Lamont Dozier: Peddlin’ Music…
By David Nathan
The Hitmaker Supreme who can’t read or write music….but he’s got a good ear and keeps cookin’ up the goodies! David Nathan investigates the art of culinary composing, according to Lamont Dozier.
It surely can’t have gone unnoticed for many European soul music lovers that one of the hottest records to have hit the charts in France. Italy and other points Continental in many a while, comes from none other than Mr. Lamont Dozier whose name has, unfortunately, been conspicuous from its absence from the U.S. charts for some time now.
The record that’s given Lamont some international acclaim as a recording artist is the appropriately titled “Goin’ Back To My Roots” taken from the “Peddlin’ Music On The Side” album, released by Warners earlier in the year.
Although this is Lamont’s first real taste of success outside of his homeland, he is of course well-known to millions of record buyers throughout the world as one-third of the legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland team, who as both producers and songwriters, contributed immeasurably to the growth of what can only be termed the phenomenal Motown Records organization.
Any list of Lamont’s songwriting credits alone would probably cover the rest of this page and when you add to such credentials the success he enjoyed with his co-owned Invictus and Hot Wax labels — which spawned hits for Freda Payne, The Chairmen of the Board, Laura Lee, Glasshouse, The Honeycone and others — when they were flourishing, you have quite an impressive list of accomplishments.
Lamont’s decision to strike out on his own a few years back resulted in immediate chart acceptance with tunes like “Fish Ain’t Bitin’ ” and “Trying To Hold On To My Woman” on A.B.C. and a couple of albums for the company further confirmed Lamont’s ability as not only a producer and songwriter of legendary status but his talents when doing his own thing.
Unfortunately, since joining Warners, Lamont’s records haven’t made quite the same impact and two albums after signing with the company, Lamont notes that he’s going to have to “do a lot more things for myself! I feel that the company has done as well as it could,” but he doesn’t elaborate further, other than to say that he’s “very happy about the success of [the book and television series] ‘Roots’ in Europe — hey, a hit record is alright anywhere! But, you know, the song was written at least a year before I even knew about Alex Hayley and the book. The song was inspired by the fact that I have my ‘roots’ in Detroit and when I moved to Los Angeles, a few years ago, I found myself taking trips to Detroit to see my family and so on — and it was like going back to the roots then! It was just coincidental that with all the prominence of the whole ‘Roots’ phenomenon, my record should come out!”
Although Lamont may not have been exactly tearing the charts apart recently, he’s been a very busy gentleman anyway. Apart from working on his “Peddlin’ ” album, which was actually produced by Stu Levine (who also works with The Crusaders), Mr. Dozier has been involved in a couple of outside productions. He produced Aretha Franklin’s last Atlantic album, “Sweet Passion”, for instance. “I’ve known Aretha since we both went to high school together in Detroit and we’ve been waiting for the opportunity to work together for the longest time. I got a call from Noreen Woods at Atlantic and naturally, I said yes, I’d love to do the album. Working with someone as talented as Aretha just made my job really easy. All I did was make demos of the songs for Aretha just to give her a guide — you can’t even begin to tell someone like that how to sing! I mean, she knows exactly what to do and that’s all there is to it!”
In addition, Lamont finished four sides for Al Wilson on Playboy Records as a prelude to a forthcoming album and also worked with U.S. TV actor Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs on his debut album for A.B.C. which he says has “overtones of Marvin Gaye and The Four Tops to it. I think he’s going to be a really big artist and we’ve already started talking about the next album.” On top of all that, Lamont recently signed a new deal with CBS’ publishing wing, April-Black-wood to administer his Dozier Music company: “I really haven’t had time to develop it the way I’d like to with the other commitments I’ve had and I’m satisfied that the company is more than able to handle it. The association should also bring me into working some other situations as far as production chores are concerned.”
With future plans including work on some Broadway musicals and another album with Stu Levine entitled “Street Poetry” (“which will relate to situations that the average guy in the street has to deal with”), the question arises as to whether Lamont ever worries about ‘drying up’ creatively. “No way!” he smiles, “To me, writing songs is just like eating or sleeping. I can never see a day coming when I won’t do it at all. Sure, a lot of people do it as a business but to me, it’s always been almost like a hobby — but a hobby that I happen to make my living at. And, of course, it is a gift that I’m truly grateful for. I never try to let writing become too serious because that’s when it becomes a pressure. Sure, there have been situations when certain assignments have to be met but I don’t like having to sit there trying to come up with a song. What you do have to do is apply yourself, plan and have a direction. For instance, I set aside a definite amount of time for each project I’m doing — maybe two hours on this, two on that. You have to be organized. And also, I find it easier to create when I’m alone. Some people don’t — but I find that I can get the job done much better when I’m by myself. Now, not that I’m reclusive — but when you have a lot of creative work, you can’t be running here, there and everywhere. For me creative work is fun, it’s enjoyable and I also look forward to it. Although I don’t read or write music (aspiring songwriters please note), I’ve been blessed with a good ear so I can hear what I need to. And, you know, I only got that from being a fan — from listening to a whole lot of music, listening for what the different instruments do. But, anyway, I always look forward to being able to put down on tape an idea — it’s really exciting to go into the studios and just create a song after you’ve thought up the melody and the lyrics.”
It’s truly incredible to believe that this gentleman has contributed so many classics to the music world and finds it quite so easy and as if to underline the fact, Lamont admits that some of his best songs are written in the kitchen! Considered something of a gourmet cook, Lamont loves to experiment with food: “It’s very relaxing and it’s another form of creating. Only instead of music, it’s food! Usually on Sundays, I’ll cook up a whole big batch of different kinds of food just for two people — because I really enjoy it! It’s like writing songs in a way: it helps relieve all those tensions and problems.” And by all accounts — at least from those who’ve sampled Lamont’s kitchen delights — he’s as good with the pots and pans as he is with the piano and the pen!
One of Lamont’s immediate goals will be to put greater emphasis on the performing side of his career, an area which, as yet, he hasn’t really been too involved in: “We finally got our band together and I anticipate that after the first of the year, we’ll be doing selected weekend dates. I haven’t been able to put the emphasis on that aspect before because of the commitments I’ve had as a producer and writer for other people primarily. But I’m looking forward to it. I guess the only problem I’m finding is that there are just not enough hours in the day for me to do all the things I want to do. But then, I really don’t mind being busy and having to work on — I don’t think I’d like it any other way.”
And as if as an explanation for the title of his last album, Lamont relates: “To me, my music is what I do. It’s like for some people, it’s working in an office, in a factory, I’m just really thankful that I’ve been blessed with the chance to make my living doing what I enjoy the most but it could have been any other way — some people make cars, build houses. My job is peddling music on the side!” And if peddling music on the side produces the kind of material that Lamont Dozier’s been responsible for, there can’t be too much wrong with it!
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