When it comes to musical achievements, few share the distinction of not only being a significant factor in blazing a trail for an entire genre, but also rising to the absolute top of their craft on stage and off. But after a mere millisecond of speaking with Jason Alvarez in tandem with his highly anticipated new release Time For Miracles, it’s apparent the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and now simultaneous pastor/speaker is a complete anomaly whose stable of accolades and downright dreamlike experiences are at least a mile long, though he’s quick to deflect all glory to God in what’s amongst one of the most compelling, enthralling and uplifting stories of redemption in music industry history.
Though what could easily be a mini-series’ worth of memories dates back to fleeing Cuba with his family as a mere child (more on that later), chances are the public first connected with Alvarez (who briefly went by his birth name Jesus) as the husky voiced singer of R&B act Brother To Brother (whose “In The Bottle” moved over a million copies in 1974) turned co-star of Shirley & Company (both signed to All Platinum Records under groundbreaking singer/songwriter Sylvia Robinson and her veteran businessman/husband Joe). Besides topping the American dance charts with the smash “Shame Shame Shame” in 1975, the group struck #12 on the U.S. pop charts and conquered Europe with #1s in Austria, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, along with a #6 slot in the UK. As if that international conquest wasn’t enough, the Bo Diddley-styled beats of the dance floor filler are commonly considered some of the early blueprints in the disco explosion that dominated the decade under additional exploration from The Bee Gees, ABBA, and Donna Summer on down.
“We really were ahead of the curve and it was definitely a pioneering moment, starting with that drum beat, which was so simple, but definitely an innovator for sure the way it was combined with Shirley’s high voice and me screaming my brains out,” reminisces Alvarez with a laugh, who also struck gold with the group’s follow-up hit “Cry Cry Cry.” “We did a ton of touring, especially through Europe, and went on all of the TV programs of the time alongside Mick Jagger, Patti LaBelle and Elton John, which was just as amazing as it sounds.”
While fame and wealth followed at breakneck speed, so did the pressure of scheduling the life of a superstar, and what once began as recreational drug use indicative of the times rapidly developed into a spiraling addiction. Alvarez recalls a chilling time of sitting on the top floor of a swanky London hotel with fellow songwriter Scott English, who’s “Brandy” turned Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” was nestled at #2 as “Shame Shame Shame” claimed the top spot.
“He looked at me, passed me a joint and said ‘is this all there is to life man?’ and that made me start thinking,” admits Alvarez, who in his stoned state experienced a heightened sense of despair. “So I started thinking about taking my own life and even wrote out a suicide letter, but when I looked down from that penthouse window and saw how far it was down, I decided to wait until I got back to the U.S. to do it another way.”
Continues Alvarez: “At one point I bought a pound of opium and tried to kill myself by smoking day and night, but thank God I didn’t succeed. It just so happens that around that time, my wife had given herself to Jesus and started going to church by the grace of God. I remember saying to her one night, ‘are you going to that crazy place?’ and when she said ‘yes,’ I actually asked her if she needed a ride. I dropped her off and sat in the car smoking a Columbian joint, but I felt so bummed out by myself that I eventually walked in. Right then and there, I heard the Gospel and how Jesus died to save us from our sins and I said to my wife ‘have you been talking to this preacher about me?’ She said ‘no, I’ve never mentioned what you’re going through, so it must be the Holy Spirit.’ I responded, gave my life to the Lord and have never been the same since.”
Continue to next page.......