Otis Williams, (seen here in the centre), founder member of The Temptations chats with Kevin Cooper about The Temptations legacy, working with Berry Gordy, the highlights of his 56 year career, and his forthcoming tour of the UK

Otis Williams is best known as the founder and last original surviving member of the Motown vocal group The Temptations; a group in which he continues to perform.

The Temptations eventually became the most successful act in black music over the course of its nearly five-decade existence. There have been numerous members of the band over the years but original members Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin remained with the group until Franklin left the group in 1994, leaving Williams to carry on the legacy.

Williams is also the co-author, with Patricia Romanowski, of Temptations, a 1988 book that served as both his autobiography and a history of the group. Ten years later, the book was adapted into a NBC television mini-series The Temptations.

In 1989, Otis Williams was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame as a member of The Temptations. He also received an honorary doctorate from Stillman College in May 2006.

Whilst resting at home he was delighted to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Mr Williams good morning how are you today?

I’m very well thank you Kevin. How are things over there in Nottingham?

Things in Nottingham are going very well at the minute. Can I just say that I have been a huge fan of Motown for over forty-four years since I saw Jr Walker performing live here in Nottingham.

Well Kevin, Motown has been with us now for fifty six years so you have been with us for most of the ride (laughter). I am so glad that you enjoyed seeing Jr, we all love him and miss him dearly.

Let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

It is totally my pleasure.

And may I congratulate you on fifty-six years of The Temptations.

Thank you Kevin, it’s great that I am still able to get out there and enjoy singing some wonderful songs that The Temptations are still well known for.

So just how is life treating Mr Otis Williams at this moment in time?

Life is good; we have just been doing our thing, breaking in two new guys, Willie Greene Jr who sings bass and Larry Braggs who was once the lead singer with Tower Of Power. Also I have to tell you that Willie was once a backing singer for the late great George Harrison. So in Willie and Larry we have two very talented guys joining Terry, (Ron) Tyson and myself.

You have mentioned Terry (Weeks), is it true that you auditioned him on a street corner?

(Laughter) yes I did, I auditioned Terry on Hollywood Boulevard and Argyle. I remember it very well because it was a beautiful sunny afternoon and I was out shopping for some shoes (laughter). I came out of the shoe store and there was a young lady with Terry who asked me if I had a minute to spare. I told her that I did and she turned to Terry and said ‘sing brother, go for it right here’. Terry started singing an old Donny Hathaway song and I was so impressed and I told him that he has such a beautiful voice. He has now been with The Temptations for over twenty years.

Things like that simply don’t happen nowadays do they?

(Laughter) I don’t think so Kevin. It just goes to prove that things can happen in the most unusual place and time as is the case with me meeting Terry. Nowadays a lot of the new acts are simply being found on the internet. So it is a whole new time that we are in and success can come to you now simply because of the internet.

You are going to be back touring here in the UK in October. Do you still enjoy visiting us over here?

I love coming to England; it is a Temptations stronghold and also a Motown stronghold. The audiences over there in the UK just love the Motown artists and the music. They have loved us from the very start. We still have many great fans over there in England so we always look forward to coming back. I know that personally I try to get back to England every eighteen months or so. We don’t like to let it go too long before we come back there.

As well as The Temptations and the Four Tops you will have the Tavares with you this time.

Yes that’s right, we worked with the Tavares about three years ago now and they are such a great bunch of guys and let me tell you, they put on a hell of a show.

The last time that I saw you over here you had Freda Payne with you.

That’s right, Freda is a Detroit girl and it is always wonderful whenever we get to see her. Freda and The Temptations used to do shows together in Las Vegas from time to time. She is a great talented young lady.

So just what can the audiences here in the UK expect from the show?

Well naturally The Temptations will be doing our perennial favourite hits plus we will be adding some new stuff that we are currently working on. But of course we will be doing My Girl, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, Treat Her Like A Lady, all of the perennial hits that England has come to know and love. But as I have said we will also be throwing in some new stuff to keep it interesting.

Being the last remaining original member of The Temptations does that bring any added pressure for you to protect The Temptations legacy?

To be honest with you I don’t feel any added pressure Kevin but I do what I can to protect the legacy but that is just me. Since Melvin (Franklin) passed in 1995 the responsibility of keeping The Temptations legacy alive has truly been on my shoulders but I don’t mind, it is truly a labour of love. I feel that my shoulders are big enough to handle it so I have been doing it on my own since 1995. I still endure to ensure that The Temptations legacy will continue to move forward for as long as I can take it.

I don’t know if you will agree with me on this but I feel that Ron (Tyson) has a voice that it so good he could have been an original Temptation. His falsetto simply slots perfectly into the role and style of the late Eddie Kendricks.

