When you think of musical genius' without a shadow of a doubt a name that will ultimately crop up is that of Lamont Dozier and the Holland Brothers. Responsible for Motown hits such as "Baby Love", "Where Did Our Love Go", "Reach Out, I'll Be There", "Stop In The Name Of Love" the songwriting partnership was responsible for between 400 and 500 songs over a 10 year period. A look on Lamont Dozier's website and you'll see his songs have been recorded by names as varied as The Who, Linkin Park, The Spice Girls and The Dixie Chicks as well as the Motown acts such as Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson.
Designer Magazine caught up with Lamont Dozier to discuss his career and new album "Reflections Of...Lamont Dozier" the week before he accepted an International Ivor Novello Award with the Holland Brothers. Some might say its been long overdue.
Q: For people who haven't heard the "Reflections Of
Lamont Dozier" album. It's an album which has very different arrangements
to the versions people know so well
A: (Laughs) Yeah. A lot of the time what i've been getting from people is that the first listen to they were taken aback cos they have one thing in their minds, the old original versions. But then after they listen to it a couple of times i've been getting reports that they can't take it off the machine. I've been getting great responses likes that.
Q: Why did you choose to release it now, 20 to 30 years
after the songs came out?
A: The reason I really came up with the idea to do it like this is because these songs have been done so many times with so many people, hundreds literally over the years, and nobody has ever thought of rearranging and giving these songs a facelift. The thought came to mind that whenever I was sat at the piano coming up with a new idea the process is I usually start off playing something really slow. Even a lot of these songs, "I Hear A Symphony" or "My World Is Empty Without You", the way I did them was start them off slow to get the feel of the melody or the chords I might have been playing. Then I thought maybe it would be interesting to do a whole album like this.
Since the baby boomers were highly responsible for these songs in the 60s and these people are now mothers, fathers, grandfathers and stuff I figured they're not jumping up and down as fast and readily as they used to. They might just want to sit down, listen and reminisce to these songs that they're familiar with but in this different vein, a slower vein, a more romantic and candlelight approach.
I was up in Nashville on a show and I did a couple of them. "My World Is Empty Without You" and "I Hear A Symphony" and they went crazy so I came back to LA and proceeded to do the whole album. And I got a Grammy nomination a year or so a go and that's what started the whole ball a rolling. Then we got WEA interested in distributing cos before that we were only on the internet. The response has taken us thus far across Europe and we're doing a tour and entertaining as well.
I never really performed around the world in the 70s when
I had quite a few big hits out, not a lot but my first 2 albums on ABC
Dunhill were platinum. This would be my really first performance tour...so
I'm calling it the Lamont Dozier "Unfinished Business" Tour (laughs). Everybody
seems to get a kick out of it because that's exactly what it is. When I
was writing at Motown, Berry Gordy wanted me to be a producer and writer
mostly because he had a lot of artists who couldn't write their own songs.
I put my own career on the backburner, so with that in mind I took that
premise and used it as unfinished business, me performing that is.
Q: Looking at the production styles. The stripped back
ballad productions of "Reflections Of..." or the up-tempo Motown sound.
Which are you most happy with?
A: Oh god. Which one I like best you mean? Anything that I do new with a new approach. One of my favourite songs is "My World Is Empty Without You" the way i've done it now. Its very close to me because its the first one I started to play with this new arrangement.
Q: Of all the Motown songs you've written and produced,
do you have any favourites and why?
A: It's hard to say. There's so many that bring about different ideas and different memories when I go through these songs. Say a song like "Stop In The Name Of Love" really brings about a lot of memories cos I was a bit of a playboy at the time that the song came about. This girl caught me with another girl and this is how that song was born. Somehow I tried to diffuse the argument we were having and blurted out visciciously "stop baby, please stop in the name of love" and laughing about it as the other girl was lying out the back door. That's how that song was really born. Things like that really come to mind that play a part in the memory of the song and the love I have for song.
Q: Unbelievably there were times when acts refused
to sing the songs. "Where Did Our Love Go?" was one for example?
A: Yeah, that was one that was really interesting cos at first I didn't think I was going to get anybody to record it. The Marvellettes, who I originally had it in mind for, heard it and just really didn't like it at all and refused to do it. So I had to do something really quick cos I had taken it upon myself to cut the track. At Motown the rules are if you had to cut something like this you better finish it or be charged for it, so that's when I got the Supremes to come in and listen to it and they didn't like it either. And this created another scenario of circumstances and when we were dubbing the track in the whole attitude of the girls, especially Diana Ross, was really what the song needed. The feeling and the attitude of what they were doing was perfect for the mood of the song and it was responsible for selling 3 million copies I believe. It's funny how things turn out I guess
Q: What was Diana Ross' response after the success
of the song?
