The ladies in Taste of Honey, guitarist Hazel Payne and bassist Janice Johnson, qualify for my number one choice in the "Where Are They Now" category. Not only did they sing, write, and play, but they spearheaded the group (which also consisted of two other men in the beginning, by the way) into one of the coolest soul acts of the late 70s/early 80s. The concept was mind-blowing for the time: two ethnic divas who were beautiful and played instruments, really played instruments (I'll never forget when Janice did a Japanese fan dance while Hazel played her "koto" when they performed "Sukiyaki" on Soul Train), but weren't too beautiful that they couldn't get on down.
A Taste of Honey was born in 1970 when Janice Marie Johnson (then a member of the girl group the Quniques) auditioned for Princess Cruises. Over the next several years she'd play bass with a trio that included keyboardist Perry Kibble (whom she'd met at those auditions) and another female guitarist. When the guitarist left, Janice scooped up Hazel Payne in '76 at an audition for another group. They were "discovered" by producers Larry & Fonze Mizell when the group played at a wedding that the brothers were attending. From there they were signed to Capitol Records and performing gigs at the Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, California.
Their first single "Boogie Oogie Oogie" (from their self-titled '78 debut) was a huge, mindlessly fun hit that was pure pleasure on the dancefloor. It was written in response to those Air Force audience members who were too interested in looking at the girls play on stage than they were in dancing to their music. Soon enough, the whole country was dancing to their #1 R&B hit.
No one really bought into their second album Another Taste with it's lead off single "Do It Good," though both are equally nice. The third album (Twice as Sweet, 1980) found them enlisting the production talents of George Duke. And thanks to the girls' insistence that Duke not turn "Sukiyaki" into an uptempo disco romp, that tune provided them with a solid non-dance chart-topper and proof that they weren't just another one-hit wonder. ("Rescue Me" from the same album was a good groove and also one of rap music's first major sample tunes.)
Their next and final album (that I know of), Ladies of the Eighties from '82, has one of my fave Taste of Honey tunes, "We've Got the Groove." It featured production from Al McKay from Earth Wind & Fire and Ronald LaPread of the Commodores. And despite being one of their best albums, it disappeared quicker than Dolemite at a Ku Klux Klan rally. After that record, I never heard about them again. Ever. I hope that Janice and Hazel are still sister-friends, out there somewhere giving up the groove with their axes. But sometimes showbusiness has a funny way of turning talent into tragedy. Let's hope this isn't the case.
UPDATE: As of October '99, Janice Marie Johnson has released her first solo project in years, called Hiatus of the Heart. According to www.iuma.com, you can purchase Janice-Marie's new CD and get tour info by going to iuma.com and typing in "A Taste of Honey," or you can e-mail her at email@example.com.
Unless otherwise noted, all written material copyright 1999, Melissa A. Weber.
No part of these pages may be reproduced on another site without my prior written consent.
New, official info on Janice-Marie Johnson
Honey Web: the unofficial A Taste of Honey tribute
Janice Marie Johnson Real Audio Interview on the R&B Page
Boogie Oogie Oogie, 1978
We've Got the Groove, 1982
A Taste of Honey by A Taste of Honey, Capitol, 1978
Another Taste by A Taste of Honey, Capitol, 1979
Twice As Sweet by A Taste of Honey, Capitol, 1980
Ladies of the Eighties by A Taste of Honey, Capitol, 1982
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