Saturday, September 6, 2008

Mary Jane Girls Set Up House On The Charts

Female vocal quartet Mary Jane Girls, were the brainchild of funk impresario Rick James (see future post). James had originally hired Joanne ‘JoJo’ McDuffie, Candice ‘Candi’ Ghant, Kim ‘Maxi’ Wuletich and Ann ‘Cheri’ Bailey, as backing singers for his Stone City Band on a 1979 tour.

Fellow funkster Prince put together the all girl trio Vanity 6 during 1982 (later becoming Apollonia 6 in 1984), and it’s popular belief that Rick James replied in kind by arranging for his former backing singers to compete as the Mary Jane Girls. The group’s name was derived from the Rick James hit ‘Mary Jane’ (an obvious reference to James’ advocacy of marijuana), and James even conceived stage names and characters to go with each of the four girls - ‘JoJo’ (who handled most of the lead vocals) was the tough street chick, Candi played the glamorous supermodel, Cheri the cheerleading ‘valley girl’, and Maxi took the role as leather clad dominatrix - an obvious precursor to the Spice Girls me thinks.

Rick James produced the quartet’s eponymous debut album in 1983, released on the Motown label. The album was a moderate success on the mainstream charts (UK#51/US#56) and realised several R&B /Club hits, all penned by Rick James. ‘Candy Man’ reached #8 on the U.S. Club Play Singles chart and #60 on the U.K. mainstream charts. ‘All Night Long’ (not the Lionel Richie song) performed on the British charts (#13) but only reached #56 on the U.S. Hot R&B chart. The third single ‘Boys’ also sold a respectable haul (UK#74/US Hot R&B#29), with all three tracks accompanied by promo clips highlighting the sexually provocative image of the Mary Jane Girls.

The Mary Jane Girls proved themselves more than one album wonders, with their 1985 sophomore effort ‘Only Four You’ (US#18). Their line-up had altered slightly with the inclusion of Yvette ‘Corvette’ Marine recruited to replace Ann ‘Cheri’ Bailey, who went on to front the short lived Morris Day produced vocal group The Day Zs. Marine was the daughter of disco singer Pattie Brooks. The album, produced by James again, spawned the Mary Jane Girls’ biggest hit ‘In My House' (US#7/ OZ#19). The follow up ‘Wild And Crazy Love’ went top 10 on the U.S. R&B charts and reached #42 on the Hot 100. The only song on the album that wasn’t written by Rick James, was a funk style cover of the old Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons’ hit ‘Walk Like A Man’. The song was also featured in the Ted Danson comedy film ‘A Fine Mess’ and again stalled just outside the U.S. top 40 (#41).

During this period a dispute between writer/producer Rick James and the Motown label escalated, and the Mary Jane Girls were caught in the crossfire. The collateral damage brought to a premature end the career of the Mary Jane Girls. Candice Ghant went on to work for the music industry trade magazine Black Radio Exclusive during 1986, and was quoted at the time as being optimistic the Mary Jane Girls career would be revived with the writing/production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Rumours circulated for a short while that some new material was in the works, but the tentatively titled third album ‘Conversations With The Mary Jane Girls’ never came to fruition, and by 1987 it was official that the Mary Jane Girls had split for good.

Yvette ‘Corvette’ Marine hit the headlines a few years later when she brought a lawsuit against singer Paula Abdul, claiming that it was she, and not Abdul, who sang lead vocals on most of the tracks from Abdul’s 1988 ‘Forever Your Girl’ album. Marine had recorded backing vocals for the album, and alleged that the producers had overdubbed her vocals on the lead vocal track. The dispute was settled in 1993 in favour of Abdul and the recording label Virgin.

‘All Night Long’ was remixed by Mike Gray and Jon Pearn in 1995 and reached #51 on the British charts. The same year McDuffie, Ghant and Wuletich appeared on the Jenny Jones daytime talk show, performing under the moniker of ‘MJG’. For a time the trio performed around the traps, but Ghant and Wuletich left a year or two later.

Post Mary Jane Girls - Bailey formed her own music group Miss Lady for a time, and now works as a makeup artist and part time midwife; McDuffie continues to perform as ‘JoJo’ singing the old Mary Jane Girls material, in addition to composing music for film and television; Ghant went on to form her own music production company; Wuletich likewise runs a music production house in balance with family duties; and Marine is the host of the celebrity profile TV show ‘In The Mix With Yvette’.

In 2003 the Mary Jane Girls appeared on VH1’s ‘Where Are They Now?’. McDuffie, who had just returned from a European tour singing backup for Barry White, performed in a separate segment to the other four Mary Jane Girls.

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