Interview: Otis Williams Discusses 50 Years as Part of The Temptations, Legacy of the Group
What can you say about The Temptations except that since their inception 50 years ago and success that has followed, they’ve been the template for which after group after strives to achieve. Despite the tons of accolades the group has received over the years, possibly one of their greatest accomplishments is that The Temptations has remained intact all of these years to continue building on their great legacy. Otis Williams, one of the founding members and leader of the group, took some time out to speak with YouKnowIGotSoul upon this half century achievement. During this interview, we talk about what he remembers most about originally signing to Motown in 1961, what it means to have had such a great influence on music, the biggest difference in music 50 years ago, what it took to prevent the group from ending, his best accolades, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You’re currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of when The Temptations signed their first deal with Motown back in 1961. Now you’re releasing The Best of the Temptations to commemorate that achievement. What does this mean to you?
Otis Williams (The Temptations): Well it’s a wonderful body of work. I’m amazed myself to have such a wonderful collection of songs. I got a call from the guys that put our music together and they just found about seven more songs that we had recorded and never got released. So when I look at this body of work that they’ve released, and there will still be more because this is just 1961-1971, I’m just fascinated and amazed because I never would have imagined that when we started out in 1961 that we would create such music that is standing the test of time.
YKIGS: Take us back to 1961 when you originally signed the deal with Motown. What do you remember the most about getting signed?
OW: At that time, it was nothing really outstanding because Motown at that time was in a young stage and was trying to put itself on the map. We had a wonderful feeling being there and it was just a unique place to be. Little did we know that it would turn out to become an iconic label with so many wonderful talented people; songwriters, producers, artists and creative people that made Motown something really unique and special. It was just great to be a part of something that’s so lasting.
YKIGS: The Temptations are pretty much known as the group who would set the standard for all groups who would come to follow. What does it mean to you to have had that type of influence on music?
OW: I think it’s a great thing to have to know that we have definitely made a mark and will leave a mark in show business that will outlast us all. We had no idea when we started singing back in 1961 that we would have almost 40 Gold and Platinum records hanging here in my home or four Grammy’s and have met three or four different presidents, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All of the things that we’ve accomplished are mind boggling because we never had any idea that we would achieve so much. So it’s a great effort.
YKIGS: To you, what is the biggest difference in music in the early ‘60’s and now here in 2011?
OW: I’m old school to the point that, and I’m not alone in this thinking, great songs will definitely stand the test of time and be around forever. Our hallmark has always been to align ourselves that any and everybody from any walk of life can identify and appreciate and bring a smile to their face. If they’re going through some hard times, it can make them think about why they’re going through troubled times. When you can do that, that says a bunch, to have that kind of impact on a whole lot of people’s lives.
YKIGS: You mentioned creating timeless music, and in fact I just heard “My Girl” on the radio the other day, they still play your music to this day on radio. When you were going into making the music, was it your goal to make something that would last forever?
OW: At the beginning it was our goal to just see if we could get lucky and make a hit record and make some money and sing to the girls, get the girls. That’s what our inspiration was. After awhile it changed to the point where we just wanted to do show business as our livelihood. We had no idea that it would be such a profound impact that Motown and The Temptations and all of the great artists that were there would leave such a rep. It was just great starting out seeing it evolve to where it is today.
YKIGS: Talk about the longevity you’ve experienced as part of The Temptations. They’ve been together for so long and a lot of groups I grew up on broke up and couldn’t keep it together. What was your key to remaining together as a group all of these years?
OW: Well you have to work at it, that’s not a given. First and foremost, you’re dealing with people; our emotions and attitudes and ebbs and flows. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not so good. Through it all we’ve been able to survive the many different changes that we’ve gone through that 50 years later we’re still here. It’s the human factor that you have to remember that regardless of how intelligent a person might be, there’s that human element that sometimes can be overpowering when it comes to being successful and coming from nothing to having money and all kinds of doors opening up for me and meeting all kinds of people and performing in front of massive amounts of people. It can be a very challenging thing, and through all of it, we’ve been able to continue on even with the loss of the original Temptations.
YKIGS: I’ve read you served as the leader and the organizer of the group and you weren’t necessarily the lead singer. What is your role in the group?
OW: I guess as time would have it, my role would turn out to be the superglue, as some people called me, for staying and keeping the group together and just having the belief to continue on. We’ve always had a great support system at Motown with Mr. Gordy in particular. Even though we were going through changes, Mr. Gordy always believed in us and would back us. We’ve had a lot of different elements to keep us in the forefront and fans that have always been there even with the many different changes. We’ve had a multitude of reasons to continue on and here we are 50 years later.
YKIGS: Are there any r&b groups that you’ve been a fan of?
OW: There’s a lot of groups that came out before and after us that I admire. The O’Jays were there along with us, The Four Tops. We’re just glad that we had such an impact on a lot of different groups and there are groups that have had an impact on The Temptations. I was talking Earl Carroll, better known as Speedo from the Cadillacs. He was very inspirational, I told him yesterday because just had a heart attack and he’s recovering from that, but he’s very inspirational for there being The Temptations. The Cadillacs were big in Detroit when I was about 14 or 15 years old. The Flamingos, the Cadillacs, the Moonglows. So we’ve had some great influences that inspired us and hopefully we had something to give others to be inspired by us.
YKIGS: You’ve had so many accolades over the years. Is there one achievement of yours that stands out above the rest?
OW: When you have had so many wonderful accolades, I mean meeting President Obama, meeting President Bush and Clinton. Wow, almost 40 Gold and Platinum’s, the list is endless, I couldn’t even single out just one because I never would have imagined that we would have meet any Presidents and go to the White House as many times as we’ve gone. It’s to the point now when we go to the White House I feel like Desi Arnaz when he said “Lucy, I’m home!” and I say “White House, I’m home again!” I would never have thought I could joke around like that.
YKIGS: Anything you’d like to add?
OW: I just want to thank our fans for the continued support and love and we will try to give them the best that we have whether it’s music time or performance time. I want to thank them for the love and support.