Lexi Lewis Interviews Otis Williams

Lexi:   First Mr. Williams I have so many questions to ask you as I think there are people that need to know this and know that. So I hope that we will cover most of my questions. I want to thank you so much for giving some of your time to my son at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.

Otis:   Oh well you know I love that because it is great when you can reach out and touch the younger at heart like he is. It was a blessing to reach out to someone that loves the music as much as he as young as he is and I guess learning about the history of the Temptations from the miniseries and then to see a child of his age react like that is a blessing.

Lexi:   Wonderful… Wonderful!!! I have to tell you a couple of things. I couldn’t get to you but I tried to make it all about you and him while I was there. Here are the few things he mentioned to me in the past. On our way there he said “Man, I’m gonna have an hour with him.” I said no honey we have to be there at seven because he knew you went on at eight.

Otis:   Right!!

Lexi:   He said once you get an angel you never let them go. I said who is the angel? He said, Otis Williams.

Otis:   Wow!!!

Lexi:   Yeah…yeah

Otis:   That is touching.

Lexi:   Wow! One Christmas I got him the Temptations Christmas cd right?

Otis:   Right!

Lexi:   I presented it to him He said, “oh my God!” and he hugged it and kissed it. He turned to me and said I love you so much Mommy! He was so happy to get the cd. He has watched the movie over and over again. I’ve seen it at least 10,000 times.

Otis:   Right

Lexi:   So he does all the background and the lead and everything. So he turned to me one day and said, Mommy would you be proud of me if I became a Temptation?

Otis:   Wow that is really something else!

Lexi:   I said absolutely!

Otis:   How old is he?

Lexi:   He is ten years old. This was a couple years ago when he said that. And then when we were watching your concert he was jamming, he was singing while you were singing up on his feet, routing and everything.

Otis:   What is his name again?

Lexi:   Blaike

Otis:   Blaike, yeah

Lexi:   Yes

Otis:   Well, I will have to stay in touch with Blaike. He is such a little sweetheart.

Lexi:   He would love it!! You know I said I would have loved for him to be here so he could be a part of the interview but he had school. I’d love to do the interview with you and let him ask you questions but unfortunately he is at school. There are three other things I want to tell you real quick. When you guys were in your Gold jackets. He said, “Man, what if he gave me one of those gold jackets? I said really Blaike? He saw you in the spotlight and he wants to be an aspiring actor. He can sing and he just doesn’t know he can sing yet. He is starting to get serious about it. He saw the spotlight. He said Mommy look at the spotlight and I want to be in the spotlight. He said can you make that happen? I said no but you can.

Otis:   That was a good answer.

Lexi:   See I made the meet and greet happen he thought I could make that happen.

Otis:   Yeah cause you are Mommy and you can do anything in their child’s eyes so that is great.

Lexi:   So I would ask for Blaike’s purposes what advice would you give to him now that he wants to sing. What would you say to him?

Otis:   Well if he wants to sing he has to be dedicated. You know? Stay focused and make ti your burning desire. That is what I did when I 12 or 13 years old when I saw the great rock and roll shows come to Detroit. When I saw what was happening on stage I said that is what I wanted to do. I stayed focused and I stayed dedicated and I did not let anything get in my way. As far as being dissuaded from what I wanted to do. Stay dedicated, focused, and remember you have to do a lot of work. You have to practice and find ways of improving your craft. Mine was singing. If that is what he really wants to do be dedicated and devote himself to that dream and make it a reality.

Lexi:   This is on the recorder I will let him listen to that and he will treasure that I am sure. So let’s get to the real interview. I’m hoping to get this into the Detroit International Jazz Magazine.

Otis:   Okay

Lexi:   You are a living legend. What does it mean to you to be a part of history that will never be repeated nor forgotten?

Otis:   It’s really a gratifying feeling to know that I am viewed upon in that sense. We started out singing. All I wanted to do was sing, have hit records, make money, and have the girls screaming. Like any other artist would like to do and aspire to be. Little did I know being at the right place at the right time in Detroit. When Motown was starting out it was God’s divine intervention for Motown to happen for me being part of something that has become so historical that I don’t take it for granted. I know now Motown coming along in the sixties has been denoted as the most tumultuous decade within the last hundred years because all kinds of crazy stuff was happening. For this company to come along and forge its way through it was definitely God’s intervention for that to happen. For me to be a part of that that no doubt outlive us all. I can’t even put it into words what it means to me.

