When reports began circulating that Stevie Woods died on January 28 at 62, it marked the transition of another gifted, black male musical talent. After the recent losses of Al Johnson and George Duke, it was a reminder that too many of our own are leaving far too soon.
Woods, who only enjoyed brief stardom, certainly never got his due. Raised in Columbus, Ohio, the singer left home at 17 to join a touring band and pursue his musical ambitions. Gigging by night and writing songs by day, he decided that he needed greater exposure and decided to step outside of the box for a shot at the big time. “I figured if I wanted to get somewhere I had to place myself in a spot where people could hear me – and I packed up my Subaru station wagon and my guitar and drove out to Los Angeles,” he told Dick Clark during an appearance on American Bandstand in 1981.
Once rooted in the City of Angels he connected with Jack White, a German producer looking for an American act to record. He soon inked a deal with Cotillion, the Atlantic Records imprint whose roster included Sister Sledge, Slave (who also had roots in musically fertile Ohio) and Stacy Lattisaw. Though Woods leaned more toward the pop side of things, his releases clicked nicely with the soulful sensibilities of the label’s hit product.
Issued in 1981, Take Me to Your Heaven rests on a sonic bridge between Johnny Mathis and Lionel Richie, the most identifiable hallmarks of sepia male pop. Recorded at Rusk Sound Studios in Los Angeles, the LP was long on star power: Guitarist Ray Parker, Jr., drummer James Gadson and the singing Waters siblings were among those who brought the album’s textures to life. Complete with guitar work from Woods himself, the album – which pictured the handsome vocalist in sleek basic black – brimmed with immeasurable promise.
“Steal the Night,” the LP’s lead single, skillfully straddled black radio and the Top 40. In those post-disco times, it was one of the few black singles to scale pop playlists, peaking at number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 36 on the R&B chart. “Just Can’t Win ‘Em All” and a rendition of Peter Allen‘s “Fly Away” also did well as singles, while other highlights included “Read Between the Lines” and Rene and Angela’s “Wanna Be Close to You,” confections that showcased Woods’ versatility. The album peaked at number 153 Pop and number 44 R&B.
Woods dropped The Woman in My Life (1982) and Attitude (1983) before shifting his activity to Europe. He continued to perform and record, releasing the indie album Quiet Storm in 2011. Though his body of work is small, it stands up to the output from comparable artists and is worth reexamination. Thankfully, Wounded Bird Records reissued his Cotillion albums in 2010.
Thirty-three years later, Take Me to Your Heaven stands as a gem of its era and the best portrait of Woods’ strengths. It’s a bright light on his musical legacy – and his memory.