I totally agree with you Kevin, Ron has such a beautiful voice. I too think that he could have been an original member had time and space allowed. Ron comes out of Philadelphia whereas as you know The Temptations were out of Detroit. But let me say that he is carrying on the tradition made famous by Eddie (Kendricks) very well indeed.

Do you have a favourite Temptation’s song?

(Laughter) I have to be honest with you and say that I am a big Temptations fan. I would naturally start off with My Girl, and then all of the hits such as Ball Of Confusion, Just My Imagination, Treat Her Like A Lady, I Wonder Who She’s Seeing Now; the list is endless.

I personally think that that there are two versions of The Temptations, the one which worked closely with songwriter’s Holland-Dozier-Holland and the second who worked with Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield. Would you agree with that?

Yes I would but the funny thing is that I had personally known Norman (Whitfield) since we were both nineteen years old. So he and I have been friends for quite a long time. Norman joined Thelma Records as a producer but after a while Berry Gordy bought Thelma Records together with all of the contracts that they had. Therefore enter Norman Whitfield at Motown where he first started working within the quality control department. But after a while he eventually started producing artists at Motown. Holland-Dozier-Holland were fantastic; you have only got to take a look at the catalogue of work that they produced. But yes, with Norman and Barrett I think that The Temptations took their game to the next level.

I just think that the whole ethos at Motown changed with Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong; the whole organisation became more socially aware of the events that were unfolding around them.

I have to totally agree with you because back then you have to remember that we were working with Norman and Barrett during the 1960’s which has to be the most tumultuous decade for the past hundred years, and Motown was caught up in all off those changes that were happening; the Vietnam war, the assassination of JFK being shown on the TV, all manner of things which were happening. So yes Motown was becoming socially aware of exactly just what was happening in the world.

Do you think that the world will ever see another Motown?

No. There will never be another Motown. In my opinion I don’t think that there will ever be another Motown Records.

How come there are two separate versions of The Temptations touring the world at this moment in time because last year I saw Dennis Edwards in a version of The Temptations over here in the UK?

That is all down to Dennis being his typical hypercritical-self Kevin (laughter). I try to keep on top of situations such as this the best that I can. There are even some guys out there who are using my name and image to promote their Temptations tour and they have never even been in The Temptations. I just feel that they are trespassing on The Temptations by using the name. But who knows, that could possibly be the only way that they can get any money. I don’t want to derogate anyone but I do get sick of this whole situation. There is a group touring the USA who use my photograph to advertise the tour and I am absolutely nothing to do with it whatsoever.   I don’t even know any of the members of the group.

That is what has been known to happen and it’s not good. I do not like it one bit and I do whatever I can within my power to try and stop it.

We have all read about the squabbles and in-fighting but putting all of that to one side, were they happy times at Motown?

Oh yes, very happy times. There were naturally ups and downs because Motown was a business just like any other business. But personally I am very thankful and happy that Berry (Gordy) asked us to join him at Motown and as they say the rest is history. We had a lot of happy times at Motown.

How are the preparations going for The Temptations Musical getting out there on Broadway?

Things are going really well and we should be up and running in around twelve months or so. I am really proud of the musical because it is partly based upon the book which I wrote about The Temptations. We aim to launch the show here on Broadway and then throughout America. If that works then we will be bringing the show over to Europe and in particular England. At the minute Berry Gordy’s Motown Story is getting ready to open in England and hopefully we will be coming behind that.

Will you be coming over to the UK with the show?

Oh yes most definitely. I will be over there as one of the Executive Producers so I will most definitely be involved.

You have mentioned Mr Gordy, how was he as a boss?

Mr Gordy was fair; that is the best thing that I can say about the man. He had a lot of very talented young people who he had to deal with so sometimes he would have to crack the whip (laughter). But I will always remember him as being funny; Berry was fun loving. Whenever I would see him I would always say to him you are funny. He could be the funniest person that you could ever meet but at the same time he could switch his head around if he had to take care of business. He would put on his business head which I have to say not everybody agreed with at times. But as I say that’s business and sometimes a business is like that.

Do you have any regrets about your time spent at Motown?

Absolutely not Kevin. I have no regrets at all in relation to the time which I spent at Motown. I actually feel very thankful and blessed that I was there and a part of what Mr Gordy was trying to achieve.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

I have had so many highs Kevin that I can’t even single out one. I could just reel off having our name on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, the successful mini-series, thirteen separate times appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, The Temptations having their very own hour long TV show, forty gold and platinum albums hanging on the walls in my home, I mean the list is endless. I almost forgot to mention my five Grammys (hysterical laughter). I have been truly blessed.

On that note Mr Williams I will thank you for taking the time to speak to me and I am looking forward to catching up with you here in Nottingham in October.

It’s been a pleasure Kevin. You take care and I hope to see you in Nottingham. Bye for now.