Lexi:   Wonderful. As a legend what do you feel is your duty to the younger generation?

Otis:   Well it is to be something positive. Like with the way your son sees the Temptations because you know they need that. You know I’m not trying to knock the artist I see today with all the crotch grabbing and pants across their behind and cursing on stage. We don’t aspire to have that kind of image. It is such a heartwarming feeling to see how your son is gravitating to something he aspires to be. It means a lot to touch a little guys’ heart or girls’ heart that makes them feel like they want to do what we are doing. The words just don’t flow enough for what it means. Just seeing your son. I just seen the picture that Derick sent me of him and I hugging each other. If I can get his measurements. He can have that as a gift from me to him. I can get him a jacket made like the one he saw us wear.

Lexi:   That right here almost put in tears I will give you his measurements. You’ve been fortunate enough to make history yourself but to live through many historical events, music, and politics. With that said what wear your thoughts to seeing the first black president in office?

Otis:   My thoughts are probably like everyone else’s. We thought we would never see that in our lifetime that goes without saying. My manager told me about it. He said there is a young man you should see him and he speaks so eloquent. So I said is he on now Shelly? He said yea. I came up to the office sat and saw President Obama of the Democratic National Convention. When I sat there I came into another office and said you know what Shelly? He could be president. Four years later he ran and won. It shows you we are living in some crazy time but marvelous time that imagine seeing a black man as president as you do now.

Lexi:   Humph

Otis:   Like I said we were over in England when he won. You can even imagine how the rest of the world was looking at America. They really wanted him to become president. We really want him to get it

Lexi:   Wow!

Otis:   There was a lady that was speaking in the park in Chicago that I will never forget. She was from England and she said this would have never happened in my country. Now this is not a third world country we’re talking about England. It made me feel very proud of America. We did take a leap of faith and he the president and is in his second term. He is doing great! His hands are tied and he probably can do the great things we know he can do but his hands are tied. It is great to see him become president in our life time and that will always be a special feeling.

Lexi:   Wonderful generally speaking please share with me what it was like working with Berry Gordy and the Motown family. Just on a general basis

Otis:   Well working with Berry was wonderful. Believe it or not Berry is a funny man. I mean joking and certain messing around. I would tell him B a lot of people call him the Chairman. I would say B you are funny. He knew what he wanted was far as songs and lyrics and the melodies and such. He was very astute in the sense of how great songs should come about. We were there with him like the other day I listened to Do You Love Me which was done by the Contours. We were at church doing some listening and harmonizing for the Swan Silver Tones and when we came back the next day the said that Mr. Gordy was looking for the Temptations because he had a song that he wanted to give to you but ended up giving it to the Contours. The record was a big smash and whatever and to work with him was great. He could not sing but you could hear with him that squeaky voice singing how the song should go. He would sit at the piano and play the chords, harmonizing, and things. He got his point across and to this day because of that Motown is such an iconic label. All because of this young man his purpose and dream that he was able to harness all of those talented people to where Motown is today. To work with Berry was fantastic as well as Smokey Robinson. It was a rewarding feeling to work with Mr. Gordy.

Lexi:   Wonderful!! Now besides you my other two dream interviews are Mr. Gordy and Mr. Robinson as well. Hopefully one day I will get to them as well.

Otis:   Oh I am sure you would thoroughly enjoy it. Smokey is a wonder to himself. He is a great-great friend of mine.

Lexi:   Oh wonderful!

Otis:   He is such a great lyricist. He is something else. I don’t if he put out songs like he did in the 60’s maybe he has gotten so rich that that he may not have the same fervor for writing like he did. Back then we were all hungry so when you have that burning desire you turn it up a notch and the songs and creativity rise to another level. He is such as wonderful person and friend as well as Mr. Gordy.

Lexi:   Who were your top three favorite Motown groups from your era? Of course excluding your own.

Otis:   I would definitely have to say Marvin Gaye first. I would also say the voice of them all Levi Stubbs. Not mentioning any of the Temptations I would say Stevie Wonder.

