Sound controls

Songwriter Lamont Dozier, architect of Motown sound, dies at 81

Lamont Dozier, a Motown songwriter who was part of a successful trio that helped define the Detroit record label’s signature sound with an astonishing string of singles that included chart-topping hits for the Four Tops and the Supremes, died Aug. 8 at his home near Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 81 years old.

His death was announced by Los Angeles-based publicist Jo-Ann Geffen, who did not share additional details.

Mr. Dozier and his songwriting partners, brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, formed a powerful collaboration that produced hit after hit – “Heat Wave”, “Baby Love” and many more – and helped propelling the careers of Motown legends like Diana Ross. , Marvin Gaye and the Isley Brothers.

The team, known as HDH, made such an impact on Motown that dozens of major artists of the era have at least one HDH song in their hit catalog, including 10 of the Supremes’ 12 No. 1 recordings, such that “Stop! In the Name of Love” (1965) and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (1966). Over a career spanning six decades, Mr. Dozier had credits on more than 100 Top 40 hits.

Mr. Dozier said much of his inspiration for the melodies and lyrics came from growing up in Detroit, listening to adults talk about the ups and downs of love and relationships. She was often told to leave the room when the conversation turned into “adult talk” about sex. “But I would still listen,” he recalled in a 2015 interview.

“All of this stayed in my head for many years,” he added.

Mr. Dozier and the Holland brothers left impresario Berry Gordy’s Motown label in 1968 to form their own artist house, Invictus Records and Hot Wax Records. Mr. Dozier later embarked on a solo career that included writing back-to-back 1970 hits, “Give Me Just a Little More Time” performed by the board chairmen and “Band of Gold” by Freda Payne.

Mary Wilson, founding member of the Supremes, has died

In 1988, Mr. Dozier worked with British rocker Phil Collins on “Two Hearts” for the movie “Buster”, the song earning a Grammy and an Oscar nomination. The HDH team was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Mr. Dozier never learned to fully read music or write sheet music. “I was too busy,” he once said. But he believed he had developed a sense of chord structure and power by listening to his aunt, a classical pianist, practice in Detroit. when he was young. He called the Motown sound, at its best, a blend of the chord progressions of classical music and the soulful energy of gospel.

“Torchy but not torchy, fun but not overproduced,” he said in a 2018 interview. “We wanted to get the same feeling of a ballad, without it being a ballad.”

Lamont Herbert Dozier was born on June 16, 1941, and grew up in the Black Bottom neighborhood of Detroit, which had swelled in the 1920s as black people from the South migrated to northern cities in search of factory jobs and other work.

“Whatever you called it, it was the ghetto,” Mr. Dozier recalled this year after the 1966 HDH song “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” made famous by the Four Tops, became a hit. part of the National Recording Registry at the Library. of Congress.

Watch Eddie and Brian Holland recount years of songwriting with Lamont Dozier

He began writing songs when he was still a teenager, turning some lyrics into love letters that he sold to friends, Cyrano de Bergerac-style, for 50 cents, according to music site Songfacts. Mr. Dozier got his foot in Motown’s door – first sweeping the floors, then in 1960 as a singer under the name Lamont Anthony. On the bluesy “Benny the Skinny Man” from 1961, he sang for the Anna Records label, owned by Gordy’s sister.

Two years later, he joined forces with the Holland brothers, who were already making their mark in Gordy’s Motown empire. Eddie had a Top 30 hit as a singer in 1961 with “Jamie”, but turned to writing lyrics because of crippling stage fright; Brian was co-writer of the Marvelettes’ #1 “Please Mr. Postman”. Mr. Dozier contributed both music and lyrics to the team.

HDH scored its first notable hits with 1963’s “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas and, a year later, “Where Did Our Love Go” performed by the Supremes. A remarkable race was underway. The team’s work reads like a showcase of Motown’s greatest hits: 1964’s “Baby I Need Your Loving” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)”, 1965’s “It’s The Same Old Song “, 1966 with “I hear a symphony” and 1967 with “Jimmy Mack”, “Bernadette”, “Standing in the shadow of love” and more.

Mr. Dozier said he was inspired by his own life.

For 1965’s “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”, he recalls his grandfather flirting, “a twinkle in his eye”, with local ladies in their Detroit neighborhood. “Bernadette” was the name of her preteen crush and “muse”. “Heat Wave” was born out of his memory of a sticky summer in Detroit. “But it was always about love – hot, cold or whatever,” he said.

Mr. Dozier enjoyed watching “The Honeymooners” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” is taken directly from a catchphrase by star Jackie Gleason: “How sweet it is.” When HDH was making the song for Gaye, they deliberately put it in a slightly higher key than Gaye’s comfort zone.

“If it was too easy, he would get lazy,” Mr. Dozier said.

HDH continued to contribute to Motown until the early 1970s, but under the collective pseudonym Edythe Wayne or sometimes Edith Wayne due to legal disputes with Gordy over royalties. For their own labels, the trio’s most successful work was “Why Can’t We Be Lovers” in 1972. Mr. Dozier left the team in 1973 to pursue solo projects. He eventually settled in the Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles with his family.

His 1977 album “Peddlin’ Music on the Side” contained “Going Back to My Roots”, which was later re-recorded by the band Odyssey. HDH reunited for one final collaboration, writing the score for a 2009 stage production of “The First Wives Club,” a musical adapted from the 1996 motion picture comedy. the HDH score against another.

Mr. Dozier moved to Arizona after the death last year of Barbara Ullman Dozier, his wife of 41 years. Survivors include six children and three grandchildren.

During Gordy’s reign at Motown, the label was run like a car factory because it was the only other work environment the boss knew, Mr. Dozier said. Songwriters, session musicians and the like had to strike a clock. As part of “quality control” each Friday, HDH and other songwriters had to write their songs of the week, and Gordy and other executives voted on which ones they liked.

HDH songs were usually the winners, Dozier said.

“It was a fun time, like kids playing in a playground,” he said this year. “Everything we touched turned to gold.”