The Temptations Otis Williams; Terry Weeks

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Members of the legendary Temptations reflect on how their music still connects with their audience and talk about their new CD, ‘Still Here.’

After almost 50 years, the legendary R&B quintet known as the Temptations are still performing and recording. The definitive male group of the '60s, they pioneered the fine-tuned choreography that influenced soul groups of that decade, as well as more recent groups like Dru Hill and Boyz II Men. They were also the first Motown act to earn a Grammy. Through various line-up changes—Terry Weeks joined the group in the '90s as one of the lead singers—founding member Otis Williams remains. Their newest release is fittingly titled "Still Here."


Tavis: Nearly 50 years ago Otis Williams joined four other talented artists to form one of the most successful and influential groups in music history – The Temptations. The band has had a lot of changes and incarnations over the years, but now fronted by lead singer Terry Weeks they are out with a new CD called “Still Here.” Otis Williams, good to have you on the program, sir.
Otis Williams: As always, it’s good seeing you again, Tavis.
Tavis: Seeing you again. And Terry, nice to meet you.
Terry Weeks: Hey, thanks for having us.
Tavis: Yeah. So Otis, I know what it’s been these years, and I just looked down for the first time in 50 years – it’s the shoes. (Laughter) The camera – yeah, you can’t do justice to that. That’s purple, lavender –
Williams: Suede.
Tavis: Suede – don’t take off them shoes, Otis. (Laughter) Don’t take them off; you ain’t going to get them back. (Laughter)
Williams: Thank you.
Tavis: Does it seem like 50 years?
Williams: You know what, when you’re having fun, time passes so quick that no, and in celebration of coming up on 50 years we’re getting ready to start gearing ourself up for the 50 years CD, and I hope to get the imprint of Mr. Gordy, because it started with him and I feel as though this one should have his handprint, his creativity involved in it.
So yeah, we’re getting ready to do that, now that “Still Here” is here. In fact, speaking of “Still Here,” this is for you.
Tavis: Uh-oh, thank you – hand me that, Terry, I can’t reach that. Thank you. Oh, I love it.
Williams: Yeah, a young man took that while we were –
Tavis: The book that goes with it.
Weeks: Yeah.
Tavis: Oh, cool, thank you. I appreciate this, thank you, man. Thank you very much. Berry Gordy was on this set not long ago as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Motown, and obviously The Temps are at the epicenter of that history.
How much of your success had to do with being at the right label, Otis, at the right time, being at Motown?
Williams: Well, I think that we had a pretty good portion of success with Motown, because it was just so coincidental that Mr. Gordy and myself, we were doing a record hop. My group at the time was Otis Williams and the Distance, and we had a regional hit that Mr. Gordy had heard and liked.
He said, “Hey, I like your group, I’m starting my label, come see me,” and he gave me his card. We became disenchanted with the company that we were with, and we signed with Berry in 1961.
When I reflect back over what I’ve been doing, it was definitely something that was meant for me and the other guys to do and to be at that place at that point in time, because I never would have imagined that so much success would have happened.
You could have tipped me over with a feather to tell me that we would be so influential in helping Motown become known for the name that it is today.
Tavis: For those who haven’t seen the movie or don’t remember the story, have never heard the story, tell me quickly how these various groups came together to form The Temptations.
Williams: Well, at first, like I said, my group was The Distance, and I knew Paul, Eddie and a guy by the name of Kell Osborne and they were The Primes, and we used to be managed by a guy named Milton Jenkins.
But to make a long story short, The Primes broke up and Eddie went back to Birmingham, and then he came back to Detroit and we had developed a friendship when we were under the management of Mr. Milton Jenkins.
So he called and said, “Hey, man, I’m back in town,” and I said, “Well, great, because I need a tenor.” (Laughter) I just met Mr. Gordy and he wants to sign us, and he said, “Well, great, can I bring Paul Williams?” I said, “Man, as bad as Paul Williams is, please bring him”
So at that time the group consisted of Melvin Franklin, a guy by the name of Elbridge Bryant and myself, and then when Paul and Eddie joined, then that’s when we became The Temptations. Then four years later, David Ruffin.
So when I look back, it was something that was destined to happen for us, to evolve to become what we are today.
Tavis: And The Temptations were not the original – that wasn’t the first name.
Williams: No, no, the first name after we changed it from the (unintelligible) were The Elgins, and we found out there was another group called The Elgins.
Tavis: I like Temptations better anyway.
Williams: Me too. (Laughter)
Tavis: With all due respect to The Elgins.
Williams: Yeah, yeah, right, right.
Tavis: The Temps sound a whole lot better. (Laughter) I’m glad y’all got that right.
Williams: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: Fifty years later – “The Elgins.”
Williams: Yeah, it don’t have that ring.
Tavis: Yeah, it just don’t sound the same.
Williams: Right.
Tavis: So Terry, how, then, does one step into being the lead singer in this kind of history-making enterprise?
