The way founding member Otis Williams tells it, the Temptations' association with Motown Records began in a water closet.
In 1959, Williams and his group, then known as the Distants, were performing their local semi-hit "Come On" at the St. Stephens Community Center in Detroit when Berry Gordy dropped in to do a little talent scouting for his fledgling label. Meeting the group by chance in the men's room afterward, Gordy told them he was impressed enough to offer the quintet a recording contract.
Two years and a couple of personnel changes later, the Temptations made their Motown debut with "Oh Mother, O Mine" on Miracle Records, a Motown subsidiary. It was the beginning of a relationship that has spanned 25 years, nearly two-dozen hits and 10 lineups.
The Temptations celebrated their silver anniversary on the road, which is not surprising when you consider that the current group (original members Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin, 15-year veteran Richard Street and newcomers Ron Tyson and Ali-Ollie Woodson) continues to play more than 200 nights a year.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 28, 1986 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 2 Column 6 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
The Temptations and the Four Tops will appear Friday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre. An article in Wednesday's Calendar erroneously reported that they would be at the Pacific Amphitheatre.
They'll defend their reputation for being able to outsing, outdance and outdress any group in sight when they perform with the Four Tops Friday at the Pacific Amphitheatre and Saturday at the Universal Amphitheatre.
Reached by telephone in Maryland last week, Williams acknowledged the difficulty of maintaining the Temptations' tradition while replacing such formidable talents as former members David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Dennis Edwards and the late Paul Williams.
"I guess you could say it's kinda like an NFL training camp," Williams said. "But aside from talent, we look for character. What a man's like mentally and spiritually is just as--if not more--important to us than whether he can sing or dance."
Initiative helps. Ron Tyson was a songwriter/producer who'd worked with the Temptations during their brief stay at Atlantic Records in the late '70s. When Tyson heard that the group was looking for a new tenor, he called Williams and left a message saying he knew just the right guy--namely, himself. When Williams phoned back, he laughed and put Tyson on the next flight out.
Ali-Ollie Woodson tells a similar story. A Detroit native whose father knew bass voice Melvin Franklin's mother, Woodson was living in Atlanta. He was on his way to work one night when he decided to stop in on his home boys, who were playing a show in town. Unbeknownst to Woodson, the group had recently auditioned more than 100 vocalists in a vain attempt to fill the position previously held by Dennis Edwards.
Woodson was discussing the situation backstage with the group when Richard Street walked up and asked him one question: "Can you squawl? " Woodson responded with the requisite throaty cry and the next day, he, too, was on a plane to Los Angeles.
With their current single "Lady Soul" climbing the charts, not to mention their tongue-in-cheek video for the title track to the film "A Fine Mess" and their recent cable TV special, the Temptations continue to add to the legacy that's influenced such younger stars as Hall & Oates, the New Edition and the Jackson 5.
"It's a tremendous compliment," says Otis Williams. "To get that kind of recognition from your peers is part of what you work for."
Work is right. Perhaps the most interesting segment of the Temptations' TV special (airing periodically this month on Showtime) is the behind-the-scenes look at the group working out the dance routines for "Lady Soul" with their choreographer of 20 years, Cholly Atkins.
On stage it might look effortless, but all those intricate, synchronized-as-a-Swiss-watch movements are the product of five- to six-hour sessions that continue from four to six weeks.
"When I joined the Tempts," said Tyson, "that was my greatest challenge. Fortunately, 'Pops'--as we like to call Cholly--helped me out pretty good. Man, I don't even walk slew-footed anymore."