Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Sharon Davis' Motown Tracking column (Oct)

Sharon Davis' Motown Tracking (October 2011)
Sharon Davis' Motown Tracking (October 2011) The Temptations Four Tops

Levi Stubbs, Obie Benson, Lawrence Payton, Duke Fakir
Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin (who replaced Elbridge Bryant)(i)


The image of the nine young men, wearing tight shiny suits and sporting slicked back hair, delighting their fans with warm harmonies and intricate choreography, may have gone, but the love that bounces across the stage into the audiences today remains exactly the same. The membership of the Four Tops and The Temptations has changed, yet the spirit of those who have passed lives on through the music. Motown and beyond.

So, with another tour just announced for next year, kicking off in March, we thought the time was right to discover how and why two of Motown’s major groups came to share the same stage. Many believed it started in 1983 when Motown celebrated its 25th anniversary with a five hour spectacular Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever staged at Los Angeles’ Pasadena Civic Auditorium on 25 March. Not so. It was very much ‘back in the day’ as Temptation Otis Williams recalled - “We once appeared with Duke, Levi, Obie and Lawrence in the early sixties at a little club, and they did a routine with Ray Charles’ What’d I Say where they’d all go down to the floor and jump up into these fantastic moves. It was something to see. I couldn’t believe how well they were moving then and hoped we’d get to be half as good.” And prior to that, he recalled seeing their show in the fifties and – “they were very hot, and … their style was very sophisticated and refined without being stiff. They often played the Flame Show Bar, and every now and then I’d work up the courage to stick my head in the door, just to see what was happening.”

Prior to the 25th anniversary gala, where Berry Gordy was naturally the guest of honour, the two groups had performed selected American dates, but sharing that Pasadena stage presented their combined act to the wider viewing world. Didn’t The Tops start out with Reach Out, I’ll Be There prompting The Temptations to Get Ready, before launching into It’s The Same Old Song leaving their pals to retaliate with Ain’t Too Proud To Beg? Then Richard Street tapped Levi Stubbs on the shoulder to grab his attention as the introduction to My Girl was heard, whereupon the two started singing until Dennis Edwards intervened with I Can’t Get Next To You. Levi pushed Dennis aside to launch into I Can’t Help Myself, leaving the Temptation to finish with (I Know) I’m Losing You. Throughout, the two groups sang, danced, and had great fun, teasing the audience into a frenzy. A huge success! Berry Gordy remembered their performance as a very special moment, while admitting - “They were epitomising something I had set up many years before – the Battle of the Stars (the weekly competition between company acts)”.

Otis Williams – “We got such a good response that after the show I said, half-kidding to Duke Fakir – ‘maybe we should take this out on the road’. According to Four Tops’ Duke this suggestion had actually been mooted before the anniversary show - “..We had talked with several Motown acts about taking a show on the road. A lot of them sounded excited, but never came back to us so the idea got shelved until we got together for the anniversary show, and that’s what prompted The Temptations and us to get together and do it for ourselves. And it’s been so successful and rewarding.” So, their respective managers got talking, worked out a deal and before long the T ‘n’ T tour was planned to initially run for three years, taking the groups to Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and across America, including sell-out dates on Broadway. The world was their oyster after that and such was the popularity of their shows, the tours became annual events. Otis remembered – “…We….were still trying to outdo one another! There was a time when all nine of us would go back and forth with one another and the crowd loved it.” Despite the ravages of time, The Temptations still danced on stage, he noted, but the Tops were very open about their less exhausting presentation. “As one of them told me ‘we’re too old for that shit now. We just get out there and sing’. But that’s enough. Back in Detroit, we considered them hot competition, and during the T‘n’T tours it was clear that they hadn’t lost their touch.”

(Quotes: “Temptations” by Otis Williams. Duke Fakir’s quotes – source unknown)


The Four Tops and The Temptations are joined by special guests Tavares and The Crystals. The tour kicks off in Sheffield on 16 March 2012, followed by dates in Newcastle, Glasgow, Nottingham, Birmingham, Manchester, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Liverpool and London. Ticket prices are £40 for all venues except London where they are £42.50, and are available from usual ticket agencies.

Please feel free to contact Sharon with any Motown news that you feel would benefit others - Thank you.

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