Friday, October 24, 2008

Levi Stubbs (1936 - 2008 )

One would think that this is a music site, it isn't, but with the succession of deaths of R&B legends once again I must pay homage. These were the people who made the music for the soundtrack of my life, one such person was the late Levi Stubbs Jr.
I don't think I've seen any professional entertainer more than Levi Stubb's Four Tops. I saw them for the first time in 1964 at the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre promoting their new song "Baby I Need Your Loving" I knew then that they were going to be BIG.
The Four Tops went on to have 24 top 40 hits which included two #1's "I Can't Help Myself(Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" in 1965 and "Reach Out I'll Be There" in 1966 and in the process sold over 50 million records world-wide. The Four Tops and The Dells hold the record for longevity. The Dells had one personnel change early in their career, but the Four Tops had the same unit for over 40 years. They were only separated by death. With the passing of Levi Stubbs only one original member Abdul "Duke" Fakir is alive. The Four Tops and The Dells had other things in common besides longevity together. They both had lead singers with big booming voices. To this day there are still people who debate whether Marvin Junior or Levi Stubbs had the stronger voice.
The Four Tops were hitmakers for four decades. The group had an uncanny knack for making comebacks. The association with the legendary writing and producing team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland created the bulk of the Four Tops hit repertoire: "Baby I Need Your Lovin" , "I Can't Help Myself", "It's The Same Old Song","Reach Out I'll Be There", "Something About You", "Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over)", "Standing In The Shadows Of Love", "Bernadette", "You Keep Running Away" When Holland-Dozier-Holland had a dispute with Motown President Berry Gordy and left Motown it initially had a debilitating effect on the record label and acts like the Four Tops and The Supremes experiencing slumping sales. The Four Tops resorted to making cover songs. Some were successful "Walk Away Renee" "If I Were A Carpenter" but these songs never reached the sales of the Holland-Dozier-Holland era. At this time the Four Tops worked with another blossoming Motown writer/producer Frank Wilson who along with Smokey Robinson created the Four Tops big comeback hit of 1970 "Still Waters (Love)". The album "Still Waters Run Deep" is considered by many to be their best ever. About a year later Berry Gordy decided to move Motown to Los Angeles. The Wilson produced "(That's The Way) Nature Planned It" Lp got a lot of attention, especially the medley "Hey Man/We Gotta Get You A Woman" that was featured regularly on the dance line on the popular tv program "Soul Train". This song would have been another big hit for the group had it not been for the Tops' reluctance to transplant to the west coast. The Four Tops insisted on staying in Detroit so Motown and The Four Tops parted company and Motown decided not to release "Hey Man/We Gotta Get You A Woman".
It was time for the Four Tops to make yet another comeback, this time moving to ABC/Dunhill records and working with another successful writing/producing team Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter. The duo returned the Tops to the higher positions on the charts with songs like "Keeper Of The Castle", the #4 hit "Ain't No Woman (Like The One I Got)", "Are You Man Enough" and "Sweet Understanding Love"
Then for some inexplicable reason the Four Tops disappeared from the pop chart but continued to triumph on the R&B Charts with songs like "We All Gotta Stick Together","One Chain(don't make no prison)" and "Midnight Flower" History then repeated itself when the Dennis Lambert-Brian Potter writing and producing team split from each other and from ABC Records, which a short time later folded.
After returning from England where they found success with a song that wasn't well received in the United States "Simple Game" (#3)it was time for yet another
comeback. The Four Tops signed with Casablanca Records and had another big hit
"When She Was My Girl" (#1 R&B, #11 Pop), but like ABC, Casablanca also bit the dust, leading the Four Tops to Arista Records where in 1988 they had their last Top 40 hit "Indestructible" with Smokey Robinson filling in for the ailing Lawrence Payton who passed away in 1997.
In 2000 Levi Stubbs was no longer able to perform with the Four Tops and Theo Peoples (formerly of the Temptations) replaced him as lead singer. Reinaldo "Obie" Benson, the composer of Marvin Gaye's smash hit "What's Goin' On?" and the Four Tops'
own "Sweet Understanding Love" died in 2006, he was replaced by Roquel Payton (the son of Lawrence Payton). The current Four Tops are Abdul Fakir, Theo Peoples, Ronnie McNeir and Roquel Payton. Just last week Levi Stubbs, who suffered from a stroke, cancer and a heart attack died in his sleep at the age of 72. The Four Tops were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Stubbs came from a family of exceptional entertainers, his younger brother Joe Stubbs was the lead voice on the 100 Proof (aged in soul) hit "Somebody's Been Sleeping" and the great Jackie Wilson was Levi's cousin.

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