In 1961, when Otis Williams was just beginning his career as one of Motown’s tempting Temptations, he says he had ‘no idea’ that the group would last very long. All they wanted to do was ‘make money, have hits and have the girls like us.’
Fast-forward, 53 years later and Williams, one of the founding members of the group, is still keeping the music, tradition and legacy of The Temptations alive. He’s still making money, singing the hits, doing the Temptation walk and wearing those classic suits. And, of course the girls still like them. The group has new fans and old fans. Williams still enjoys the music and never tires of being on stage.
“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, I don’t mean it arrogantly. It’s just that we have been tested time and time again and keep coming back. We have suffered the deaths of so many legendary singers … Paul Williams, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin. Others 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.”
The original Temptations: (l-r) Eddie Kendricks, Paul Willliams, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin and David Ruffin
The Temptations’ discography is vast. It includes hits like: My Girl, Since I Lost My Baby, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, Beauty Is Only Skin Deep, Way You Do the Things You Do, Get Ready, I Wish It Would Rain, Cloud Nine, Runaway Child, Running Wild; I Can’t Get Next To You, Psychedelic Shack, Ball of Confusion, Just My Imagination, Superstar, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, Treat Her Like A Lady, Stay, Lady and more.
Today Williams, 72, is the father of one, the grandfather of three and recently moved into a new home in Los Angeles.
He says he likes being a grandfather because, ‘I can play with them and then give them back. Then I can chill.’
I caught up with the legendary singer to talk about The Temptations’ upcoming one night only show, Sat., June 7, at the Arcadia Performing Arts Center. It will be the final performance in the Center’s inaugural season.
DD: The Temps will be performing at the Arcadia Performing Arts Center (Arcadiapaf.org) for one night only! What can fans expect?
OW: They can expect The Temps to be The Temps. They should know we will do as many of our songs as we can. We will be the traditional Temps. We’ll sing, Just My Imagination, My Girl, Treat Her Like a Lady. We’ll be in Temptation form. It’ll take about 75 minutes to do that.
DD: How do you prepare for a show?
OW: We just go and do it. It’s second nature. We are mentally and physically ready and prepared. We have to dance every night. We go out with the mindset of giving our fans the best show we can give.
DD: Do The Temps have a ritual before going on stage?
OW: Yes, we pray to God for letting us come together. We bow our heads with everyone and pray.
DD: How has a Temps show changed over the years?
OW: The one ting that is constant is change. But we don’t stray too far from what we’re known for. You’ll never see us come out with our pants down and showing our underwear, or grabbing our crouches or cussing. We’ll stay classy. We were taught that.
DD: Has your audience changed over the years?
OW: they have grown up with The Temps. Our audiences are as young as five and as old as 80 or 90.
DD: Does it seem like 53 years?
OW: Yes! When I stop and think back, it is what it is. It doesn’t seem like yesterday. I thank God for letting us change and be around 54 years later. We had no idea we would be doing this. We just wanted to make money, have hits and have the girls like us. We made it a vocation instead of an avocation.
DD: When I say Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin what comes to your mind?
OW: The greatest lineup ever! I’m walking around in my home. I have a wall with all of the original Temps. Those were some great guys.
DD: You are the lone remaining original Temp. How does that affect you?
OW: I take it all in positive stride. I don’t think about it. The other four are no longer here. I’m sad they are no longer here. I talk to the man upstairs quite often. Why am I still here? I learned something about myself. I wasn’t a saint. I saw a lot of craziness. I’ve had self-discipline. I have to govern myself. Health is first. I try to take care of myself.
DD: We’re all familiar with Ron Tyson. Talk about the new guys, Terry Weeks, Joe Herndon and Bruce Williamson.
OW: They are just fantastic performers. They are carrying on the legacy. They all knew what they had to do. Ron Tyson has been in the group for 30 years. They are all showmen and performers in their own right.
DD: When looking for someone to join the group, what do you look for?
OW: I don’t look for talent first. You can have all the talent in the world. I look for head and heart. If you are an asshole, you will negate that talent. This is a business. I’m looking to see whether you can take direction. Can you be on time? Talent comes second.
DD: In the press release you say, “Today we have three of the greatest leads in the proud history of the group.” Describe your own voice.
OW: Mine is versatile. I can sing baritone, first tenor and lead. Some say I’m the glue that holds it all together. I used to sing second tenor.
DD: What is your favorite Temptations song of all time?
OW: It has to be My Girl. I believe most men from the womb to the tomb would like to say, ‘hey, that’s my girl.’ That’s universal.
DD: What is your all time best memory of being a Temp?
OW: Breaking records at the Copa Cabana, playing the Apollo Theater, doing Ed Sullivan 13 times, having our own special, the mini-series, five Grammys, going to the White House. I can’t single one out.
DD: How many presidents has the group met?
OW: Presidents Obama, Clinton, Nixon and George W. Bush.
DD: Are you comfortable with the word ‘legends’ as it refers to The Temps?
OW: Yes I am because that’s what we are. Whether we intended that or not, we are. It’s not the worst thing to be called.
DD: What is it about The Temps that keeps fans wanting more?
OW: It was arts development. We went to school to be in show business. It’s the way we present ourselves. That’s entertainment – that’s what I want them to think.
DD: How many shows do The Temps do in a year?
OW: We stay pretty busy. We just got back from Europe.
DD: I know it’s been a number of years, but describe the first time you heard a Temps song on the radio.
OW: We still lived in Detroit. Motown was becoming very popular. It was a joyous feeling. You never tire of it. I screamed. The little girl in us came out.
DD: You’ve got to settle something. For years people have been debating whether in the song, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, the line ‘All he left us was’ what? Is it ‘alone’ as in by ourselves or is it ‘a loan’ as in debt?
OW: It’s ‘alone’ as in by yourself.
DD: Your thoughts on today’s music?
OW: I’m not impressed with today’s music. The FCC really relaxed their laws. They are cussing all over. Bitch bring my money. When we started, we couldn’t say, damn. The music back in the day had great melodies. The lyrics were non-offensive, you didn’t mind your kids listening to it. Where is the melody today and the lyrics are atrocious.
DD: Who do you like?
OW: I like John Legend and Bruno Mars. There are a few.
DD: Who do you regularly listen to?
OW: When I’m in my truck, I listen to CDs. I don’t really turn on the radio. We have become a decadent society. Damn morality. There is nothing sacred anymore.
DD: The Temps know how to dress. Since the 60s, the group has been sharp as a tack. Have you kept any of them? Where are they?
OW: I don’t keep those. They are in storage. Some are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
DD: Any thoughts about retirement?
OW: I’m going to ride the horse bald.
The Temptations, Arcadia Performing Arts Center, 188 Campus Drive at North Santa Anita Avenue, Arcadia CA 91007. Tickets: $59.50 – $99.50 For information: 626-821-1781; http://www.arcadiapaf.org
Darlene Donloe is a seasoned entertainment, automotive and travel journalist whose work has appeared in People, Ebony, Essence, LA Stage Times, LA Watts Times, Los Angeles Sentinel, EMMY, The Hollywood Reporter, Rhythm & Business, Billboard, Grammy, BlackVoices.com and more. Contact her via: DCdwriter@aol.com.