A: She was elated. She couldn't remember the argument. If I spoke to her now it's like 'I don't remember anything like that'. Ok fine, she's totally gotten amnesia about it now. It's ridiculous how people can conveniently forget things after the fact.
Q: Did that happen quite often - artists refusing to
sing the songs?
A: No, not really. That was the one that was an outrageous situation that was not the rule of thumb by any stretch of the imagination. It stayed in my mind because the song was so big and it was the first of thirteen number 1's in a row for those girls. It was pivotal moment you might say in their career as well as for Holland-Dozier-Holland
Q: Each week when you had the weekly meetings at Motown
to decide what would be released were there any fallings out or disagreements
with the other writers and producers such as Smokey?
A: In those meetings, they were pretty tough meetings. I didn't have too much opposition from him in the meetings about the material we were bringing up. We were quite successful in getting Berry's ear and he liked just about everything we did cos he thought everything we did was innovative. With him being a songwriter himself it helped the situation and gave us an edge, but you still had to come ready and have your songs together.
Smokey and Norman Whitfield and all of these guys were
good songwriters and producers in their own right. There was a pull and
struggle for what was going on the releases going on between us at times,
but they came up with timeless classic songs as well. What that did was
stimulate everybody to do their best and to know that your competition
was really fierce. Between us you might say it was friendly fire and we
knew we had to be on our toes.
Q: Nowadays there doesn't seem to be the same quality
control at record labels. There's production teams that churn out the same
thing week in week out. Would you agree?
A: Its the same old thing worn over. You listen to the radio over here (the States) and you don't know when one song left off and another begins because so many people are just copycatting. All you need is a couple of artists to cover the whole gamut because everybody else sounds alike.
Q: What do you think of modern production teams, people
like the Neptunes?
A: You know, I like Pharell. You really don't know what people are like until you meet them, but after meeting him I thought he was a very wise young man and up on music, where it came from and where it started. He has a good sense of history of the music in this country and R&B music in particular. I was really surprised and taken aback by his knowledge of the music business. He knew just about everything that I had recorded since a teenager which I found really flattering. This is probably why he is very successful and him and his partner Chad are probably the number 1 producers in this country.
I also like the producer who writes for Norah Jones, Jessie Harris. He's a really good producer, songwriter and artist in his own right. I think Norah Jones is the new talent that will be around for another 30/40/50 years.
And your own Joss Stone. She's one of the best things lately that's come out of England. As a matter of fact i've just finished writing a song with her for her new album. I wasn't really that impressed about her first album, but when I got the opportunity to work with her in the studio I was like wow. For a sixteen year old girl she's got it really going on.
Q: Back in the day did you and the Holland brothers
have a particular way of writing? Who wrote the tunes and who wrote the
A: Actually I did both, i've always done both. Plus I was the ideas man sandwiched between the two brothers Holland. Eddie wrote melodies and Brian and I wrote lyrics and Brian was also a recording engineer. A lot of the time we would get on the floor and direct them first hand with nothing but a chord sheet. Just showing the band how to play and what attitude the songs should be played in. That's how we split the workforce and by the three of us doing it - me writing the lyrics and coming up with melodies and passing on what I had started lyrically onto Eddie - we were able to get a lot of songs out that way. We were a factory within a factory. And that's why we were so far ahead of everybody else. We had this work ethic that kept us glued to the grind stone coming out with this stuff. We were sometimes in the studio 18 or 20 hours a day, it was madness. In the short time we were at Motown we racked up some four or five hundred songs in 10 years.
Q: Weren't 75% of the songs about one girl?
A: That's right. In my particular case the ideas I came up especially with were about one girl cos I zeroed in on my feelings. When I thought about love songs I always thought about Bernadette. Bernadette was an elementary school sweetheart of mine which I often thought about when I sat at the piano. Cos the situation I had with her was one sided. It was unrequited. She didn't know I even existed but I had this crush on her and dreams about her and wishing and hoping she would be my girl but it was to be.
Q: A lot of songwriters have that one person that inspires
their whole career
A: She was my inspiration for a lot of songs for years. She had a big big part of my writing situation. Every time I sat at the piano I thought about her. The whole idea, the process, of writing has to real and you have to be coming from a real place and I knew my feelings for her were real. When I sat down to write a love I just resorted to feelings I felt for her and these chords I was working on had a more real approach to it. People can really identify to a song when its real feelings for somebody and it comes across in the music.
