Otis Williams continues to head up Motown hit-makers
Pictured L to R: Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Joe Herndon, Otis Williams, Bruce Williamson Photo credit: Courtesy Star Direction
When the Temptations pull into Columbus on Thursday, Otis Williams will be continuing to keep a promise he made to former bandmate Melvin Franklin some 50 years ago. When the two were teenagers, Williams and Franklin vowed they’d remain a part of the Temptations as long as they could perform. Even after Franklin died in 1995, Williams has remained with the group through a series of changes. “We made a pact when we were teenagers we were going to do what we loved and we weren’t going to let anyone stop us,” says Williams, the last remaining Temptation for the Motown super group. “We’re a small microcosm of the people who get to do what they love to do (for a living). A lot of people on this earth can’t say that. You take that as a special thing and you treat it as such.” The current alignment of the group, Williams, Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Joe Herndon, and Bruce Williamson, will perform 8 p.m. Thursday at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts (100 W. Dublin-Granville Rd. in New Albany). In all Williams has seen 20 other members come and go through the Temptations. He is the last living member of what’s considered the band’s classic alignment of Williams, Franklin, Dave Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, and Paul Williams (no relation). That lineup produced 11 songs that landed on the top of the R&B chart between 1965-71, including “My Girl (1965),” “Get Ready (1966),” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg (1966),” “I Know I’m Losing You (1966),” “I Can’t Get Next to You (1968)” and “It Was Just My Imagination Running Away With Me (1971).” Only a handful of bands, Van Halen, Genesis, and AC/DC to name a few, continued to find success after losing a lead singer. Since every member of the Temptations shared the vocal duties, they were able to continue on after Ruffin and Kendricks left the group in 1968 and 1971 respectively. While the look and the feel of the band changed significantly, the band scored hits with “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone (1972),” “Masterpiece (1973),” “Let Your Hair Down (1973),” “Happy People (1974)” and “Shaky Ground.” While their song catalog is made up of classic, upbeat R&B, the group’s history is filled with turmoil, tragedy and triumph. Paul Williams died of an apparent suicide in 1973 and six years after the group was inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame, Kendricks, Franklin and Ruffin all passed away. “Unfortunately, it has taken 21 members for the Temptations to continue on,” Williams says. “We’ve been able to survive in spite of ourselves. We didn’t love ourselves as much as the world loved us. It seemed like at some point and time we’d always shoot ourselves in the foot.” Last February was a typical roller coaster of a month for the Temptations. On the upside, the group received Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award on Feb. 9. Nine days later, Otis “Damon” Harris, a Temptation from 1971-75, died and nine days after Harris’ passing, Richard Street, who was a part of the band from 1971-92, died on Feb. 27. “It was difficult. Richard used to be with Melvin and myself when we were the Distants (a band that merged with The Primes to become the Temptations),” Williams says. “We parted ways in 1991 or 92. I didn’t see much of Richard after that but it was a sad affair. Damon also had some great years with us. Richard and Damon were with us during the ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ era. It was just sad to lose two members of the Temptations.” Through all the changes within the band and all the hardships, Williams has made sure the band’s name continues on. Asked if he ever considered breaking his promise and leaving the Temptations, Williams answers with a stern “No.” “You can’t walk away from something you started,” he says. “That would be like Henry Ford walking away from the Ford Motor Company because he ran into a little adversity. We continued on despite different adversities.”

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