Rock & Roll Hall of Famers and seminal R&B legends the Four Tops will perform on Friday, May 19 at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence, to celebrate seven decades together.
They will be joined by fellow Motown labelmates and lifelong friends The Temptations.
Duke Fakir is the last remaining founding member of the world-renowned Four Tops.
He joined the group in 1953, when they were still called by their original name, The Four Aims. He and original members Obie Benson, Lawrence Payton and Levi Stubbs became an in-demand live act and performed together for ten years in cabaret clubs. They recorded for Chess and Columbia Records before finally getting signed to Motown Records in 1963. Two years later, they had their first number one record I Can’t Help Myself in July of 1965.
The Four Tops would go on to superstardom and travel the US, and then the world, with hits such as “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Walk Away Renee,” “It’s The Same Old Song,” “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” and “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got),” among many others.
Fakir, along with his fellow Four Tops, was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997, was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009, received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award for ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ in 2018, and was included in the Billboard Magazine Top 100 Recording Artists of All Time.
In addition to Fakir, the current Four Tops now include Ronnie McNeir, Lawrence Payton Jr (son of original member Lawrence Payton), and lead vocalist Alexander Morris.
At 87 years old, Duke Fakir’s passion for music and carrying on his beloved Four Tops’ legacy is still as strong as ever.
Al Gomes (Motif): Duke, how did this incredible 70-year journey begin?
Duke Fakir: I met Levi Stubbs while at school and because of our shared passion of singing. From the very first time that I heard Levi’s voice, I simply was in awe of it. I heard Levi and I said, “This guy can really sing,’ and then we became close friends.
He could sing anything, and sing it well. Levi was a real, true artist. I ended up performing for four decades with, in my opinion, a man who had, without a doubt, one of the most recognizable voices in music history.
Levi and I were invited to perform at a graduation party in 1953 that these girls were having. We thought it would be better to perform as a quartet instead of just us two. We knew Lawrence and Obie pretty well and had seen them singing around town. So we told them about the party and we asked them to join us.
We get to the party with no rehearsals whatsoever. We get on stage and start singing and our voices blended perfectly. It was right then that we knew we had something amazing. We met the following day at my house and formed the group right there and then.
AG: As a lifelong resident and booster of Detroit, were you happy to finally be a part of Motown in 1963?
DF: We were thrilled. Detroit has always been our home. We lived there our whole lives. I still live there.
The Four Tops became the main male vocal group for the successful songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who crafted a string of hit singles for Motown. Under their wings, we became one of the biggest recording groups of the ‘60s.
Our hearts have always been with Motown and they always will be.
AG: Why do you think the Four Tops’ recordings have endured?
DF: The songs that were written and produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland were really some of the greatest songs of that era. Probably some of the greatest songs ever – “I Can’t Help Myself,” “It’s The Same Old Song,” “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” – just amazing. And they were songs about love and relationships, which is always timeless.
AG: A lot of artists say that they never listen to their recordings once they’re released. Do you ever listen to yours?
DF: Yes. When I’m home from the road, I still listen to a lot of our recordings. Not only the singles, but I find myself listening to the albums. Our recordings still sound as good today as they did sixty and fifty years ago. To me, they still sound fresh. I am amazed that our music has lasted 70 years. And – it was a great team effort that went into all of our records.
AG: Speaking of your albums, I believe that Four Tops – Live & In Concert (1974) is one of the greatest live albums of all-time.
DF: I really do appreciate you saying that. Recording that album was a great experience. I really do treasure a lot of the recordings that we did for ABC/Dunhill Records. We always enjoyed working with Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who were both great songwriters. It was so much fun working with them.
All in all, I would have to say that it was an enjoyable time in our careers. Lambert and Potter brought us songs that were a little different from the Motown sound, but they were great producers and knew what to do with us. I have always thought that the albums Keeper Of The Castle and Main Street People and the single “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)” were some of our strongest pieces of work.
AG: Tell us about your current fellow Four Tops.
DF: We have Lawrence‘s son, Lawrence Payton Jr, who is just like his dad. Lawrence Jr. was a little kid when we started. He was always in the studio with us. He knew all our recordings early on. We didn’t have to teach him anything when he became a Four Top. He definitely has the voice and musical gift of his father.
We have Ronnie McNeir, who was himself a solo artist for Motown. He was original Four Top Obie Benson’s best friend and they wrote songs together. His personality is just like Obie. He even looks like him. So it’s like Obie is still here with me. And then our lead vocalist Alexander Morris. Alexander has a big voice. He is just about as close to Levi as anyone that we have ever had.
So I’m carrying on the legacy in a way that the original Four Tops would have loved. Lawrence, Ronnie, and Alexander make it easy for me to continue and keep the Four Tops alive.
AG: What do you miss most about the founding members Obie, Lawrence, and Levi?
DF: It was all about love. We loved each other as friends. We loved singing together. We had the same passion for entertaining people and we loved the way we thought about each other. We had such high praise for one another.
AG: What do you think are the main reasons that you still love performing?
DF: Reaching people with our songs. And we think of our fans as the real stars of the show. They are the stars because they’ve been there the entire time for us – buying our records, coming to our shows, dancing in the aisles, the loud applause. They show us their all.
We always look forward to our shows in the Northeast — Boston, Hartford, and of course, Providence. The crowds in the Northeast are some of the best we have and are always enthusiastic and fun. They always make us feel welcome and loved.
Our audiences’ reactions make it evident that we did the right thing when we realized that we had to carry on the Four Tops’ legacy. And I will always feel good about that decision. I will keep this alive as long as I can. I still enjoy doing all of this. As long as I am able to do it — I will.
The Four Tops and The Temptations perform live on Friday, May 19 at 7:30 pm at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, 1 Avenue of the Arts, in Providence. Tickets can be purchased at www.thevetsri.com or by calling 401-421-2787.