The legacy of The Temptations is always relevant.
But since the arrival of “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations,” the jukebox musical that began its journey to Broadway in 2017 and landed there this spring, interest in the Motown greats has been reinvigorated.
The story of the hitmakers behind such seminal gems as “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” “My Girl,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” and the title track of the show is told from the perspective of Otis Williams, the last surviving Temptations member and owner of the group’s name.
Earlier this month, he attended the Tony Awards, where “Ain’t Too Proud” took home one award from its 11 nominations (best choreography for Sergio Trujillo). But Williams, 77, is perfectly content with the singular honor because, paired with The Temptations’ three Grammy Awards and a 1998 Emmy Award for the NBC miniseries, “The Temptations,” he only needs an Oscar to complete prestigious EGOT status.
And he might get the opportunity, as negotiations are underway to turn “Ain’t Too Proud” into a film.
But first, Williams and the other Temps – Ron Tyson (a member since 1983), Terry Weeks (since 1997), Larry Braggs and Willie Green (both since 2016) – will bring their spin moves and heavenly harmonies to the road for several dates each month through the end of the year.
On June 20, they’ll visit the intimate Mill Town Music Hall for a sold out show.
Earlier this week, chatting from his home in Los Angeles, the candid and gregarious Williams talked about the hit Broadway show, the group’s upcoming 60th anniversary and what fans can expect to hear live.
Q: How involved were you in the creation of the musical?
A: We were in Berkeley (for the world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre) a year and a half ago when they started. I saw them rehearse some of the scenes and some of the cast asked, “Can we talk to you?” I said, “Come on by my room.” They came to my room at 7 that evening and didn’t leave until 1 that morning. I was telling them the nuances. The things that people look at are the choreography and the harmonies. But we used to challenge each other on stage. We made it fun. I told Ephraim Sykes (who plays David Ruffin in the show), if you really want to channel the essence of the Temptations, on “My Girl,” David would throw the mic in the air and spin to his knees and catch it coming it down. That young brother, the next time I saw him, he got it!
Q: Derrick Baskin plays you on Broadway. Did he come to you for advice?
A: Yes. Fortunately, he saw the miniseries (“The Temptations,” which aired on NBC in 1998), so I just opened up to him whatever he asked. I told him how I’ve been called many things, like Super Glue, because I kept everyone together and was always on time.
Q: And the tour of the show starts in July 2020 (in Providence, R.I.). It’s interesting that they’re treating it more like a concert tour rather than a typical Broadway tour.
A: They’re going to do 50 cities and 100 shows. They will be as busy as a blind dog in a meat market. It’s going to be interesting to see how it turns out. I was talking with a producer and said, “You guys have your work cut out for you.” The cast in New York, they are the templates for what is going to happen. Everyone has said, don’t worry, we will make you proud. They know what they have to do.
Q: Are you happy with the way the show has turned out?
A: People were so impressed with the play. People would say, “Mr. Williams, you have gone through quite a bit,” with such a serious tone, and I would say, “Yeah, I was baptized in fire.” When I can get people to talk to me about the play itself aside from the music, I love that. I just spoke with the great Kenny Gamble (of Philadelphia songwriting team Gamble and Huff) and he said, “Otis, you moved me to tears. Your story, your story.” I said, “Yeah, I’ve lived a lot.” In my home I have a photo of the 24 guys who were in the Temptations. I had to deal with alllll those personalities.
Q: The Temptations will celebrate their 60th anniversary next year. That’s pretty remarkable.
A: You could have tipped me over with a feather before I believed I’d be doing this almost 60 years later. Groups, showbiz, it’s so fleeting. If you can last five years it’s a milestone. I’m still in awe of what’s happening to me. And the people are loving the history of The Temptations – and there’s still a lot more that could be told.
Q: You have a pretty steady travel schedule the rest of the year. How do you feel about road life?
A: That’s the real part of what we do, the travel. As long as the stage is right, the performance is fine. But the one-nighters, we have to deal with what I call “no-o’clock in the morning,” from midnight to 6 a.m. But that’s what you do when you’re in showbiz. You have to leave at ungodly hours. It can be kinda rough. But you have got to take care of yourself. I don’t party, I don’t drink. As long as I have good TV and I’m always carrying something good to read, I’m OK.
Q: So about the live show…are you going to play any of the covers from your album last year (“All the Time”)?
A: We’re doing a couple of songs from the new album and the vintage Temptations songs. We’ll be in keeping in what the Temptations are known for. We have what I call a blessed curse - we had so many hits we can’t get them all in! Certain songs can never ever come out – “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Treat Her Like a Lady,” so we have to work around that.
Q: Many of the songs on the recent album are from current singers. What do you think of today’s artists? Do they have soul?
A: I listen to what’s happening on the radio. Some of it I like, but all in all I’m not impressed at what I hear, especially when they start cussing or talking about sex so openly. I want to talk to someone at the FCC. When we recorded, we didn’t cuss, but these days they try to be slick and put in this little beep. Our morality has dropped tremendously. But there are some (artists) I like. When I heard Ed Sheeran on the radio, I said I wish we could have recorded that (“Thinking Out Loud”), so we put it on the album. There’s a handful of artists. Back in the day I could rattle off a list of names, but not anymore.
With Band of Gold. 7:30 pm. June 20. Sold out. Mill Town Music Hall, 1031 Alabama Ave., Bremen. 770-537-6455, milltownmusichall.com.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.