Gary James' Interview With Otis Williams of
The Temptations

For over forty years, The Temptations have been making people smile and belting out the hits. They were part of the 1960s Motown Movement. Songs like "My Girl", "Get Ready", "Too Proud To Beg", "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep" and "I Wish It Would Rain", helped propel the group to the top of the charts.

Otis Williams, the only living original member of The Temptations talked with us about the history of his group.

Q - Mr. Williams, according to an industry report posted on The Temptations official website, "The crowds are bigger. The sales (of CDs) are sizzling. The outpouring of affection for this super group has never been greater." What do you think the reason is for that?

A - Well, I can't pinpoint it, but probably because we're part of such a historical event as Motown. That music that was being made back there in the sixties, has transcended time. Hopefully we are noted for trying to always give our very best at performing. When the people see our name up on the marquee, they know that they are coming to see a group that really goes all out to entertain the fans.

Q - You say, "Great singing will always prevail." That's what they push on American Idol. Do you watch that TV show?

A - Oh yeah, I watch it.

Q - What do you think of it?

A - Some of it is funny. Every now and then, you run across somebody who can sing, but a lot of those people up there are kind of funny. I really like Taylor Hicks.

Q - He's good because he's different.

A - Yes, he is. I like his deliverance and he can sing.

Q - Ron Tyson (fellow Temptation member) says "We're about singing straight up soul." That's a new term for me. What is "straight up soul"?

A - I guess that's what he feels about it. My thing is, we're just about singing good music, just to cover all bases. We just don't necessarily relegate ourselves to Soul. I mean, we sing Contemporary stuff like "Some Enchanted Evening". A few years ago, we had "For Lovers Only", which had great contemporary songs. I wouldn't necessarily say we're straight up Soul. We naturally sing R&B soul music. In our show now, we're doing a five part modern harmony thing..."You Are Necessary". So, we try to touch on all genres of music.

Q - I read your autobiography some years ago and you'll have to forgive me if I can't recall everything, but, did Berry Gordy put The Temptations together?

A - No. We started recording as The Temps. I had a group called The Distants, which consisted of Melvin Franklin, Richie Street and two other guys and myself. When we came to Motown, we lost Al and another guy, Richie Street. Then it was Melvin, Eddie, Paul, Al and myself. That was 1961. In 1964, David Ruffin joined the group and Al and Bryant we no longer with us.

Q - You didn't have the technology at Motown that studios have today...

A - Oh, no.

Q - You didn't have the instruments they have today.

A - Right.

Q - No one has been able to duplicate that sound. Something special must've been going on inside that building.

A - Back then, recording was really out and out recording in the sense that you had musicians down in the studio and they were great musicians. There was just a whole different approach in comparison to the way some records are recorded now. I know we always try to keep the human element on our stuff when we record, like having "live" musicians. There are some technical things we use as far as some of the new technology. But by and large, we like to use live musicians 'cause it adds a natural feel that doesn't make the music so stoic and computerized. It just depends on your whole approach, 'cause you got some guys that just like to go in and record with a lot of musicians and then you got some of those new producers up and coming, that pretty much relegate themselves to the technology of things.

Q - What exactly is it that keeps you singing? Do you ever get bored with it?

A - Well, you gotta love it. That's the whole summation of it. You have to love it first. That's what makes you endure, what helps you endure all the other rigors that come along with show business. But then again, when you stop and think about it, how many people can say they are doing something they love for so long? The bottom line is you have to love it 'cause it's a special joy to look out there and see that you're actually bringing enjoyment and some form of relief to people. We're living in some troubled times now. What we do could be a great escape for people to try and forget some of the woes of the world. That being what it is, we just love to try and be a soothing ointment on the trouble soul.

Q - What if you couldn't sing tomorrow? What would you do with your life?

A - I hazard to guess. I really don't know. Right now, I'm just always thinking about performing. I just finished packing and getting ready to go to Tucson. So, we take it a day at a time and that's turned into forty-five years of doing what we do. So, I try not to think of it.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

* Between 1964 and 1991, The Temptations placed 38 songs in the Top 40 of the Billboard Pop chart.
15 of them were in the Top Ten, including 4 number ones.