The Motown songwriter was one third of the storied Holland-Dozier-Holland team.
Next to the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas and the Four Tops were the primary recipients of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s hitmaking prowess at Motown.
So it’s no surprise that the principals of those groups had only warm memories about Lamont Dozier as news spread on Tuesday (Aug. 9) of his death at the age of 81.
“Such a great guy,” Abdul “Duke” Fakir, the sole surviving founding member of the Four Tops, told Billboard about Dozier, who was also a close personal friend and running buddy. “He was so talented. He could sing really well. He was a good writer, a good producer, really an integral part of Holland-Dozier-Holland.”
Martha Reeves, meanwhile, remembered that Dozier “had the greatest sense of humor. He made you laugh and made you comfortable more than Eddie and Brian (Holland). They seemed a little more serious than Lamont. Lamont had a sense of humor that made you feel lighter when you were singing their songs. Their songs all had wonderful hooks and beautiful words but were not easy to sing. But Lamont made it easier to do that.”
Holland-Dozier-Holland united during the early ’60s at Motown. Both Eddie Holland and Dozier were working as recording artists, while Brian Holland was a staff songwriter who’d topped the charts with “Please Mr. Postman” for the Marvelettes in 1961. Dozier earned 14 No. 1 singles as a writer (and 13 as a producer) on the Billboard Hot 100 and more than 30 top 10 hits.
“Each of them could do everything; you can’t really say one guy did this, one guy did that,” noted longtime Motown executive Shelly Berger, who’s still managing the Temptations and also remembers Dozier as “basically a quiet guy.” “The melodies of their songs made them so enticing to general markets. They just jumped on the charts immediately.”
That was certainly the case for the Four Tops, who were transitioning from singing standards when Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. hooked the group up with H-D-H in 1964. The relationship began with “Baby I Need Your Loving” and continued through to the 1983 album Back Where I Belong, which brought the Tops back to Motown after an 11-year absence.
“After that first meeting Lamont and I went down to the 20 Grand (club) and hung out and we just became really good friends,” Fakir remembers. “We just hung out and were buddies.” He considers Dozier to be “the glue” of H-D-H, filling in between Eddie Holland, the primary lyricist, and Brian Holland, the “trackmaster” behind the boards.
Dozier, meanwhile, “just had beautiful things in his head for music,” Fakir explains. “He was very good at the sweetening, adding strings and things like that. He could sometimes help with the melody or help Brian with the tracks. Anything that was missing in the production, he was there to fill it in. He could do everything. I don’t know how to put it except he was just a plus.”
H-D-H’s other major hits with the Tops included “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Standing in the Shadows of Love” and “Bernadette.” But it was the follow-up to 1965’s chart-topping “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” that stood out for Fakir. “Berry was mad at everybody because ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ was on the chart and they hadn’t anything to follow it up,” Fakir recalls. “He said, ‘Goddamnit, write me something! The Tops are falling out of the charts!’ I was over Lamont’s house that night and he was playing the piano and starts tinker with ‘Sugar Pie Honey Bunch,’ turning the chords around. That’s when he started laughing and said, ‘This sounds like the same old song.’ He kept going and that’s how ‘It’s the Same Old Song’ came about.”
Dozier’s talents extended beyond the recording studio, too, Fakir says. “He could’ve been a chef. He could cook his butt off. He had me come over for dinner one time and he had all these dishes. It was just an ordinary meal, but it was like Thanksgiving, and everything was excellent. He was just really good at everything he did.”
Reeves, meanwhile, is particularly proud that the Vandellas’ “Come and Get These Memories” was H-D-H’s first major charting hit as a songwriting and production team. The group would go on to work with the trio on top 10 singles such as “Heat Wave,” “Nowhere to Run,” “I’m Ready for Love” and “Jimmy Mack.”
“I think all the artists at Motown felt like they were writing songs just for us, and we knew they were going to be hits,” Reeves says. “They really worked as a team, and not one of them stood out. Sometimes (Dozier) would play the piano, sometimes he would (produce) the background parts, sometimes he would help with the mixing. They were all a component of the team.”
Dozier passed away in California while Fakir, Reeves, Berger and other Motown alumni were assembled at the Motown Museum on Monday night, celebrating the completion of the first two phases of the facility’s $55 million expansion. During the ceremony Smokey Robinson spoke about the Motown family and noted that “80 percent of us are gone…But when I look here and I see my family, many times when we used to talk about the Motown family people thought we were talking about something mythical; ‘Oh, it couldn’t possibly be like that,’ but we were — and we still are. Those of us who are still here are still the Motown family…and we still love each other.”
Talking about Dozier on Tuesday, Reeves says Robinson’s words were holding true. “I’m getting calls every second…to cheer me up or let me know they’re praying for me,” she says, “because the Motown family is the tightest family. It always has been. We’re going to stay strong and keep saying good things about these people who have touched our hearts, like (Dozier).”