Johnnie Wilder was on top of the music world in 1979. As lead singer of the pop-accente& B group Heatwave, he was riding the crest of three consecutive million-selling singles: "Boogie Nights," "Always and Forever" and "The Groove Line."
But before completing the group's third LP, his world came crashing down. During a weekend break from New York recording sessions, Wilder's spinal cord was severed in a car accident in his home town of Dayton, Ohio. The singer was left a quadriplegic, with no movement from the neck down.
Wilder returned to Heatwave after a year in the hospital--and after learning to sing all over again, using alternative breathing methods. By 1982, however, his condition worsened, making it difficult to keep up with the demands of leading the group. He turned the job over to his brother, Keith, and retired.
Now, at 39, Wilder is back, touring with the Gospel America Tour, which kicks off a 20-city tour at the Greek Theatre on Friday. He's also finishing an a cappella album of gospel songs, which he hopes to place with a record label soon.
"It took me all this time to have enough strength to do this album (and tour)," relates Wilder. "I'm looking forward to (the tour). It's the first time I've done any solo dates. I think (performing) from the perspective of gospel music will be interesting."
Even before his 1983 conversion to Christianity, Wilder--who undergoes 3 to 4 hours of physical therapy every day--accepted his condition with equanimity.
"I never went through a real heavy 'why me' type of situation," he explains. "I realized (surviving the accident) had to be some kind of miracle. . . . I get around pretty good in this chair. There's no need to wallow. That's all behind me. Right now, it's what I \o7 can\f7 do, not what I can't."