Lamont Dozier Takes To The Road
By John Abbey
Lamont Dozier is putting together a show to promote his new album and these will be his first live gigs for some 20 years!
ALTHOUGH still only in his late 30’s, Detroit-born Lamont Dozier has completed a full quarter century of years in the record industry. At the tender age of ten, he wrote his first song — appropriately titled “A Song” and it seems that his teacher was so impressed that “A Song” stayed written on the class blackboard for a full six months. At just fourteen, he put together a group called The Romeos and they enjoyed a local success in Detroit with an early Dozier composition, “Fine, Fine Baby” — originally released on the Fox label and then sold to Atco. However, the group broke up and Lamont concentrated his efforts on furthering his education.
In 1959, Lamont and his friend and fellow-songwriter, Robert Bateman, left the Motor City to find their fame and fortune in New York. Needless to say, nothing happened and the disillusioned pair returned home where Lamont took a job as staffwriter/singer and producer with a new, local company — called Motown Records! His own first record didn’t happen but Lamont wrote a song called “Lockin’ Up My Heart” and it became a success for the Marvelettes on the newly formed Tamla label. It lead to Lamont hooking up with two similarly hungry young writers at Motown and the legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland triangle was born.
With Eddie and Brian, Lamont went on to create such epic songs as “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Baby Love”, “Back In My Arms Again”, “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (all for the Supremes) plus a whole bevvy of million sellers for the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, the Miracles and the Isley Brothers. But not only did Eddie, Lamont and Brian write the songs, they also produced and arranged the sessions, thus making themselves the hottest team of the era. And they are also credited with being most responsible for creating the Motown Sound.
However, in 1970, the trio left Motown and formed their own Invictus and Hot Wax Records. The hits continued — via Freda Payne, the Chairmen of the Board, 100 Proof, the Honey Cone and Glass House. It was also during this era that Lamont returned to the microphone himself. Under the guise of Holland-Dozier, Lamont sang lead on such hits as “Why Can’t We Be Lovers” and “Don’t Leave Me”. In 1974, Lamont left the crumbling Invictus/Hot Wax empire and joined ABC as a solo artist. Although he never really attained the commercial peaks he deserved, he received tremendous critical acclaim for his “Black Bach” album. Two years later, he switched to Warner Brothers Records and has now notched up a hat-trick of albums for his company.
All of which brings us virtually up-to-date and to Lamont’s recently released “Bittersweet” album. It also marks the very first time that Lamont has ever turned over production of his own music to an outside producer — though one questions whether his old Motown comrade, Frank Wilson, really qualifies as being “outside”.
“It’s something I have been thinking about for a while,” Lamont begins, sitting upright and looking rather serious. “I think that I ran the risk of being too close to myself and felt that maybe an outside producer could do something different for me. Sometimes, it must be hard for a doctor to operate on himself and that’s the way I looked at it. And since I know Frank so well and we have a good relationship anyway, I felt he would be the ideal man to try the experiment with. I have to admit that I was disappointed that my last album (“Peddlin’ Music On The Side”) didn’t do better. It was more successful overseas — especially in Britain. I guess, though, that that was good because it gave me my first real taste of success outside of the States. Anyway, Frank has given me a more uptempo album — although six of the actual songs are still mine. It gives me a chance to really become involved in the disco thing and that was something I wanted to try.
“Boogie Business” is currently one of the top disco records in the States and, at the time of writing, is scheduled to become the first single from the album. With this genuine stab at solo success, Lamont is also breaking another one of his ground rules. For the first time, he is putting together a show to take on the road to promote this album. “I am well aware of what it takes,” he stresses immediately. “I have visited many, many acts while they have been on the road and I have seen how they prepare themselves. And I used to play drums for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles very early on in their career. Right now, I am resting myself, eating and exercising so that I can build up my stamina. I’ll be putting together an eight or nine piece band and I am really looking forward to it. “Nervous? Well, it will be my first time out there singing since the Romeos so I’m sure that I will experience butterflies at first.”
Is the touring idea a prestige thing? “Well, it is, shall we say, semi-prestige,” he admits. “But, it is something I have always wanted to do. I also believe it will help me as a songwriter because being away from home opens up my head. I relate to life in my songs and it will give me new experiences to write about.” Lamont’s overseas success has coincided with his new-found interest in disco music. Last year, he travelled to Britain, France and parts of Africa to promote the internationally popular “Going Back To My Roots”. “And I plan to go back this year,” he immediately points out. “Boogie Business” is being released around the world and I believe the initial response has been good. “In the past, I always stayed away from disco because I have never been the type of guy to jump on bandwagons. But then I don’t consider my album to be ordinary disco, do you?”
It’s interesting to use the word ‘disco’ in relation to Lamont. Because surely the whole Holland-Dozier-Holland thing started the disco revolution anyway. What else is disco other than dance music. And weren’t H-D-H the original purveyors of dance music? “That’s a compliment,” Lamont gingerly smiles. “I am flattered — but music is purely personal and if I was in any way an innovator, then I’m glad that others have noticed it.”
Will his new singing career conflict with his songwriting? “I started as a singer so it is my first love,” he states firmly. “So, I will continue to sing. I stayed away for ten years before coming back with “Why Can’t We Be Lovers”. But I think the fact that I am planning this first tour shows how much of a commitment I am making to that side of my career. I hope to work on the road for maybe four months in every year and so I have had to cut back on outside projects. I’ll be more selective. I’d like to get involved in movie scores and I am hoping to work on a Broadway musical.”
At present, Lamont is on the streets with two projects. Edwin Starr’s “Clean” album was mostly Lamont’s work; and he also produced the Keane Brothers for ABC. “But I didn’t cut “Contact” on Edwin’s album — he did that himself,” Lamont impresses. “Truthfully, Edwin is his own best producer. And I did the Keane Brothers because it was something different and a challenge. I was Executive Producer at 20th Century for a while and I had the group with me then — but they didn’t do anything with them and so when I left, I bought the tapes back and arranged a deal with ABC.”
“Something Different” certainly sums up the other projects that Lamont is busy on right now. “I am writing my own life story for a screenplay,” he surprises me. “It will be the truth — and a musical! It will cover the happy times and the sad times. But I’ll change the name, of course — though I’d like to appear in the movie itself. I have already put three years of hard work into it and I am hoping to have it completed by the end of this year. “Then I am also writing two books. One is about songwriting — it goes more into the technique and again it is very personal because it deals with my own experiences and the things that I ahve learned. A lot of writers — even today — miss out on the little things that make a successful writer. The other book is on cooking — that’s my first love, after music. I have been cooking — no, a scientist of the kitchen! — since I was about twelve. I am always cooking at home. Anything from Shrimp Creole to Beef Stroganoff. My speciality, though, is Chinese food and the book will feature some of the recipes that I have worked out for myself.”
In the last couple of years, many H-D-H originals have been brought back to life by other acts and welcomed by a whole new generation of record buyers who are unfamiliar with the golden days of ‘The Motown Sound’. And so I was interested to find out which ‘cover version’ Lamont liked best of one of his own creations. “I Think it must be the Doobie Brothers and “Take Me In Your Arms”,” he said without any hint of hesitation.
Well, to put it midly, Lamont Dozier has a golden past. With his commitment to the future, it could well be that his future will be even more successful for him.
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