Nigerian born Uchenna Ikejiani found singing came naturally at an early age. Growing up in oppressive Nigeria was nothing that Uchenna cared to talk about. As a young adult she found her way to Canada in the mid 1970's as a college student. While in Montreal as a student she came in contact with another student that would change her life forever.
Joe LaGreca found the tiny Uchenna to posess a voice that could wail or whimper. She audtioned for the upstart producer in the fall of 1977. Joe was preparing to work on his first full length production. Immediately he fell in love with her voice and she landed the one-time gig. Tracks were laid down in early 1978 at Marko Studios in Montreal. The cast and crew were comprised of mostly fellow students.The result was "Montreal featuring Uchenna Ikejiani."
The first thing of note about the album is that it is NOT Uchenna on the cover, rather some nameless model. The second thing of note is that the featured track and the most played was an instrumental that did NOT have Uchenna on it. So Uchenna's first break into the recording world was really not her's at all. The album featured three tracks. Uchenna's vocals are on the tracks: "If You Believe in Me" and "Higher And Higher." The instrumental favorite was "Under the Lights Of Montreal." Released on Star Disc in Canada and picked up for American release by Salsoul Records. Salsoul hired star jock Bobby "D.J." Guttadaro to remix it for it's U.S. release and initial sales were minimal at best. It was this collaboration that cemented a friendship between Uchenna and Joe that would last many years and take both to the top of the charts and into disco history. It was Joe that convinced Uchenna to anglicize her name and shorten her surname. Thus Carol Jiani was born sometime around 1979-1980. During 1979 Joe and Carol worked on several formulas trying to perfect disco magic.
During 1980 Carol and Joe recorded a pair of tunes written by Sandy Wilbur. "Hit And Run Lover" and "All The People Of The World." The latter, a downtempo wailer has since become a late-night sleaze classic while the former has gone down in disco history as one of the most played and re-released songs ever. "Hit And Run Lover" has been re-recorded by Jiani no fewer than a dozen times and has become her trademark song. The original mix was released on the silver Matra label and was quickly picked up by Canadian and American jocks as a hit. Matra ushered a spiffy remix out on it's new blue label and the song went global. Demand for Jiani and new material was strong so Matra requisitioned a complete album and Joe and Carol came through
The 1981 album capitalized on her hit by using it for the title. Joe mined the Sandy Wilbur vein for more possible hits. Five of the six tracks are Wilbur originals and the sixth track was a Pete Bellotte/Silvester Levay cast off. It was the cast off that was chosen as the b-side for the follow-up 12" single. The intended A-side was "The Woman In Me," a cutesy non-feminist shuffle beat number. The B-side was a rousing uptempo number most noted for it's off-key horns. "Mercy" became the immediate club favorite and was picked up and remixed by Moby Dick Records here in America. Their remix was released on blue vinyl, first as part of a Moby Dick compilation and then as a separate 12" single. This song would also receive numerous re-records by Jiani and eventually one version would correct the off-key horns. Sadly that version seems to have lost it's appeal as the off-key horns were essentially the hook of the song.
It was during this period in 1982 that I first had the chance to meet and work with Carol. "Mercy" was red-hot and at the time I was D.J.-ing and booking entertainment for a local Chicago club. She was also the first artist that I had the chance to do a mini-tour with.
Carol and I hit it off immediately, we're both Pisces. She flew in from Montreal and stayed in Chicago for two weeks. During that first trip she performed two shows at my club. I escorted Carol to shows in Madison, Wis., Detroit, Mi., and downstate Illinois.
The downstate show was in Champaign for the local college disco…the party they threw for Carol afterwards was phenomenal! As usual Carol rocked the house at all her performances and literally had them eating out of her hands. The word that comes to mind when I think of that first visit was "Dahling"…Carol said "Dahling" more than Tallulah Bankhead!
The magic that was Carol and "Hit And Run Lover" just kept rolling. Ariola America had released the domestic 12" on "..Lover" Sadly it couldn't save the floundering company. It folded shortly after it's release. This was release number three for the song.
