Get ready for The Temptations, Four TopsWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Otis Williams was sitting in a restaurant recently and heard “Night and Day,” a song penned by Cole Porter in 1932.
“It’s a great song. And here it is 2012, so that’s the benchmark of a great song: It will transcend through time,” said the original member of The Temptations.
“We’ve been blessed to have songs that have been around 40, almost 50 years and still sound as fresh as the day we released them during the ’60s.”
In 1961, The Temptations formed when members of The Distants and The Primes merged.
“After we signed with Motown [Records], things started happening in a very big way for us,” Williams said.
When David Ruffin joined Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin and Paul Williams, the singers began working with producer Smokey Robinson, who co-wrote their first big hit, “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and their first No. 1 record, “My Girl.” He also wrote “Get Ready.”
“Smokey was a notable songwriter and producer even before we started recording for him. He’s one of the best in the business; it was just magic with Smokey,” Williams recalled.
The quintet known for its dance moves had a chance to work with another producer who expanded the group’s sound. Norman Whitfield helped create “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “(I Know) I’m Losing You” and “I Wish It Would Rain.”
“Norman and myself had known each other since we were teenagers,” Williams said. “So when he came over to Motown, that’s when he started becoming our producer, and we eventually worked with him and had a slew of hits with Norman.”
When Ruffin left to go solo, former Contours’ member Dennis Edwards joined The Temptations.
With Whitfield at the controls, the group churned out more hits: “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Psychedelic Shack,” “Ball of Confusion,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “Just My Imagination.”
“It was a great feeling to have hit after hit after hit on the charts,” Williams said during a phone interview from his Los Angeles home. “We never would have imagined that we’d have that kind of longevity and a lot of hits going through a lot of musical changes.
“It’s wonderful because none of us had any idea that we would have — I have almost 40 gold and platinum CDs hanging in my home — it’s just been a very blessed event.
“Other than losing my original guys, The Tempts’ ride has been great.”
Williams, the only surviving member of The Temptations, continues to tour with Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Joe Herndon and Bruce Williamson.
The Temptations and The Four Tops will perform at 7:30 p.m. April 12 at Stranahan Theater. Tickets range from $29.50 to $49.50.
Since taking the stage together for a Motown anniversary show in 1983, the two marquee groups have bonded.
“We’re great friends first and have a wonderful rivalry. The Four Tops are known for all their great hits, and then here we are with ours, and you put the two together, it just takes you down memory lane,” Williams said.
“People always ask me, ‘How long are you going to do it?’ And I say I’m going to ride the hair off the horse; when I get off the horse, the horse will be bald,” he said. “I’m still enjoying the ride.”
Four Tops are still there
At age 9, Lawrence Roquel Payton Jr. and his friends formed a group called The Temptings.
“We did all Temptations songs,” he said and laughed. “No Four Tops for us at all, it was all Temptations. My dad sort of took a blind eye to the situation.”
His dad was Lawrence Payton, who also was in a group with friends: Levi Stubbs, Abdul “Duke” Fakir and Renaldo “Obie” Benson. They were The Four Tops.
The Motown legends cranked out the hits: “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Bernadette,” “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got).”
“I remember those songs being on the radio; I can remember other people making a big deal out of it, and it wasn’t a big deal to me,” Payton Jr. recalled. “It was just dad and his friends, they were always around, and now they’re just singing on the radio. Then I saw them on TV, and I was like, ‘Oh, they’re on TV.’
“They were so grounded as human beings and so regular. They didn’t have the ego or the attitude that goes along with the success. So they just stayed normal; they never changed.”
The Four Tops’ lineup remained intact for more than four decades until Payton died of cancer in 1997. Benson passed in 2005, and Stubbs succumbed to stroke-related complications in 2008.
Payton Jr. joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members in 2005.
“I didn’t even see it coming. Duke, Obie, Levi and I had been working on a project that I was working on with a jazz band,” Payton Jr. said during a call from his Detroit home. “And during that particular time, Obie got sick. Nobody even thought that Obie’s not going to make it. Next thing you know, he’s in the hospital and I was asked to fill in for him, and he never got back on the stage.”
Fakir has kept the Tops going with Payton Jr., Ronnie McNeir and Spike Valone.
“I don’t take that lightly; it’s a lot of work, and I love the work. And I just want to be as great as [the original Four Tops] were,” Payton Jr. said. “Those guys, they were very special friends, they were great individuals, they were great vocalists. I just want to keep that part of it, the integrity of it.”
The Four Tops and The Temptations will perform in concert at 7:30 p.m. April 12 at the Stranahan Theater. Tickets range from $29.50 to $49.50.
And Payton Jr. said he is still a fan of The Temptations.
“I find myself on the side of the stage looking at their show every night,” the 51-year-old said. “It’s always new and always exciting. Otis [Williams] is very on top of his game; he likes to keep it fresh, he’s always adding new songs, new wardrobe, new choreography — that’s what I like.
“We have such a wonderful rapport with the guys that we have a real friendly rivalry. If we put something new in the show, they’ll put something new in the show; if they buy a new outfit, we’ll get a new one. We keep pushing ourselves to get better, better and better. It’s so much fun.”