At 75 years of age, Otis Williams is the last Temptation standing.
Williams is the lone, living member of the legendary singing group’s original lineup. Paul Williams was the first to go in 1973. David Ruffin was next in 1991, with Eddie Kendricks following a year later. Three years later, Melvin Franklin joined them.
Williams is keeping the name of The Temptations alive, as he sings those baritone vocals along with four other fellas: Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Larry Braggs and Willie Green.
“First of all, we still enjoy it and we’re still blessed to carry on for the enjoyment and the love of being able to do it,” says Williams, on the phone from his home in Woodland Hills, Calif. “So, we’re just gonna continue to do it and do it until we can’t do it anymore.”
The Temptations may have been popular doo-wop singers, churning out classics like “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” but they also weren’t afraid to touch on socially conscious matters. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the Temps, along with producer/songwriter Norman Whitfield, created a series of psychedelic-soul albums that begat such counterculture faves as “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “Just My Imagination” and others.
While the group and Whitfield butted heads about the creative direction of the music (the story goes that Whitfield wanted to do socially-conscious songs while the group preferred ballads), the music they did back then was not only award-winning, but remains socially relevant.
“I was talking with a young lady a few days ago,” recalls Williams, “and she had just finished playing ‘Ball of Confusion’ – and ‘Ball of Confusion’ is over 40 years old – and she said, ‘Otis, I just listened to ‘Ball of Confusion’ and it is so apropos with what’s happening in the world today.”
The Temptations are currently on tour with longtime Motown labelmates The Four Tops, a group that also has one founding member (tenor Abdul “Duke” Fakir) left in their crew. (They make a stop Friday at DPAC in Durham.) The Temps and the Tops have always been the twin titans of Motown singing groups, performing and occasionally battling it out onstage for over fifty years.
“It started back there in the ’60s, when there were the Motortown Revue shows,” recalls Williams. “That’s where it originally started: The Supremes, The Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Temptations, Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Marvelettes.”
Although they don’t duke it out like they used to onstage, opting to do separate sets during shows, Williams is glad that audiences still enjoy a good Temptations/Four Tops show.
“That’s why it’s still happening, because people still enjoy The Four Tops and The Temptations and the music that we make,” he says. “Our audience grew up with us when we first started, back during the ’60s. And so, when we’re onstage, we see that, as well as a new generation, as young as seven and eight years old, with their parents and grandparents passing it on to them.”
In a couple of years, audiences will get the chance to see The Temptations on Broadway – the story of The Temptations, that is. Williams says there will be a Broadway musical centered on the life and times of the group, scheduled to hit the Great White Way in 2018. But for now, you can catch the real deal, along with their longtime rivals, in Durham.
Who: The Temptations and The Four Tops
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham
Details: 919-680-2787 or dpacnc.com