After Carol left Chicago, she toured around the U.S. before heading back home to Canada. She spent the early part of 1982 putting the finishing touches on her sophmore album with LaGreca. The buzz around the industry was that it was going to be HOT! Carol, never one to disappoint, delivered. Matra realizing the goldmine on their hands came through by purchasing an ad on the front page of Billboard magazine. "Carol Jiani's delicious new LP offering "Carol Jiani-Ask Me" is a sparkling R&B/dance smash featuring the R&B classic "Ask Me" and her new single "You're Gonna Lose My Love". Produced by Joe LaGreca for Matra Records Ltd." proclaimed the September 18, 1982 issue.
The album was an out & out smash. Nearly all of the eight tracks were remixed and released on various import 12" singles. Besides her incredible reworking of the Barbara Roy (Ecstasy, Passion and Pain) classic "Ask Me" she took another stab at a shuffle beat hit with "You're Gonna Lose My Love." The high energy numbers: "X-Rated," "Seeing You," and "Kicking The Habit" were instant gay club classics. Sandy Wilbur contributed yet another moving number with "You Heart Is Safe With Me" a song that remains dear to me.
It was around this time that information came to light that a song from 1981 was yet another Carol Jiani hit. Atlantic Records 12" DM 4812 was a giant hit. Billed as Suzy Q "Get On Up And Do It Again" is actually Carol Jiani singing. When her career took off with "…Lover" they proceeded with it's release. But found themselves in a predicament…enter Michelle Mills. Mills rerecorded the song for it's album release and managed another hit from the album before disappearing back into the woodwork.
Carol worked tirelessly throughout 1983 touring on the strength of both albums and the remixes from the second album. Carol toured the entire world helping to make "Hit And Run Lover" an international hit. Returning back to Montreal, Joe once again corraled Jiani back into the studios for what would become her fourth album.
The seven tracks they laid down were co-produced by Louis Toteda. Louis is also known for his work with Motion, Valerie Krystal and other Canadian dance artists. The tracks were released as several 12" singles before the full album came out in December 1984. The first single was "Dear John" an uptempo panting Jamacian-influenced number that has Carol lamenting the woes of kiss-off phone calls. That Telescope 12" was followed by "Touch And Go Lover." Yet another uptempo thriller that hones in on the mid-1980's sound of super high energy (140-180 bpm's). The song's popularity lured Atlantic Records to pick it up and remix it for domestic release, the only track to receive an American release. The third 12" was the lamenting "Love Now, Play Later." A song that could have easily been lifted from her earlier Matra recordings. It's sweet easy going beat with a growling Carol in full force was not a big club hit. It's not a memorable album track nor is Carol's attempt at rapping with "Bum Rap." Although Carol does rap with a certain finesse. The centerpiece of the album was Carol's rendition of the Thelma Houston disco classic "Don't Leave Me This Way." Carol was the first artist brave enough to tackle such a beloved club hit. Her version is impeccable.
It was during this period in the summer of 1984 that I once again had the pleasure of working with Ms. Jiani. That summer she came to Chicago and stayed for nearly four weeks. She performed several shows at my club. I also booked her into Paradise Chicago and I had the privilege of accompanying her on the float in the gay pride parade. She was stunning. On the way to her show at Paradise the car had a flat and we were forced to stand on the corner, on Chicago's southside, and wait for another ride. Imagine the whistles, stares and catcalls Carol got in a gold sequined gown at 3:00 in the afternoon on a Sunday! The fun we had!
I have a coveted tape of one of Carol's late night shows. During the show she asked me to play the instrumental of Melba Moore's "Pick Me Up I'll Dance" and Carol sang live over it. She totally amazed not only me but everyone in the room…..it is phenomenal! One final 12" single was pulled from that album. 1985's "Dancing In The Rain." A driving frenetic hi-energy number that also showed her pop sensibilites.
I lost touch with Carol after that last visit to Chicago. I heard through a mutual friend that ran into her that she had moved to England in 1985 and had a baby….Red Hot Disco Mama!
