When The Temptations perform at Centennial Terrace tonight with Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, it will be more than just another summer concert.
For Baby Boomers of a certain age, it will be a chance to revisit the soundtrack of their lives.
At 72, Otis Williams is the last surviving member of the original group, an iconic quintet that witnessed the early days of Motown, the turbulent 1960s, charted four pop and 14 number one R&B hits, and saw the rise 50 years later of a newfangled trend that encouraged musical hopefuls to go on televised reality shows and warble for their shot at stardom.
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The Blade caught up with the amiable Williams by phone last week for a chat about his career and what concert-goers can expect when The Temptations take the stage.
Q: You signed with Motown when you were a teenager. Tell me about those early days.
A: Like all artists that aspire to be successful, you just have that dream to make hit records, make money and have the girls swoon and chase you. Our goal was pretty much universal, like a lot of up and coming artists. Our first hit was The Way You Do the Things You Do, but we didn’t feel like we’d made it until we started having back to back hits. When we did My Girl, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, and Beauty’s Only Skin Deep then we thought, okay, we have some consistency going.
Q: The Temptations actually formed out of two groups (The Primes and The Distants). Were you all friends when you started out?
A: Oh, we were friends. Melvin Franklin, our late great bass singer, him and I had been friends ever since I was 17 and he was 16. He and I were in The Distants, but we lost members (over time), and then we met Eddie (Kendricks), Paul Williams, and Al Bryant and that’s when the original Temptations began in 1961. I was young enough that my mother had to sign the (Motown) contract, so I must have been around 18 or 19 years old.
Q: What do you remember of those famous Motortown Revues in the ’60s?
A: It was fun most of the time, and we ran into segregation at other times. Being young it was mostly fun, even though, as has been noted, the ’60s were considered the most tumultuous decade during the last hundred years. The music was like a soothing ointment to a troubled soul, so we were able to weather a lot of that. It was fun getting on the Motown tour bus with the Miracles, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Junior Walker. We went up and down the highway doing shows and packing up and going to the next place, breaking records every place we went.
Q: Did you ever have a sense of how lasting the music would be, that people would still be listening to those songs decades later?
A: I don’t even think Berry Gordy had any idea at the time that it would become the phenomenon that it became. But when I think back, Motown was no happenstance. God, in his infinite wisdom, brought that little two-story family flat with all those talented singers and songwriters (together) to make an impact. That music was such a common denominator among all races that it really was beneficial. I think it was meant for Motown to come along at that crucial point in time.
Q: American Idol and The VoiceQ: What do you think of shows like
A: Initially I was a faithful American Idol fan, but I guess I’m old school. I notice that a lot of acts that win these competitions don’t last. They’ll get a hit record, and the next thing you know, what happened to them? We made show business our vocation rather than our avocation. Now Jennifer Hudson and Kelly Clarkson are doing real well. You can count most of the (real) successes on one hand. When we were at Motown we went to school. From 10 in the morning to 6 in the evening; they taught us about being in show business: How to act, how to dress, how to carry yourself when you’re out in public. Nowadays they just want the hit record. If they make it they make it and if they don’t they don’t.
Q: What can we expect to see at your show in Toledo?
A: You’ll see what The Temps are known for — the choreography, the flashy suits, and naturally we’ll be doing the hits, Just My Imagination, Losing You. We’ll definitely be in Temptations form.
The Temptations with special guest Martha Reeves and the Vandellas perform at 8 p.m. today at Centennial Terrace, 5773 Centennial Rd, Sylvania Township. Tickets are $25.50-$52. Information: 419-381-8851 ($2 Facility Fee applies) or centennialterrace.org.