Lexi:   Mmmm Hmmm

Otis:   Yes we used to be on the tour bus back during the 60’s for the Motown Review. He would be trucking down the highway late at night after doing a show wherever it was. Everybody would be trying to get them some sleep and Stevie would be bored and find him a new kind of instrument. He would be in the back of the bus back there noodling and plunking. You would hear the guys say, “Man Stevie cut that damn thing off so we can get some sleep!”

Lexi:   LOL

Otis:   What Stevie was doing back then was wood shedding and that is why he is such a creative force today.

Lexi:   You know what? It is my goal to interview as many legends as possible. One of my goals was to meet Stevie Wonder. A month ago when I was at NAM I actually got to meet him. You know Mr. Williams, I don’t go crazy over celebrities because I interview them all that time.

Otis:   Sure

Lexi:   You guys are in a completely different category for me. You’re legends. That is something that holds very strong in my heart. I was standing there thinking “OMG” I am standing next to Stevie Wonder. That was a dream come true. Interviewing you is a dream come true. So it is unbelievable how people today are living their dreams but yes it was fantastic being next to Stevie Wonder. It is fantastic talking to you and really fantastic to see my son going crazy over you.

Otis:   Text Derrick his measurements and I will call Harvey Krantz. Harvey is guy that makes our uniforms and I’ll get his measurements over to him. He is the type of guy that will say can I get a chance to fit him? I will tell him he will just have to use those measurements so I get send it to this wonderful ten year old fellow and we know he will outgrow it. He can always look back on that.

Lexi:   Oh he will cherish it!! If you don’t mind if you would write something inside the jacket for him?

Otis:   I will.

Lexi:   That way I will keep it and hold it until his birthday in June or maybe wait till his graduation to him because he is also a straight A student. He is a very responsible baby.

Otis:   I got to send this to him so he can grow up to be a positive force. This will be my birthday present to him. He will no doubt have that when he gets older.

Lexi:   Yes, yes thank you for that!! Now, finish this sentence for me if I knew then what I know now I would…

Otis:   If I knew then I what I know now, well I do try to take care of myself. I would…that’s a good question. I have to think about that one. That is a good one.

Lexi:   I know I have done my job when I get my interviewee to say “that was a good question, I got to think on that one”

Otis:   Yes that is a good question. I want to say so many different things. I want to say something very apropos for a brother that has lasted 54 years seen a lot to things and staying grounded. That is a good one. I can’t think of anything right now. 

Lexi:   Ok we will save that for later. We will just wait till the end of the interview.

Otis:   Okay

Lexi:   What are some of your favorite things to do outside of music?

Otis:   Outside of music when I am at home. I am quiet outside of working. I don’t do that partying. We stopped doing that. I am clothes fanatic. That is my other ambition to start my own clothing line.

Lexi:   Really?!

Otis:   I love to sketch. I have sketching around the house that I do. I love going to the malls. I love movies. I have all kinds of movies that I enjoy at my beautiful home. I’m pretty low key when I’m not working.

Lexi:   Mmm hmmm

Otis:   I think that is probably why I try to take care of myself because all of the crazy stuff we had to go through when I first got started. Singing has made me become very subtle and I thank God for another day. Here it is 54 years we’ve been doing this and I try to treat myself with the proper care. I love what I do and I still enjoy it. We are one-nighters now and they can take the starch out your booty.

Lexi:   Lol

Otis:   Ain’t nothing like walking out on stage and see the people. Their faces light up like Christmas trees waiting to be entertained waiting to hear My girl, Just My Imagination, Ball of Confusion, Treat her like a Lady it’s just a great turn on. So I’m pretty quiet and creative when I am at home.

Lexi:   Ok…ok now out of all the Temptations back in the day who was the last one to get the steps right?

Otis:   Well let me see. Good question! When we started doing the choreography thanks to the great Paul Williams. We would sing anybody under the table. Paul said one day we are not just going to sing we are going to dance. We are going to sell sex and be a group of action. So Eddie Kendricks and I looked at each other and said “what? Dance?” Eddie said Man I can’t dance Paul. Paul said you will when we get through. True enough all of us got it at the same time. We just rehearsed and rehearsed. Now the only time ti got to be complicated was when we rehearsed with Charlie Atkins. Charlie Atkins choreography is not easy.

