Known for two huge and very dissimilar pop hits, disco-soul group A Taste of Honey began in 1971, after Janice Marie Johnson (vocals, bass, guitar) and Perry Kibble (keyboards) met at an audition for vacation cruise gigs. Named after one of their favorite songs, the band added several friends to the lineup and played Southern California bars and military bases in the U.S. and abroad. Guitarist Hazel Payne was added after Greg Walker quit to join Santana. Following a meeting with producers Fonce and Larry Mizell, the group signed to Capitol. Their debut single, "Boogie Oogie Oogie," was inspired by an unresponsive audience, and Johnson felt the military crowd was chauvinist. The single, featuring an unforgettable bassline, topped the Billboard Hot 100 in fall 1978, and sold more than two-million copies. The slinky and funky "Do It Good," the follow-up, went to number 13 R&B and number 79 pop. The parent album of the hits, A Taste of Honey, subsequently went platinum, and the group won a Grammy for Best New Artist. At the time, the group's lineup consisted of Johnson, Kibble, Payne, and drummer Donald Johnson.
After hearing Linda Ronstadt's version of Smokey Robinson's "Ooh Baby Baby," Johnson decided that she and Payne should remake a classic song. Johnson had sung Kyu Sakamoto's "Sukiyaki" when the group toured Japan and performed at the Yamaha Song Festival. She contacted her Japanese sub-publisher, who in turn contacted the original writers to get permission to redo the song with English lyrics. Translators were employed, one of whom came up with lyrics that were close to the original's theme, translated as "I look up when I walk." Johnson added her own lyrics and thought they were too simple, but producer George Duke encouraged her to write from her heart. A publishing-rights dispute almost stopped the song from being released. After it was recorded, Johnson found out that one of the original writers had signed his rights away. His publisher had Johnson give up all rights to her version before Capitol released it. The bassist relented, knowing that this song would take A Taste of Honey out of the disco category. Capitol wasn't keen on "Sukiyaki" and instead released "Rescue Me" (number 16 R&B, summer 1980) and "I'm Talkin 'Bout You" (number 64 R&B, late 1980). Forced by album-track radio play, the label finally released "Sukiyaki" as a single, and it went to number one R&B and number three pop in spring 1981. Ladies of the Eighties, released in 1982, was relatively unsuccessful, but its lead single, "I'll Try Something New," nearly reached the pop Top 40. Payne subsequently departed and went into stage acting. Johnson was left to fulfill A Taste of Honey's contractual obligation with Capitol. Nothing from One Taste of Honey, released as a Johnson solo album, gained commercial traction.
While the group were active, their songs had started to become familiar sample sources among rap producers, as heard on Funky 4 + 1's "That's the Joint," and Slick Rick quoted "Sukiyaki" during his appearance on Doug E. Fresh & the Get Fresh Crew's "La Di Da Di." Payne and Johnson eventually reunited in 2004, for a PBS disco special. All four of their Capitol albums were reissued during the early 2010s by the BBR (Big Break) label. ~ Ed Hogan & Andy Kellman