Q: How did your future partners react when they realized
the songs were about this one girl?
A: They didn't know. They really didn't know how I was coming up with stuff. And Brian wrote similar. We just didn't say who was stimulating or inspiring the ideas we were coming up with. When we wrote together or individually we would just do it and I knew they were about somebody, but we didn't discuss our personal love life's. Some guys do, but we didn't discuss that at all.
Q: At the time did you have any idea you were making
A: No way. At best I thought maybe I'd get a new car out of the deal (laughs) and somewhere down the line I might get lucky and buy my mother a new home so she could move outside the housing project that she was in. Just that type of thing. But by no stretch of the imagination I thought this would transpire to what happened.
Q: Is it mad to think that your songs are as big as
Elvis or the Beatles?
A: Yeah. They are. They call it the soundtrack of our life's or the soundtrack of young america. They're nice sounding little catch phrases, but I didn't think my name would be attracted to something so big or something that has lasted over 40 years.
Q: How do you feel about the Funk Brothers being recognized
after all this time?
A: Don't you think its about time. They really were a part of the success of Motown. There are good musicians and there are great musicians and those guys are great musicians. Especially when it came to....when you're trying to teach the feelings and approach to musicians they have to be very savvy, they have to have an understanding of what the music is all about to be able to play it correctly. These guys just knew whatever it was that you tried to do, they just had a sense of where you were going with it and an unusual innate sense of how to play the music. When I was trying to tell them how to play a chord or how to react to a certain feeling they just knew.
Q: What are you most proud of in your post-Motown career?
A: I think the songs that I did with ABC Dunhill were good. Some of my songs at Warner Brother, "Going Back To My Routes" which was recorded by Odyssey and Richie Havens became a staple anthem for house music.
After leaving Motown I wrote with Phil Collins, Eric Clapton
and Alison Moyet and moving to England and living there about a year and
a half. I stayed there living in Hyde Park and I did a lot of work with
these people as well as Simply Red and Boy George. I had great relationships
with these people and still do. I call England my second home cos I like
the feeling and the people there still get me. They really get me and what
i'm about musically.
Q: People would be quite surprised that when you came
over to England it was Pete Waterman that tracked you down and brought
you over here.
A: Yeah, Pete Waterman. He's a good friend and a good buddy. He was the one that really talked me into coming there talked me into staying there at a time when a lot for me was not going on here. I stayed there almost 2 years and he was the one that instigated that move and hooked me up with a lot of people.
Q: For many people over 30, Pete Waterman is seen as
a man who had changed the face of pop music significantly for the worse.
When you've chatted to him how much does he actually know about music?
A: He has some of the best ears in the business. He's not a musician per say or songwriter per say, but he is a producer and he can put together songs in his own way. To be a producer you have to have big ears and he has some of the most talented ears in the business. He can pick hits. You have people who say "if I could pick hits i'd be rich". Well, I think Pete Waterman is rich and its because of his ears.
There's a place for the stuff Kylie did in history, but
only history will tell if those songs are still being played. The dance
part of the music industry will still have a voice i'm sure.
Q: Not many people know this but you actually worked
with Simon Cowell at one point with the Scottish duo Mero. Do you remember?
A: Yeah. Nothing became of that and it was too bad because a couple of tracks that we did really could have been some big moments for them. The A&R people (Simon Cowell) weren't particularly thrilled about it and they didn't think the band was that talented or something. The record company eventually let them go.
Q: A lot of people wouldn't ever imagine the names
Lamont Dozier and Simon Cowell in a sentence together.
A: (Laughs) It was interesting. I'd put it that way
Q: You mentioned Joss Stone earlier on. Are there any
other contemporary figures you'd work with?
A: I'm trying to think who comes to mind. I'm going to be working with a couple of people, but I don't have my itinerary with me here. I got some reference to Boy George the other day. How is he doing over there? Is his credibility any good? (Ed: His musical Taboo came out that went really well in England but flopped over in the states) Me and him did some songs on an album he did called "Sold" which did pretty well and he's expressed an interest about working together again when I come over to the UK.
Q: Are you doing any shows when you come over here?
A: I've got some publicists that are lining up some shows throughout Europe in the UK, France and Germany as well. I'll be out there for about a month and we're picking up an Ivor Novello award with the Holland Brothers. When I come to England I have to check out my favourite restaurants as well...the oriental restaurant in the Dorchester is one of my favourite places. It would be sacrilege for me not to visit those places.
"Reflections Of....Lamont Dozier" is out now
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