Since signing with Berry Gordy’s Motown Records in 1961, the legendary Temptations have gone through many incarnations in their more than fifty years making music. Who hasn’t hummed along with the classics My Girl, The Way You Do The Things You Do, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, Get Ready, Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone and Just My Imagination?
With nine Grammy nominations, four Grammy wins, and a 2013 Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, the group is still bringing Tempts magic to worldwide audiences, with what founding member, Otis Williams, says is the group’s strongest lineup in two decades.
I had a chance to sit down with Temptations’ founder and last surviving original member, Otis Williams, to discuss the group’s first studio album in eight years, All The Time, and their upcoming tour throughout the U.S. and UK.
Allison Kugel: Prior to speaking with you, I read your 1988 memoir, Temptations (Cooper Square Press) to get to know you better. You’re the only original founding member of The Temptations who’s left from the original lineup. In that book you talked about the drama with other members of the group, some personality clashes and people coming and going over the years. You’re the one who never quit, never got fired, never wavered in your loyalty to the collective group. What is the higher purpose that has kept you so steadfast with The Temptations for more than fifty years?
Otis Williams: The higher purpose is being dedicated to what I love, first and foremost. I love to perform and to bring some kind of happiness to people, and oftentimes in a world that seems to have gone crazy. I stick with the basics. I’m dedicated, and when I stop to think back, I thank God that He put me here for this purpose, meaning The Temptations.
Allison Kugel: When you’re performing on stage or recording in the studio, do you feel the spirit of some of the other members who’ve passed, particularly the “classic five” including as you mentioned above: David, Eddie, Paul and Melvin? Do you feel their presence with you?
Otis Williams: I definitely feel the presence of David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams and Melvin Franklin because we were such a unique lineup, and I would like to think we made such a profound statement together during the time that David was with us. I carry those four, their memory, their presence since their leaving. I definitely carry the spirit of them. And also Dennis Edwards, because a lot of people also look at him as an original Temptation. He [recorded] so many hits with us. In fact, he was on more hits with us than David was. I still feel the presence of those guys.
Allison Kugel: Let’s discuss your new album, All The Time (out May 4th). Why the eight- year break from recording, prior to making this album? And why come out with a new album now?
Otis Williams: With Motown’s slow demise, and when the company went out of business, we continued to sing. We did a few albums, but nothing of real note. At one point I said to myself, “Maybe we should just perform.” We were always one of the hardest working acts in the business. Then when I went up to Universal with my grandson, and I spoke to Bruce Resnikoff (CEO of Universal Music Enterprises), he asked out of the blue, “Otis, would you record?” As you said, there was an eight-year gap, and I said, “Yes, we would love to record!” Mr. Resnikoff was the catalyst for us going back into the studio. We went into the studio and he told us he wanted us to do some covers. I then said I wanted to mix it up and do some original songs as well, so it wouldn’t just be an album of covers.
Allison Kugel: You cover some amazing artists, including Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, your friend, the late Michael Jackson, The Weeknd…
Otis Williams: I love those guys and what they did with those songs. I heard those songs when our producer Dave Darling and I were given the list and told, “Otis, pick what you want to record.” When I heard the Weeknd’s Earned It and Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud, among the others, I said, “Those are a must-do!” It was that kind of process in picking the songs for the album, and it was a labor of love.
Allison Kugel: You cover the Michael Jackson song, Remember The Time. That was an interesting choice.
Otis Williams: I’m a big Michael Jackson fan. We used to sit and talk when we were all at Motown together. Michael invited me to the set when he was doing the video for Remember The Time. Him and I sat in his trailer and we talked in between them getting the lighting and the stage ready for him to come out and do his video. So, I chose to record Remember The Time, because that’s what I was doing, remembering the time when Michael said, “Otis, come on down and watch me do this video.” It was fond memories and why we recorded that song for this album.
Allison Kugel: Because The Temptations lineup has changed so much over the decades and you have remained the one constant throughout, what do you look for in a potential Temptation to join the lineup, and how do you know when you’ve found it?
Otis Williams: One of the things I’ve learned over the years, as both a performer and as a person, I look for the head and the heart first. Whenever I would mention that to other journalists they would look at me in a quizzical way. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you are not a nice person or you can’t take direction, you will negate that talent. So, I don’t look for the talent first. I want to know the essence of the person and I try to get a sense of him
Allison Kugel: What will be the legacy of The Temptations?
Otis Williams: There was a very popular show that was on, I believe in the seventies, called That’s Entertainment!. I enjoyed that show because it showed all these different formats of entertainment and clips. When it’s all said and done I would like for people to think about The Temptations and remember us with, “Wow, now That’s Entertainment!”
Allison Kugel: What do you see as your spiritual foundation in this life?
Otis Williams: Being raised by two grandparents, my spirituality is one that I try to carry forth, and I thank God for the blessings, because show business is such a fickle business. You can be thought of as one way today and then tomorrow it’s, “Who’s that person?” But I never lose sight of what’s real and I always try to remain in touch with my spirituality. Hopefully people can feel that whenever I’m around them. It all goes back to being raised by two grandmothers. That’s the foundation of my life.
Allison Kugel: What will your audience experience when they come to see you on this latest tour?
Otis Williams: We’re definitely going to focus on our original songs. We’ll be doing a couple of songs off this latest album, but it will focus on classic Temptations music for our fans, and what they are coming to hear us sing. My Girl, The Way You Do The Things You Do, Just My Imagination and all of that. We will stay in keeping with what we’re known for.
Allison Kugel: What do you hope fans get from this new album, All The Time?
Otis Williams: I think people will say, “Wow, the Tempts did The Weeknd’s song, Ed Sheeran…” and all of that, but it will all be in keeping with what we have been known for throughout our history. Like I said, we’ve done cover jobs before, but whether it’s cover songs or originals we always want to put forth our best effort as far as being entertainers and singers. They will get what they have known The Temptations to be whenever we record.
Allison Kugel: What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned in your life so far?
Otis Williams: It’s hard to pick just one. There are a multitude of things I’ve learned that keep me grounded, but the one thing that is constant in life is change. Not everybody can adapt to change. Some people catch hell trying to change with the times. It’s an understanding that change is a natural part of life, and being able to adapt when change comes about.
The Temptations new album, “All The Time” is out May 4th on CD, vinyl LP, limited edition white vinyl LP, and digital formats worldwide, wherever music is sold.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.
Photo Credits: Jay Gilbert/Universal Music Enterprises
Question Credit: Question 13 Courtesy of Erik Medhus/Elisa Medhus
Interview produced in partnership with Wendy J Studios – capture classic moments with impeccable photography.