The Four Tops Biography
The Four Tops are an American vocal quartet, whose repertoire has included doo-wop, jazz, soul music, R&B, disco, adult contemporary, hard rock, and showtunes. Founded in Detroit, Michigan as The Four Aims, lead singer Levi Stubbs (born Levi Stubbles, a cousin of Jackie Wilson and brother of The Falcons’ Joe Stubbs), and groupmates Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton remained together for over four decades, having gone from 1953 until 1997 without a single change in personnel.
Among a number of groups who helped define the Motown Sound of the 1960s, including The Miracles, The Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, The Temptations, and The Supremes, the Four Tops were notable for having Stubbs, a baritone, as their lead singer; most groups of the time were fronted by a tenor. The group was the main male vocal group for the songwriting and production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who crafted a stream of hit singles, including two Billboard Hot 100 number-one hits: “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” and “Reach Out I’ll Be There”. After Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown in 1967, the Four Tops were assigned to a number of producers, primarily Frank Wilson. When Motown left Detroit in 1972 to move to Los Angeles, California, the Tops stayed in Detroit and moved over to ABC Records, where they continued to have charting singles into the late-1970s. Since the 1980s, the Four Tops have recorded for, at various times, Motown, Casablanca Records and Arista Records. Today, save for Indestructible (owned by Sony Music Entertainment), Universal Music Group controls the rights to their entire post-1963 catalog (through various mergers and acquisitions), as well as their 1956 single, “Could It Be You”.
A change of line-up was finally forced upon the group when Lawrence Payton died on June 20, 1997. The band initially continued as a three-piece under the name The Tops, before Theo Peoples (formerly of The Temptations) was recruited as the new fourth member. Peoples eventually took over the role of lead singer when Stubbs suffered a stroke in 2000 with his position assumed by Ronnie McNeir. On July 1, 2005, Benson died of lung cancer with Payton’s son Roquel Payton replacing him. Levi Stubbs died on October 17, 2008. Fakir, McNeir, Payton, and Harold “Spike” Bonhart, who replaced Peoples in 2011, are still performing together as the Four Tops. Fakir is now the only surviving founding member of the original group.
The Temptations Biography
For more than fifty years, The Temptations have prospered, propelling popular music with a series of smash hits, and sold-out performances throughout the world.
“The crowds are bigger, the sales are sizzling,” says one industry report. “The outpouring of affection for this super-group has never been greater”.
The history of The Temptations is the history of contemporary American pop. An essential component of the original Motown machine, that amazing engine invented by Berry Gordy, The Temps began their musical life in Detroit in the early sixties. It wasn’t until 1964 however, that the Smokey Robinson written-and-produced “The Way You Do the things You Do” turned the guys into stars.
An avalanche of hits followed, many of which…”My Girl,” for instance…attained immortality. “It’s Growing,” “Since I Lost My Baby;,” “Get Ready,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Beauty Is only Skin Deep,” “I Wish It Would Rain”…the hits kept coming.
The classic lineup was Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin. Beyond the fabulous singing, The temps became known for smooth stepping and flawless presentations. The Temptations Walk became a staple of American style. Flair, flash and class. Millions of fans saw their Temptations as cultural heroes.
When the sixties and seventies turned political, The Temps got serious. They changed their tone, dress and music. Producer Norman Whitfield led the way. His Temptations hits, many featuring Dennis Edwards who had replaced David Ruffin, burned with intensity. “Runaway Child” “Cloud Nine,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, and “Psychedelic Shack” still smolder.
Other stellar singers…Richard Street, Ali-Ollie Woodson, Theo Peoples…joined and adding their luster to the groups’ growing fame.
No matter the change in personnel, The Temptations remained true to The Temptations tradition. They survived the whims of fashion, whether disco or techno, and stuck to their guns.
“Great singing,” says Otis, “will always prevail.”
In the eighties, The Temps prevailed with smashes like the Otis Williams’ penned “Treat Her Like A Lady.”
Then in the nineties, another Temptation explosion:
It began with their appearance on Motown 25 in 1983; it continued with the NBC mini-series that chronicled the group’s history, a ratings triumph over two nights in prime time. An Emmy Award followed.
Then came a series of acclaimed records:
Temptations Miniseries,1998- Number 1 rated for two nights. Nominated for 5 Emmys, including best miniseries and winner of 1.
For Lovers Only, a collection of love standards, termed an instant classic by critics, remains among the most cherished of all Temptations recordings.
Phoenix Rising, went through the roof, a platinum-plus mega-hit featuring “Stay,” the Narada Michael Walden produced song that topped the charts.
Ear Resistible, nailed a Grammy and a legion of new fans.
Awesome, released in 2001 is The Temptations at their freshest, strongest, and most appealing.
Reflections, was released in 2005, nominated for a Grammy and brought to the world The Temptations versions of some of Motown’s greatest songs.
Get Ready, This DVD was released in 2006- One of the largest selling music DVD ever
The Temptations Musical, 2016 Musical based on Otis Williams’s book & mini-series.
The current lineup consists of:
Otis Williams, Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Larry Braggs, Willie Greene Jr.
“The more we change,” says veteran Ron Tyson, “the more we stay true to ourselves. We’re about singing straight-up soul. It’s a style that will live on forever.”
“The Temps have always been known for great lead singer’s”, says Williams. “Today we have four of the greatest leads in the proud history of the group.”
The soaring voice of Philadelphia born and raised Ron Tyson, perhaps the best high tenor in the business.
Terry Weeks, who grew up in Alabama and spent eight years in the Air Force before his chance encounter with Otis. After an A Cappella audition on a Hollywood street corner; Otis was so impressed and brought him into The Temptation family.
Larry Braggs is passionate, powerful and very spiritual. These are also the amazing attributes of the voice of this two-time Grammy-nominated artist. Cut from the same cloth as some of the world’s greatest vocalists, Larry has one of the most notable voices in the business. With a vocal range over three octaves and a command of the stage like no other, Larry has become one of the most electrifying entertainers on tour. This has gained him the respect and praise of his peers and fans all over the world.
Willie Greene is a Bass vocalist who was born in Birmingham, Alabama. In the early-sixties Willie first saw The Temptations on The Lloyd Thaxton Show. They sang “The Way you do The Things you do” and “Get Ready”. Even though I was just a child… I knew that I was a “Temptation Forever!” Throughout my career I have had the honor, privilege and pleasure of recording and performing with Lyle Lovett, Ry Cooder, Dolly Parton, John Fogerty, George Harrison (The Beatles)…. This opportunity to become a part of the “Great Temptation Legacy” is truly God’s greatest musical gift to me! I would like to thank Mr. Otis Williams for his tenacity in keeping the group together and granting me this opportunity!
“Our challenge,” says Williams, “is to live in the present while respecting the past. Our past is filled with riches only a fool would discard. At the same time, we thrive on competition. As a Motowner, I grew up in the most competitive musical atmosphere imaginable. But we also understand that for a group with history, no matter how glorious that history might be, reinvention is the name of the game.”
“When I tell people we are God’s group,” says Otis, a remarkable modest man, “I don’t mean it arrogantly. It’s just that we have been tested time and again and keep coming back. We have suffered the death of so many legendary singers…Paul Williams, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin. Other’s like Dennis Edwards, Richard Street, Ali-Ollie Woodson and Theo Peoples have left, and yet our unity is tighter, our sound brighter and our popularity greater. Someone has watched over this group. Someone has protected our integrity. Someone has said…just go on singing and it’ll get better.”
And so THE TEMPTATIONS go on…and on…and on…