Weeks: You know what? You better do your homework first. But it’s been a wonderful journey. The audiences that we perform in front of, you can’t come in here trying to reinvent something, because I always say that what we come in and do, I can’t do any more than what was done before. The original five set a great legacy and all we’re doing is extending this legacy as long as people want to hear it.
Tavis: You ever feel intimidated by the legacy?
Weeks: Absolutely.
Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)
Weeks: Absolutely.
Tavis: Every day, huh.
Weeks: Every day, every day.
Tavis: What about them steps, how long did it take you to learn all that, Terry?
Weeks: You know what? We’re still learning those steps.
Tavis: Yeah, you’re still learning them?
Weeks: Absolutely, because you wouldn’t be a Temp if you didn’t do the steps.
Williams: That’s true.
Tavis: How much of that, Otis – everybody knows that. Whenever anybody tries to do their impersonation of The Temps, it all starts with the steps. How much of that had to do with the success over the years, the moves?
Williams: Well, I’ll tell you something – initially, Tavis, when we started singing, we could stand right there and sing anything, but Paul Williams said, “No, now, we have to do more than just stand there and sing. We got to move this, we got to sell six.” (Laughter) So Eddie and myself said, “What dancing?” Eddie said, “I can’t dance.” He said, “Oh, you’ll dance when I get through with you.” So Paul Williams, I have to give the accolades to him, because he was the one that started us being known for our choreography, and then the late, great Charlie Atkinson (unintelligible) Fontaine.
But I know that that is a very important part of The Temptations, because just to come out there and stand there and sing, I think our fans would say no, you’ve got to do what you’re known for. So that is our mainstay, is to be known for our choreography.
Tavis: I was online last night looking at y’all over the years, at some of the outfits. (Laughter) Is there any period that you wish you could just take a pencil and erase where the costumes were concerned, or are you pretty cool with the look over 50 years?
Williams: Well, you know what, Eddie Kendricks was in charge of the uniforms then, and I think he did a great job. You’re right, because when I look back and see some of the things that we used to wear (unintelligible) “Jesus, did we wear those?” (Laughter) I mean, the pencil –
Tavis: The pencil-leg pants?
Williams: Oh, yeah.
Tavis: Yeah.
Williams: They were cut up to your ankles and whatever. But that was a sign of the times and just like that, that was – but Eddie Kendricks did a wonderful job of taking care of the uniforms.
Tavis: How much do you think it matters, Terry, that so much of what people, to my mind, at least, love about The Temps is that they can sing along? They know the words.
Weeks: It’s a family-friendly show. You can bring the entire family, kids all the way up to grandparents. The thing is the music’s not offensive, you can sing along with it, and it tells a great story. You start with a good song, you add all these elements and you’re going to end up with a good song.
Tavis: Tell me about this new project, “Still Here.”
Williams: “Still Here,” which was released yesterday, May the 4th, the last two albums we did were cover jobs, and so by us being out on the road and our fans are always asking us when are we going to do a new one, I said, “Well, we’re gearing up to do that.” “Well, will it be some original stuff?”
So we made it a point to go in and do some original stuff, because we felt as though it was that time to go back in and do something that was unheard of, as far as original material that came from us.
So I love it. I am very critical of what we do. I sit back and listen and scrutinize and what have you, and I feel pretty good about it, but yeah, it’s some great songs on there that we had the help of a guy by the name of Johnny Britt and a couple out of Birmingham, Alabama, I can’t think of their name offhand. The conductor for The Spinners, he did “Shorty.” So it’s a very good album, I think.
Tavis: It’s been almost 50 years, believe it or not, that The Temps have been blessing us with their talent in this country and indeed around the world, and the last surviving member of the original group, Otis Williams, is my man, and Terry is now the lead singer. What you got –
Weeks: There’s more.
Williams: I got something else for you. (Laughter)
Tavis: You got some (unintelligible)?
Williams: Yes.
Tavis: Let me see what this is. Oh, not some bling.
Williams: Yeah.
Tavis: What? (Laughter)
Williams: That’s –
Tavis: Let me get rid of this thing, man. (Laughter) This Herme has got to go by the side.
Williams: That’s the gentleman.
Weeks: That’s the gentleman –
Tavis: Oh, man (unintelligible).
Williams: You ever heard of him?
Tavis: Absolutely.
Williams: Well –
Tavis: (Sounds like) Laid out in D.C.
Weeks: Yes, (sounds like) laid out in D.C.
Williams: That’s right, and he carved a watch out of wood that ran correctly for 50 years.
Tavis: I got me some bling. (Laughter) Oh, yeah, I like it – I can rock that. I can rock that.
Williams: Oh, yeah.
Tavis: Now if I just learn a few steps to go with it. (Laughter)
Weeks: Oh, yeah. I don’t want you to do that; you might take somebody’s job. (Laughter)
Tavis: No, no, no, no, no. I know I belong right – thank you, man – I know I belong right here in this chair. Otis, I love you, good to see you.
Williams: Oh, good to be seen.
Tavis: Terry, good to meet you as well, man.
Weeks: Absolutely, thank you for having me.
Williams: All right.

Tavis: All right.

Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm