Music interview: Otis Williams of The Temptations

The Temptations
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MOTOWN magic will be the order of the day in October when three legendary bands will be performing the very best of their songs on a UK tour.

The Temptations and The Four Tops, who have dominated soul music history for decades, will be joined by Cape Verdean brothers Tavares for an evening of great entertainment.

The popularity of these bands is something that stands out in the mind of Otis Williams of The Temptations.

Williams is the sole remaining founder-member of this iconic band, who had such hits as My Girl and Papa Was a Rolling Stone.

They were the first Motown band to win a Grammy Award back in 1969 for Cloud Nine and they have won numerous others, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

“I love coming to the UK,” he says from his US home. “We come over every 18 months or so and it’s always our best tour of the year.”

Motown music has brought much happiness to the world and I thank God to have been able to play a part in that. The music has now become ingrained in people’s lives.

Williams, who will celebrate his 75th birthday on the last day of the tour, also has a special place in his heart for the fans.

“One of the reasons we come so often is that we have a great fan-base and wouldn’t want to disturb that. They really love the music and it’s great to see.”

The band first came to the UK over 50 years ago.

“That’s right,” says Williams. “We first came in 1964 and it was a real milestone for us, because if you were accepted in England, you were accepted anywhere as England was the centre of the music world in those days.

“And another thing about the British fans is that if you don’t do it right, they let you know; so we go all out to make sure we give a good show.”

But a show like this is all about the music.

“That’s right, it’s the music first of all,” Williams explains. “Motown music has brought much happiness to the world and I thank God to have been able to play a part in that. The music has now become ingrained in people’s lives.”

After so long with such a successful band, had Williams ever been tempted (no pun intended) to join another band?

“No, never. I started The Temptations and I’d never leave – it’d be ludicrous.”

But, what were his influences that made him want to sing in the first place?

“I’m a Texan and I was brought up by my grandmother. As such I was steeped in Gospel music and I was particularly fond of Mahalia Jackson. We moved to Detroit in the early 50s and got into rock ’n’ roll, especially The Flamingos, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers and Chuck Berry.”

After forming The Temptations, Williams has always been working and I wondered what memories stood out for him in such a long and distinguished career.

“Well, lots of memories,” he says. “We’ve had a few accolades like a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Grammies.

“We also had a mini-series on TV which was based on my autobiography which has now become a stage show on Broadway which we hope will come to the UK next year.

“I never thought all that would happen – it amazes even me.”

For the show this year, Williams promises a great evening.

“Of course we’ll be playing all the great hits and we hope to have a few surprises.”

Ever modest, Williams sums up his career simply.

“I love what I do. Only a small percentage of people can say that they love what they do for a living. I love bringing enjoyment to people; it’s a priceless position to be in and I again thank God that I’m still able to do it.”

The Temptations and The Four Tops, with special guests Tavares will be appearing at First Direct Arena, Leeds on Sunday October 23. For details visit www.firstdirectarena.com

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