Get ready. The Temptations are back with their first new album in eight years, a sizzling Broadway-bound musical and a whole lot of soul.
The Motown vocal group that blew up in the 1960s with "My Girl," "Get Ready," "I Can’t Get Next to You" and "Ain’t Too Proud to Beg" has been plugging away for six decades despite tumultuous turnover in its ranks. The current lineup surfaces May 4 with All The Time, a batch of originals and covers bearing the unmistakable stamp of the Temptations’ sturdy, smooth R&B style.
“We always stay with what made us great in the first place,” says Otis Williams, the group’s leader. “Our harmonies. Great songs. The Temptations soul.”
Williams, 76, is the sole surviving member of the “Classic Five” that included Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin and David Ruffin. Now he sings with Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Larry Braggs and Willie Green.
“I’ve lost some great people, and every one of them was an integral part of the Temptations,” Williams says, insisting that the changing roster hasn’t altered the core sound or mission of the group. “The wheel has been rolling successfully for years. I’ve had to deal with 24 different strong personalities, and it’s a responsibility I cherish. I tell each one of them the philosophy of what I’ve been taught and that they are standing on the shoulders of greatness.
“The one thing that’s constant in life is change. I’ve learned to adapt and I’m grateful I get to carry on.”
All The Time reflects the group’s Motown roots as well as a contemporary sensibility. Williams and producer/arranger Dave Darling, known for his work with Brian Setzer, Glen Campbell and Tom Waits, cherry-picked favorite songs from current artists, including Maxwell ("Pretty Wings") and Bruno Mars ("When I Was Your Man"). The Temptations bring soulful warmth to The Weeknd’s "Earned It" and Ed Sheeran’s "Thinking Out Loud," both selected for their solid melodies and lyrics.
“That’s what Motown was built on and that’s what we looked for,” Williams says. “All these songs were favorites of mine.”
He was especially drawn to Sam Smith’s "Stay With Me" after hearing him sing it with Mary J. Blige.
“She added another flavor to it,” he says. “And we added a gospel flavor.”
The album contains three originals, the funky "Move Them Britches," pining "Waitin’ On You" and tender "Be My Wife."
The group is also the subject of a new jukebox musical, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, to be staged June 19 to July 22 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., before heading to Los Angeles in August, Toronto in October and finally to Broadway. The show, fueled by a fat catalog of Motown hits and the group’s signature dance moves and natty attire, had its world premiere last fall at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where it was the highest-grossing production in the theater’s 50-year history.
“I was moved to tears when I saw it,” Williams says. “To see people of all ages enjoying it is something I’m still in awe of. I never thought my life story could end up on Broadway.”
Raised by two grandmothers in Texarkana, Texas, Williams was weaned on the gospel sounds of the Dixie Hummingbirds and Mahalia Jackson. After moving to Detroit at age 10, he soaked up rock shows at the Fox Theatre.
“The Cadillacs and Frankie Lymon had a kind of power I’d never seen,” Williams says. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Debut album Meet the Temptations put the group on the map in 1964, and "My Girl" topped the pop chart less than a year later.
“We were surrounded by great teachers,” says Williams, citing Motown mogul Berry Gordy, singer/songwriter Smokey Robinson and producer Norman Whitfield. “I just learned like Johnny on the spot.”
The Temptations racked up 16 No. 1 R&B albums and 43 top 10 R&B singles over four decades, from soul classics "I Wish It Would Rain" and "All I Need" to psychedelic and funk standouts "Ball of Confusion," "Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone" and "Cloud Nine."
Williams’ favorite is "My Girl," but he’s hard-pressed to name a runner-up.
“The choices are endless,” he says. “I have a long history with those songs. I love singing them, and I still do it because it’s a labor of love. I could stay home and chill. It’s not about the money. When people hear "My Girl," they stand up like it’s the national anthem. Music is so powerful. Can you imagine this world without music?”
The Temptations will be touring through the year. And perhaps indefinitely, Williams suggests. The Los Angeles resident — single and a homebody after three marriages — enjoys reading and sketching in his downtime and is considering launching a clothing line. The former party animal has learned to pace himself.
“I started slowing down in my 40s,” Williams says. “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I try to watch my diet. The key is to get that rest. But I won’t retire. I’m going to keep riding the horse, and when I get off, the horse will be bald.”