Interview: Otis Williams of THE TEMPTATIONS at The McCoy Center Of The Arts

Even after decades of being together, Motown legendary groups The Temptations and the Four Tops enjoy friendly competition

By: Jun. 02, 2024
Interview: Otis Williams of THE TEMPTATIONS at The McCoy Center Of The Arts
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Interview: Otis Williams of THE TEMPTATIONS at The McCoy Center Of The Arts

Dr. Otis Williams can’t help smiling at the prospect of his group, the Temptations, sharing the stage once more with The Four Tops.

The two legendary Motown groups will perform at 7:30 p.m. June 11 at the McCoy Center for the Arts (100 E. Dublin-Granville Road in New Albany). Williams, 82, and Abdul “Duke” Fakir, 88, of The Four Tops are the only surviving members of their respective bands.

“Our two groups have been friends since 1964 all the way to the present,” Williams said in a telephone interview from California. “We admire and respect the hell out of The Four Tops because they have some great material and they're great performers.

“I will never forget this. I must have been about 16 or 17 and The Four Tops were appearing at a club in Detroit. They wouldn't let us in, so we had to peek in through the doors to watch them play. The Four Tops were a big name act before the Temptations even got together and they were kind of our idols.”

With both bands vying for the eyes and ears of fans, it is easy to picture The Four Tops and The Temptations being adversaries. Both achieved an astonishing amount of success. The groups have 17 number one songs on the Billboard R&B charts between the two of them. Both were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (the Temptations in 1989 and The Four Tops in 1990).

The Temptations were ranked first in Billboard Magazine’s most recent list of the “Greatest R&B/Hip-Hop” groups and Rolling Stone magazine called the group “indisputably the greatest black vocal group of the Modern Era” in its Sept. 2020 edition.

The Four Tops had 24 hits in Billboard’s Top 40. The legendary Smokey Robinson told Rolling Stone in a 2004 interview, “They were the best in my neighborhood in Detroit when I was growing up (and) The Four Tops will always be one of the biggest and the best groups ever. Their music is forever."

Williams once said the two bands were rivals on stage but as close as brothers away from it.

“We’re still rivals,” he said, chuckling. “Every night, we try to burn their behind and they try to burn ours. That’s what makes it fun. When we are trying to outdo each other, that means we are putting out the show the fans came to see.

“But off the stage, we are as thick as thieves. It’s a rivalry (that is all about) the love and the respect we have for each other.”

The two bands learned they needed to have each other’s backs, quite literally, touring in the South during the Civil Rights era.

“When The Motown Revue was performing in the South, the Tops would go on stage and my group would be on both sides of the stage in case something happened,” Williams said. “And they did the same thing for us.

“One night, we were packing up to leave the Daniel Boone Hotel, and this gang of white guys started shouting the N word and started shooting. We all took cover and thank God, no one got hurt.

“We had our share of idiocy but most of the places we went, we were very well received.”

At times, the Temptations were too well received. Williams recalled a show in California where a legion of female fans converged on the stage.

“We got down to our last song, ‘Losing You,’ and Eddie (Kendricks) said, ‘Man, we’re going to have to break ranks because they’re not going to let us get off the stage,’” Williams said. “We got to the end of the song and the five of us scattered. Eddie and I went off in the same direction.”

 Williams was younger and easily cleared a fence beside the dressing room.
Kendricks wasn’t as lucky.

Williams recalled his friend getting stuck on the top of the fence and a couple of overeager fans grabbed ahold of the seat of his pants.

“By the time we got Eddie over the fence and into the dressing room, he had almost nothing on him but his shorts,” Williams said.

Williams is the last member of the lineup that performed that night. Paul Williams, (no relation to Otis), who was responsible for choreographing the group’s signature “Temptation Walk,” committed suicide in 1973. In the six years after the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Temptations lost David Ruffin (1991), Kendricks (1992), and Melvin Franklin (1995). Ruffin died at 50 after overdosing on crack cocaine. Kendricks, who died of cancer, and Franklin, who died of heart failure, were both 52 when they died.

 The Four Tops performed together for nearly four decades without a change in personnel. Levi Stubbs, the voice of Audrey II in the 1986 film “Little Shop of Horrors,” was 72 when he died of cancer in 2008. Renaldo “Obie” Benson, who helped write Marvin Gaye’s anthem “What’s Going On” after witnessing a scuffle between police and protesters in Berkeley, was 69 when he died of lung cancer in 2005. Lawrence Payton died at 59 of liver cancer in 1997.

For 64 years, Williams has soldiered on with over two dozen different faces in his band. Anthony Grant, who joined the group in 2021, and Willie Greene Jr., who has been with the Temptations for eight years, are considered the new guys. Ron Tyson (41 years) and Terry Weeks (27) have spent multiple decades with the group. The Four Tops are also a very senior-oriented group with Fakir (71 years with the band), Ronnie McNeir (25 years), Lawrence Payton Jr. (19) and Alexander Morris (five).

“I had no inclination we would be doing this for 60 plus years, but it has just been a wonderful ride,” Williams said. “You know there have been 27 different guys in my group but when we go out on stage, we are still working at it. I think we’re a work in progress.”


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