Her career continued after the split with Canada and Joe LaGreca. Upon arriving in England she quickly established herself on the circuit. It wasn't long before her paths crossed with hit-maker Ian Levine. Ian has always had a thing for black female vocalists and Carol Jiani was right up his alley.
Ian and Carol's collaborations resulted in some 17 tracks being released on Record Shack Records. The first 12" was 1985's "Vanity." A typical Ian-Trench number that could have been better recorded by say…Evelyn Thomas? Additional 12" singles in 1986 and 1987 included "Such A Joy Honey" and "Turning My Back And Walking Away." The latter being previously recorded by Ian with ex-Detroiter Barbara Randolph using the exact instrumental track. A re-recording of "Hit And Run Lover," with Ian giving it a very complete overhaul, was released on Passion Records in 1988. The complete Ian/Carol sessions are documented on "The Best Of Carol Jiani." Besides the aforementioned 12" singles, it also includes a reworking of "Get On Up And Do It Again." and cover versions of "Just Us" (Two Tons O' Fun), "Souvenirs" (Voyage), "River Deep-Mountain High" (Tina Turner) and "Highwire" (Linda Carr).
The real treats on this disc are the seven original numbers that Ian produced for Jiani. The high energy numbers "Spirit," "Get My Message Through," "Spinning You Around," "That's How It Is If You Love Me," "Pull It Back Together" and "I'm Your Guarantee" are excellent examples of what Ian can do with a capable vocalist and how Carol can handle good direction. The more downtempo number "Run To Me Now" scores big points for it's contrast to the other material and for Carol's growling delivery. The last track, and my personal favorite, is another Carol late-night classic. "Make Sure You Have Someone Who Loves You" is a bittersweet song about growing old alone from a wise sages point of view. Carol's voice and delivery bring chills to my spine every time I listen to it. This compact disc is a good starting point for people unfamiliar with Carol Jiani's work.
For a novice Carol Jiani fan the "Greatest Hits" compact disc is a must. Not only does it feature the entire "Hit And Run Lover" album but contains the bonus tracks of "Ask Me" and "Get On Up And Do It Again" plus her 1989 second collaboration with 3 Man Island "Car Wash." A stunning remake of the Rose Royce classic from the film of the same name. Carol first recorded with the English group 3 Man Island in 1988. Their duet of "Funkin' For The U.K." was a monster hit in it's native England but failed to stir any emotion here in the States.
Jiani quickly moved over to record yet another beloved club classic. You have to give the girl credit for having the guts to tackle beloved gay classics such as her 1990 remake of the late Yvonne Fair hit "It Should Have Been Me." The 12" single is billed as C.J.'s Latest Arrival. The delivery is a nice easy going beat with Carol giving it a full out reading. If there's a fault to be had with it, perhaps it's the Easton Davis rap in the middle, otherwise it's a novel remake. The Chrisbiz 12" is somewhat of a collector's item now.
For the next several years Carol fell out of the spotlight. Perhaps she spent the time raising her daughter and being a homemaker, something Carol was also a natural at. She resurfaced again in 1995. Her two 12" singles on Lime Records were quite a surprise! We're not sure if they were current or previously recorded material that finally surfaced. The first 12" single was a remake of the Lolly Vegas penned hit "Come And Get Your Love." The song was originally a hit for Redbone, and later a hit for the Boystown Gang and then even later for Real McCoy. The second 12" was "Superstar," no it's not the Leon Russell penned hit. The song was written by Denis LePage (Lime) and Joe LaGreca and makes us question it's time of recording. Both songs are fun and typical Carol. Her last known recordings were in 1996. She released two more 12" singles. "No Matter Where" and a remake of the Exile disco hit "Kiss You All Over." Again fine examples of how, when give top-notch material, Carol can deliver.
While compiling this bio on Carol I listened to her music. I was struck by her raw talent and her massive legacy. It brought back many fond memories of driving to and from gigs. I have some hilarious memories that only Carol and I, and perhaps a few close friends, could share. I'd love to see her again and hope that wherever she is that she's happy, healthy and still singing. Thanks Carol…for all the memories both on and off the dancefloor.
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