The Temptations and The Supremes, two of the most renowned artists from the world famous R&B and soul music record label label, Motown, came to the Middle East for the very first time to perform at Qatar’s Doha Marriott Hotel on Friday 22 March 2013 and at a private show at the American Al Udeid Air Base on Saturday 23 March 2013.
On the afternoon of Thursday 21 March 2013, just the day after The Temptations landed in Qatar and before they took to Qatar’s stages with their groovy dance moves, distinct harmonies and flashy wardrobe, Marhaba had a chance to sit down and interview Glenn Leonard, a member of The Temptations, about the legacy of the all-men group and today’s music industry.
The Temptations are an American vocal group known for their success with Motown Records during the 1960s and 1970s. Motown Records isn’t just a regular label, it played an important role in the racial integration of popular music by achieving a crossover success in the US. From 1961 to 1971, Motown had 110 top 10 hits. Top artists on the Motown label during that period included Diana Ross, The Supremes, The Four Tops and The Jackson 5, while Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Marvelettes and The Miracles released hits on the sister label Tamla.
Known to always feature at least five male vocalists and dancers, The Temptations formed in 1960 in Detroit, Michigan under the name The Elgins. Having sold tens of millions of albums, The Temptations are one of the most successful groups in music history. As of 2013, the Temptations continue to perform and record for Universal Music Group with its one living original founding member, Otis Williams, still in its lineup. Other original founding members include Elbridge “Al” Bryant, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams. However, like its sister group, The Supremes, the Temptations’ lineup has changed frequently over the years.
Over the course of their career, The Temptations have released four Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles and fourteen R&B number-one singles. Their material earned them three Grammy Awards. In addition, The Temptations are the first Motown recording act to win a Grammy Award and in 2013, the group received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Six of The Temptations (Edwards, Franklin, Kendricks, Ruffin, Otis Williams and Paul Williams) were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Three classic Temptations songs, My Girl, Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me), and Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone, are among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
Tell us about The Temptations!
We’ve had a long and lustrous career. There has been 21 different temptations. Of course, this is not the original set. The guys that are with me were not actually the original members of The Temptations. I’m the only ex-member of the group. I’m a second generation Temptation so I took one of the original guys’ place.
We know about the beginning and the success of The Temptations but we know little about what came after the success. What happened to The Temptations in the later days?
After the glory days, the days they were really really big, first of all you have five guys in a group so it’s kind of confining, you can’t do a lot. You’re confined to the group. And once you have a certain level of success, you want to grow, you want to branch out, so some of the guys decided they wanted to write and produce and no longer wanted to perform. You evolve. You kind of want to change, go into different things so that’s ultimately what happened. Couple of guys left and went to have solo careers. Some of the guys decided they want out of the business so they’re retired. Two of the guys died. And so if you have a big institution like that, the name becomes larger than any individual so they replace them. So twenty years later, here I am.
How do you find the people who are going to carry on the legacy of The Temptations?
Well, you build up a following and you build up protégés. You look around and see the same people in different towns where you’re performing so they kind of get to know you a little bit. Then you always have young aspiring artists who want to connect with somebody who’s already made it so you can kind of show them the path. It’s a way of networking and connecting. So in the recording or music industry, it’s all about connecting and who you know not just what you know. If you’re successful already, you tend to give an opportunity or hire somebody that after you interview them, you like them, the personality, the way they carry their selves so that’s kind of the way you find new members. You interview or audition news guys.
What was it like to be a musician in the 1960s and what was the music industry like then?
Well during that era, the 6os, was when the first black record label, Motown Records, emerged on the scene. Of course it was a big big big sense of inspiration, hope and opportunity for African Americans. This was the first black-owned label with a complete roster; the stamp and everything were blacks. We saw that as a sign of hope, we can do this then, we can make too. If they made it, we can make it. A lot of excitement was generated during that period of time. The industry was fresh. That was the first time that black music really really made an impact. Other than that, you had a hit here and a hit there. But this was a company that put nothing but black music that appealed to whites and blacks but nevertheless, they were black artists. Right after that, the industry kind of exploded so you had several companies that were black owned so it opened up everything, things for everybody.
How was has the music industry changed in the recent years?
It changed in the sense that when I was coming up, you would audition then they would sign you to a recording deal. Well today the industry has changed because now you have social networks and the Internet. It’s cheaper to record a record, you could do it; all you need is a couple of computers. You can do everything on computers now. So it changed the industry for the musicians and musicians are out of work, record companies are not getting anybody to buy studio time anymore. So it changed quite a bit. If you ask me, it’s a lot more lucrative for the younger guys cause now they don’t have to have the big money to go in. You could do everything yourself. Today what they do is, if you go with the big record companies, they won’t give you a recording deal; you have to bring your product already finished. What they would do is market and promote it for you.
What do you think about the music that’s coming out today, specifically African American music?
That’s an interesting question. I have to be careful how I answer this because I don’t want to discourage the young artists today. A great many of them have great potential. I think the quality of music has changed. Down through the times, what happens is people’s attitudes change. People were a lot looser at the day.
I particularly don’t like the way they talk about women in songs today. It’s very degrading. That bothers me! Then you have a lot of the smart and clever musicians who take short cuts in the music. Do a good production, do a good arrangement.
Today they look the same. I particularly don’t like the way they dress. I come from an era where attire and fashion means a lot. I don’t like seeing the guys on stage with their pants hanging off their behinds. I hate that! If I paid my money to see you, I don’t want to see you looking like you just came out of the minefields. I want you cleaned up and sharp. Put on a flashy suit and look good, look the part.
My biggest issue with artists today is that they’ve lost the flair. They’ve lost a sense of flair and style.
When Marhaba asked Glenn about performing in the Middle East for the first time, he said:
It’s like breaking new grounds for us. I don’t even think the original Temptations have ever performed in this area before. I kind of sense the excitement, which is a little different because back home, everybody gets used to you after being around for a few years. ‘There’s no big deal. Here’s one of The Temptations.’ But here, people kind of look at you then whisper ‘that’s one of The Temptations.’ So you can see the excitement and the anticipation they don’t expect to see there [in the US]. It’s going to be good.