hurt her or embarrass her. It’s a part of my journey, but to be the child of someone who has gone through such heavy addiction, heroin addiction, crack addiction. Alcohol addiction was the first one.
There are times that I resented her so much. A lot of my success, she missed it. She didn’t really get clean until she was almost 70.
Going through a divorce was also very difficult. It’s one of the great disappointments of my life, to not be able to make a marriage work. I never talk about it. I did a conversation the other day, and I had mixed emotions. It’ll be in my memoir, because it’s not something that you can really put in short sentences to really say the magnitude and the millions of people who’ve gone through it. In the midst of being in the spotlight, I’ve always been private about my personal life.