Lexi:   Mmm Hmm

Otis:   His was very tricky. Sometimes it would be me, sometime Eddie, sometime Melvin, Paul or David. All in all we ended up getting it but you had to put on a different thinking process with Charlie Atkins choreography.

Lexi:   Wow now what you say was the biggest challenge with the group?

Otis:   One of the biggest challenges for the group was staying together. That is a challenge in itself. You know if we are not together or we are fragmented what we’re trying to do is not going to work that was a challenge. You are dealing with five strong personalities aside from myself, David, Paul, Eddie and Melvin. We vowed that we were going to stay together and not tell success do us like it had done our predecessors. Like the Flamingos or Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and what have you. That was the biggest challenge for us as a group and doing whatever to be successful as a group.

Lexi:   What has had at 54 years in the business have you learned or what has had the greatest impact on your life?

Otis:   One thing I always say about what we do and one thing that is constant in life is change. You don’t really understand it until you start looking a back like damn I got more years behind me than I do ahead of me. Through that you learn a lot about focus and learning about success.  Success is a strong aphrodisiac you know we all aspire to get it and when we do we can’t handle it. It’s been something where we always try to stay focused on and learn. Show business can be very very love you today and hate you tomorrow. So we understand all that. I think one of the greatest things we were able to achieve being at Motown.  We went to school at Motown they had artist development there. They taught us about being an artist and we made that our vocation versus avocation. It is great to be a part of things that has taught us about people, places, and ourselves. I’m glad to understand and reflect back on thank God’s for his blessings on such a high profile level.

Lexi:   What percentage of the Temptations story is true? Of course everybody wants to                     know if Blue really died in the kitchen.

Otis:   I’m always asked that question. Let me say this: Ninety-five percent of it is true. I learned a very interesting word when I went to Pittsburgh because Detroit no longer looked like Detroit so they shot it is Pittsburgh. I learned a very important word about dramatic license. We only took five percent of dramatic license to make it flow. Now the scene about Melvin going into the kitchen that was changed and we did not want to show the hospital scene from him being there with all the tubes hooked up to him. We wanted him to have dignity and respect so we changed that from all the hospital scene for that reason and let everyone conclude that Melvin passed. That is what we did for that scene but Melvin really died in the hospital and we wanted him to have his respect and dignity. It touching to hear Smokie say My Buddy. Everybody that saw that scene just broke down and started crying. Other than that scene everything else was the truth. I am still in awe that something that was shown in 1998 and here it is 2014 that’s a long time.

Lexi:   Speaking of breaking down and crying I want you to know that my ten year old had a thousand questions for you but of course you heard him say I can’t think of my questions. One thing he did say is Mommy I want to ask him about Blue, I want to ask him about Paul but I don’t really don’t want to ask him because it might make him cry. He might start crying thinking about his friends if I ask him. I thought oh how sensitive my son is you know?!

Otis:   Yes he is! You know what? That is something I have yet to do is to sit and really watch it. I have seen bits and pieces of it. We were in D.C. about seven or eight years ago. Smokey was being honored with this wonderful thing that they give every year the President gives to very notable people. We had to be there because Smokey was getting his award. We went and did the songs Do the Things You Do and My Girl.

Lexi:   Mmm Hmmmm

Otis:   Before we did the show we were going over to one of the buildings. I was in Smokey was in line, Berry and the rest of us. We were talking about the miniseries and I said yea Smokey I have yet to sit down and watch it in its entirety. He said Oak, (Smokey calls me Oak) you mean to tell me you haven’t watch that movie man? I said no I don’t feel like crying. Oak, let me tell you something get you a box of Kleenex sit down and watch your movie. You are going to cry every time I watch it I cry. You need to watch your movie, I said yea Smokey I will do it but I have yet to do it. I tell you one of the scenes that I said I was not ready for. The one where Charles Malik in fact he called me the other day the young man that played me and D.B. Woodside who plays Melvin while I’m standing off to the side and Allen Arkish the director is setting the lights just right. David was in the room who was played Leon so I’m standing there and the director said Action! Camera! Roll’em. As D.B. Woodside and Charles Malik go and knock on the door and Leon opens the door and they start delivering their lines I said no, no I’m not ready for this. No I still now that was a scene that was lived in 1967-68 but it is still very raw nerve wise and it was 1998 when I saw that. It is still rough to deal with but I am going to have to sit down and look at it. We are waiting for the people that own the Joe Bake catalog Mr. Martin Brandier will give us the green light because we have a big time producer and Universal Records and my manager Shelly to get the green light to do The Temptations life story for Broadway.

