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Lawrence Payton; Member of Four Tops

June 21, 1997|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lawrence Payton, a member of the Four Tops, a slickly choreographed quartet often called a "Motown hit machine" in the 1960s, died Friday. He was 59.

Payton died of liver cancer at his home in Southfield, Mich., outside Detroit.

He had been too ill to join his colleagues in April when they appeared in Hollywood to accept the placement of their star on the Walk of Fame.

The quartet was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Levi Stubbs, the group's lead singer, said Friday that Payton was crucial to the Tops because "he was responsible for the harmony."

"After 43 years, it's just heartbreaking to us," said another member of the quartet, Abdul "Duke" Fakir.

John Wright, project director for the Motown Sound exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., said the Four Tops are believed to be the only Motown group that never changed members. During Payton's long illness, the group performed as a trio.

The four members--Payton, Stubbs, Fakir and Renaldo "Obie" Benson--met at a party in Detroit in 1953 and the next year began singing around town as the Four Aims. To avoid confusion with the Ames Brothers, they soon changed their name and in 1956 signed a recording contract with Chess Records.

But they had no hits until they switched to Berry Gordy Jr. and his Motown Records in 1964.

Their first top 40 success, "Baby I Need Your Loving," was produced that June. A year later they topped the charts for the first time with "I Can't Help Myself."

Among their two dozen or so hits were "Reach Out (I'll Be There)," "Standing in the Shadows of Love," "Bernadette," "Seven Rooms of Gloom" and "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)."

The Four Tops worked steadily, performing in Las Vegas showrooms, small clubs and large arenas, emerging occasionally with a hit record, such as "When She Was My Girl" in 1981.

Among their performing venues in Southern California were Humphrey's on Shelter Island in San Diego, the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts and several clubs in Los Angeles, where they recorded with ABC-Dunhill records.

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