By Noe Gutierrez
The Four Tops & The Temptations are forever emblazoned in music history. The Temptations had hits like “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “My Girl,” “It’s Growing,” “Since I Lost My Baby,” “Get Ready,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep,” and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.” The Four Tops have the classics, “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” “It’s the Same Old Song” and “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got.”
The Four Tops were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1990. Lawrence Albert Payton, Sr. passed away in 1997. In 2005, Renaldo “Obie” Benson died of lung cancer & Levi Stubbs died in 2008. The only original remaining member is Abdul “Duke” Fakir. Coachella Valley Weekly had the opportunity to speak with Lawrence Payton, Jr., son of original member Payton, Sr., by phone as he and The Four Tops prepped for a live recording at The Roostertail, where they recorded their first live album 50 years ago!
CVW: How was your Christmas season?
Payton, Jr.: “Christmas was really wonderful. It was really cold in this part of the country for a few days. It lightened up around Christmas and it was absolutely beautiful. I spent it with my mother, my children my grandchildren. I know your weather in the desert is not Christmas weather it’s paradise.”
CVW: What are your plans for The Four Tops in 2017?
Payton, Jr.: “As you know Abdul ‘Duke’ Fakir is the last remaining member of the Four Tops. I often think about that. I have to put it in my mind how long will Duke be doing this. He’s been at it for quite a long time now. He had his first hit at Motown in 1964. What can we do to keep the legacy turning? We’ve got some irons in the fire. We have this live recording at the Roostertail that we’ll release. The significance of that is the Four Tops did a live recording there fifty years ago! No other artist has ever done that 50 years later!”
“During our show we will continue to pay tribute to the fallen members of the Four Tops and Duke will lead the song, ‘My Way’. He changes the title to ‘Our Way’. That’s his way of saying thank you to the fans for all of the years of support. In his words, ‘I’m just gonna do this till I can’t anymore.’ He’s not just up there as a figurehead, this guy can move, he can sing and his voice is impeccable. He’s still good at what he does. He still has what it takes to be on the road, the energy and all of that. He’s a remarkable man to be doing what he’s doing.”
CVW: Your participation in The Four Tops is a great tribute to your father. He left a living legacy that you continue to carry. What would you like your legacy to be?
Payton, Jr.: “First I see myself as a father. I have five children aged 22 to 29. Both of my daughters are very prolific songwriters and they sing. My 24 year old daughter just graduated from St. John’s with a degree in journalism. My youngest daughter is attending Wayne State University in Michigan now. I feel I’ve been very successful being a father. Second, I’m a songwriter. I’ve been writing songs for years. Third, I see myself as a vocalist. God has blessed me with a talent to sing. My performance is spirited and sober.”
CVW: What is your favorite song to perform live?
Payton, Jr.: “My favorite song to perform live is not a Four Tops song. It’s ‘Mack The Knife’ by Bobby Darrin. We’ll be singing that in Indio. That and ‘Still of the Night.’ I like the progressive jazz-type songs too. My favorite Four Tops song to sing is ‘Feelings.’”
CVW: What was the favorite song your father performed live?
Payton, Jr.: “His favorite song to perform was ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ by the Rolling Stones. They would use that and ‘Satisfaction’ as encores. It was his idea to do them and he rocked out to them. He loved it. His favorite Four Tops album was Four Tops on Broadway and ‘Maria’ was a favorite song for him to sing.”
CVW: Please share with us your perceptions of The Four Tops.
Payton, Jr.: “If I had to sum ‘em all up, I would have to say that Levi Stubbs was the face and consummate professional of The Four Tops. He wouldn’t put his voice on a song if he thought he couldn’t do it justice. I would say Lawrence Payton, Sr. was the harmony for The Four Tops. My father was a perfectionist and drove them towards perfection and to be a cut above the rest. Obie was a prolific songwriter. He wrote ‘What’s Goin’ On’ with Marvin Gaye. He was also very jovial and loving. I would say Duke Fakir was the sound of The Four Tops. He is kind, compassionate and fair. They were as individual as people could be.”
CVW: What can fans expect from The Four Tops?
Lawrence Payton, Jr.: “With the Four Tops & The Temptations, it’s the perfect contrast in styles and in music. You’re gonna get your favorite Motown hits. You’re gonna hear things that you haven’t heard in a while and you’re gonna hear some new tunes.”
“I want everyone to know that we’re coming to Indio and whatever we bring we’re gonna leave it right there on the stage. We love what we’re doing. We love to perform. We love to put smiles on peoples’ faces. That’s the beauty of it all. It’s about the memories that we help people remember and smile about. It’s the joy that they receive when they hear what we’re doing. It’s about being the best we can be while we’re doing it. That’s how we want to be remembered.”