Lexi:   ((Gasp))

Otis:   He gave his clearance saying that he would love to see that. We had to wait a whole year because they were doing Berry’s life story. They did not want any conflict so you have to wait till Berry’s is out. We are just waiting for Mr. Brandier to say alright let’s sit down and negotiate how we will use the money for the songs.

Lexi:   Omg!!! I am ready to scream right now because you just said that. I am not going to share that part with anyone. You know who is going to have a front row seat at that show?

Otis:   Yeah, my little man Blaike!

Lexi:   He is going to die! I’m not going to even tell him its coming.

Otis:   Okay, I tell you what you can do. Give him my home number and have him to              give me a call.

Lexi:   Are you serious? What is that number?

Otis:   Eight One Eight Five One Five Five One Three Eight

Lexi:   I just have a couple more questions.

Otis:   Okay!

Lexi:   What are your thoughts on Social Media, FB and Twitter? What are your                              thoughts today?

Otis:   You know what? I tell people I don’t even deal with that FB and Twitter and stuff. It’s something here that is here to stay. It’s messy. I am not going to get on there telling all my business. It about damn near tells when you go to the bathroom.

Lexi:   LOL I know!

Otis:   We have no privacy with all this technology. I deal with my IPhone with the basics pictures, texts, and stuff. I hear them saying yea I’m on twitter I’m like why? So I don’t deal with it. We need to understand that it is here to stay. The iPod, iPad, and things are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s going to get greater later. They will keep us coming back for more.

Lexi:   Oh ok so you with the technology you do have a cellphone? Tell me you do have                     one of those.

Otis:   Oh yes! I have a cellphone and I have iPad, a computer at home. I’m stepping over into the 21st century.

Lexi:   Ok I was just checking!

Otis:   Alright

Lexi:   Have you seen Motown the musical?

Otis:   Yes I did!

Lexi:   Good! What did you think?

Otis:   I loved it! Great job! They did a fantastic job at portraying the Motown greats! I could see it again. I can tell it is going on the road in April 2014

Lexi:   Yes in April

Otis:   When I was at Motown the other day. Esther Edwards’s granddaughter is running the Motown museum (Mrs. Edwards, Berry’s Oldest Sister, passed) they will have the Motown Play in Detroit during the summer of 2014. They would like all of the Motownians still around to come to the play. If we are not working I will be there.

Lexi:   OMG!!! Somebody has got to tell me about that. I’ve got to be there. I’ve got to be there Mr. Williams!!

Otis:   Absolutely!

Lexi:   OMG that would be unreal. Now the other thing is we are going to go back to the sentence you need to finish for me.

Otis:   What was it again?

Lexi:   If I knew then what I know now I would…

Otis:   If I knew then what I know now I would be one of the wise men!  

Lexi:   Why do you say that?

Otis:   I have learned so much about life traveling the world over. We are getting ready to go on another world tour. I have become so enlightened about life and people that it is giving me a whole another way of how things are done. I don’t get bent out of shape like I used to. It has made me much calmer. People say you don’t get riled up like you used to. Why? Life is too short to be getting all bent out of shape. With the experience and traveling I have become a much calmer wiser person.

Lexi:   If you were giving a farewell speech to your fans this minute what would you say?

Otis:   I would say love and thanks for our many fans. There used to be a very popular show that used to come on that I loved in the seventies. It was called “That’s Entertainment” I would like for our fans to think of the Temptations when they would reflect. They would say those five guys that was entertainment. We don’t come out with all the pyro techy stuff, four hundred dancers, and grabbing out crotches. I am not denigrating anyone some artists need that. We love keeping it art in its rare purest form of entertainment. Those guys really knew how to entertain.

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