If anyone suggested the life and times of The Temptations would be the stuff of a Broadway musical, singer Otis Williams “could have been tipped over by a feather,” he says.
“I never would have imagined,” he says during a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “I think it’s more than amazing. I’m from Texarkana, Texas. I came to Detroit when I was 11 or 12. Rock ’n’ roll was in its infancy. Little did I know that 10 years later, I’d be with Motown Records. From there it was hit after hit, platinum, gold, Grammies and what have you.”
The soul and R&B singing group put Motown on the map with hits “The Way You Do the Things You Do, “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “I Wish It Would Rain.” Its work with producer Norman Whitfield began in 1968 with “Cloud Nine,” an album that was at the forefront of psychedelic soul and funk. It won the recording group its first Grammy — and the first Grammy for Motown Records.
Williams, along with singers Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Larry Braggs and Willie Greene, are on a fast track into 2019, with concerts set back and forth across the country.
The group will perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16, in the Kimmel Performing Arts Center at Kids Unlimited, 821 N. Riverside Ave., Medford. The concert will be paired with a VIP dining experience featuring Red Lily Vineyards. VIP tickets include a five-course dinner, hosted by Chef Kris Walker of Kids Unlimited and Rachel Martin, owner and winemaker of Red Lily Vineyards. General admission tickets are $80 for the concert, $200 for VIP tickets. Eight- and 10-top tables are available for $200 per seat. This is an all-ages show, with doors opening at 6 p.m. for the VIP ticket holders; 6:45 p.m. for general admission. Tickets are available at kuoregon.org.
Williams, the last original member and Temptations’ founder, published his autobiography, “Temptations,” co-written with Patricia Romanowski, in 1988. In 1998, Hallmark Entertainment produced “The Temptations,” a four-hour television miniseries based on the autobiography. It was broadcast on NBC and nominated for five Emmies.
“Now here comes a Broadway play,” Williams says. “I hear after Broadway, it goes to the movies.”
The musical, “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations,” opens in March at the Imperial Theatre in New York City. Written by Dominique Morisseau, choreographed by Sergio Trujillo and directed by Des McAnuff, “Ain’t Too Proud” explores the group’s journey from the streets of Detroit to Motown fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
“I saw the Motown musical,” Williams says (“Motown: The Musical” follows record producer Berry Gordy to the big-time in Detroit). “I look at mine, and it’s different. Berry tried to get in all he could in the two-and-a-half hours of ‘Motown,’ which is a lot. I think he did very well. ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ is all about The Temptations, so the flow is consistent. I saw it last year in Berkeley, California, and I was very impressed. I was quite moved to see what had happened along the way, losing Melvin (Franklin), the guys in the group, and my son (Otis Lamont Williams). It tells all, so it can be touching. It’s about winning, and losing as well. What’s constant in life is change. I’ve been able to move on with the Temptations’ new members. One door closes and another one opens. I give it to God to still be around and still be viable.”
While the new musical follows The Temptations’ past, the group is at work in the present. Its newest album in nine years, “All The Time,” was released in May. The singers recorded covers by Sam Smith, Bruno Mars, John Mayer, Maxwell, Ed Sheeran, Michael Jackson and The Weeknd.
“In the earlier stages of our career, Motown — Gordy, Norman and Smokey Robinson (who served as vice president of Motown) — took care of selecting songs for recordings,” Williams says. “I was executive producer for ‘All The Time,’ and Dave Darling and I picked the songs, putting The Temptations spin on some and including three new tunes, Dennis Wilson’s ‘Waitin’ On You,’ Larry Bragg’s ‘Move Them Britches,’ and Ron Tyson’s ‘Be My Wife.’
“Back in the day, Norman produced the instrumentation. He was a strong believer in presentation. I give him credit for assembling such creative people to turn out those great songs,” he says.
Williams says he can sing a mutiplicity of voices: baritone, second tenor, lead, but no bass.
“That’s the end of my range,” he says. “Growing up in Texas, my early influences were the Swan Silvertones, Dixie Hummingbirds, High Q.C.’s, then as I moved to Detroit, I became aware of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The Cadillacs, Same Cooke. I’ve been influenced by some of the greats in the business.”
The Temptations tour with its own five-piece rhythm section: bass, guitar, drums, piano and conductor. It’s up to promoters to hire horns, strings or whatever, Williams says.
In October, Motown reissued The Temptations’ “Cloud Nine,” a provocative fusion of rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and funk set against the social and political turbulence of the ’60s.
“This is the 60th year for Motown,” Williams says. “Temptations have been around for 59. We’ve ran hand-in-hand with Motown.”
The Temptations concert will engage students of Kids Unlimited Academy and its programs in each aspect of the event. Students from the culinary program will cook and serve meals; video production classes will film, interview and assist with stage lighting and sound engineering; and students from music classes will be a part of the night’s opening entertainment.
Laurie Heuston is arts and entertainment editor for the Mail Tribune and Ashland Tidings. Reach her at email@example.com.