The Mary Jane Girls were the product of punk-funkster Rick James. The group (which in its early formation included Bride of Funkenstein Sheila Horne) began as James' background singers for his live show. In 1983, perhaps following the precendence of other
artists with gimmicky girl groups like Prince's Vanity 6 and George Clinton's Brides of Funkenstein, Rick got four main ladies together for the debut Mary Jane Girls album. While the entire album was written and produced by Mr. James, the different songs and fantasy stage personalities for each of the women represented that there was something for everyone.
For instance, "Candi" (Candice Ghant) portrayed the classy diva. "Cheri" (Ann Bailey) played the part of a young, innocent preppy. "Maxi" (Kim Wuletich) acted as a wild leather queen. And lead vocalist "Jojo" (Joanne McDuffie) was sort of like a female version of Slick Rick, complete with beaded cornrows and an in-charge attitude.
Surprisingly, behind the glossy exteriors, this group packed a lot of talent and, in my opinion, their self-titled debut was one of the bright spots in early 80s R&B. It's songs "Candy Man" and "All Night Long" are bonafide "ol school" classics, combining Rick's very tuneful grooves with the ladies' melodic harmonies. And the temptuous "Boys," with it's lyric "You can call me any week /when you feel the need to freak," is a gem that rivals anything on SuperFreak Rick's own records.
For their second album Only Four You, released in '85, "Cheri" was replaced by Yvette "Corvette" Marine, playing the part of a wild 'n trendy girl. It spawned two top ten singles which were both funky, both typical Rick productions: "In My House" and "Wild & Crazy Love." And on side 2, each of the ladies has their own tailor-made song to sing lead on.
Unfortunately, two albums would be all the world would get from the MJGs, though they did record a modestly successful cover of Franki Valli & the Four Seasons' "Walk Like a Man" for the soundtrack of A Fine Mess in 1986. When Rick James parted ways with Motown in the mid-80s, the Mary Jane Girls got lost in the shuffle. And despite rumored plans to release a third album with the help of producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, they disbanded in '87. Some years later, one of the members would sue Paula Abdul saying that it was mainly her vocals on the choreographer-turned-singer's Forever Your Girl album. And then a few other members were interviewed on a TV segment where they alleged that James had treated them badly while they worked for him. "Corvette" would wind up singing backup for Teena Marie in the late 80s.
Today, I hear that the Mary Jane Girls do sporadic concerts in the L.A. area, but I have no clue about the lineup. And "Jojo" was a featured vocalist on Rick James' first concert tour after coming out of, er, exile :-D Whatever they're doing now, they all had just the right voices and style, the perfect vehicle for Slick Rick's production style.
Unless otherwise noted, all written material copyright 1999, Melissa A. Weber.
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Candy Man, 1983
Mary Jane Girls by Mary Jane Girls, Gordy, 1983
All Four You by Mary Jane Girls, Gordy, 1985
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