Q&A: Otis Williams of The Temptations: The Emperors of Soul ‘All the Time’

For nearly six decades, The Temptations have crafted the foundation for America’s soundtrack, as well as provided the blueprint for groups that followed in their footsteps. From their choreography, to their harmonies, and stylish suits, the group has personified excellence in performance and style for years.

While the tempting Temptations haven’t stopped doing sold out shows around the world, they are releasing their first new album in eight years, All the Time on the Universal Music Enterprises label on May 4. The album features their renditions of songs like Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me,” to Maxwell’s “Pretty Wings,” and has three original songs by The Temptations.  The current line up of the group consists of original founding member Otis Williams, longtime members Ron Tyson and Terry Weeks, and recent additions Larry Braggs, and Willie Greene.

“I’m 76 now,” says Otis Williams, “Looking back, I never could have imagined where my life has taken me. I’m so proud of what The Temptations have achieved, and I’m grateful for every opportunity we’ve been so fortunate to receive. The music carries me. Together, we lift our voices with love and wonder. We had a great time recording All The Time and we hope everyone enjoys it.”

Image Credit: Jay Gilbert

The Temptations released their first Motown album, 1964’s Meet The Temptations. For nearly 60 years, the group has reigned as one of music’s most  successful groups of all time. The Temptations rose to the top of the charts with 16 Number One R&B albums and 43 Top Ten R&B hit songs across four decades, including 14 Number One singles. Their hits “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” and “Get Ready” are classics, while the group’s later discography dives into funk music including “Cloud Nine” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.”

The Temptations have a long list of accolades. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, and into the Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2013, the same year they were honored with the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement GRAMMY Award. They have won four GRAMMY Awards, receiving their first one in 1969 for “Cloud Nine.”

Living legend Otis Williams chatted with the National Museum of African American Music about the group’s new music, their next venture, and his memories of former lead singer Dennis Edwards.

Can you give a brief overview of how you came to form the original lineup of The Temptations and how it transformed into the current lineup?

Otis Williams: Growing up in Detroit, singing on the street corners, and we went through a metamorphosis of different members to get to the current Temptations lineup. We signed with a label in 1960 and that’s when we were Otis Williams and the Distants. We had a single that was out at the time. Berry Gordy was starting his own label during that time and said he loved our record and he asked us to come to his label, so we did. We left the label that we were on and signed with Berry in 1961. We went through more changes in the lineup. In 1964, David Ruffin joined us and the lineup was myself, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, and Eddie Kendricks.

Our first hit was “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” That started off a wonderful string of hits with “My Girl,” and others. In 1968, we had to let David Ruffin go and we brought in Dennis Edwards and that’s how the Temptations evolved and we have gone through several more personnel changes since then. We are still enjoying this wonderful ride today.

What do you think when people tell you that it’s not the holiday season until you play the Give Love at Christmas album?

Otis Williams: I hear that a lot. People love our version of “Silent Night.”  I think we did a great rendition of such a fantastic song to begin with. All we did was put our imprint on it and it’s been a hugely successful record. We did that album in the 1980s and it’s still a very popular one when Christmas rolls around now.

Let’s talk about your current album, All the Time, what’s the meaning behind the title?

Otis Williams: Well you know I asked a young man, Jeff Moskow, who was our coordinator for this album that question. They [the record label] took the line from one of the songs on the album. There’s a line that says “I’ve got all the time in the world, because I’m waiting on you,” so somebody at Universal said, “All the Time, The Temptations all the time.” So, when they told me, I liked it so that’s how they came up with it. I had a title in mind for it, but that one was very appropriate and on time for what they decided to name it and that’s how it came about. I like it.

This is the first album that the group has released in eight years. What took so long?

Otis Williams: We’ve been busy on the road, but we’ve also been in between labels. After we left Motown and it became a boutique business with Capitol Records, we decided to just work. We put a few things out over the years, and I wasn’t knocked out about them, so I was just resolved that we can just work because I know that we can work forever. So, it just so happens that I went to Universal and I took my grandson’s tape up there to talk to them about him; he’s a rapper.

They said they would pass it along and then while meeting with me, they asked what The Temptations were doing and I said we’re just doing shows, and they asked if we wanted to do an LP and I said absolutely. They told me the concept they had in mind and I wasn’t too knocked out about it because we’ve done cover songs before and I didn’t want to kick off coming back with those songs. I told my manager that I wasn’t thrilled about it, and Jeff Moskow said we could do three original songs on the album so that’s how it came about. I love the songs that we picked. “Waiting on You,” “Move Them Britches,” and “Be My Wife,” are the originals on the album. It turned out to be a pretty good album.

You guys brought The Temptations heat to the songs by adding a lot of soul to them.

Otis Williams: From the reviews that I’ve been reading, they say we have added The Temptations spin to it.

How did you pick some of the songs on the album? For example, I couldn’t figure out how you would be able to take Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” and make it your own, but you did.

Otis Williams: I love the song. Michael invited me to [the set] when they were shooting the video for “Remember the Time.” We had known each other for a while, both of us were on Motown and we did Motown 25, so we had history. I spent time in his trailer talking about old times while they were setting up the lights and things. So, when I got the list of the songs that we could pick from for the album, I saw “Remember the Time” and I said we must do this one. It’s just a great song period.

Now, Mr. Williams, please explain how you guys picked The Weeknd’s “Earned It” since that song is from the 50 Shades of Grey movie soundtrack?

Otis Williams: At first, I was trying to see who in the hell is The Weeknd? Is that a group or whatever (laughs)?  The song itself was one of those haunting kinds of songs with the melody. I said we must do that, so that’s how it came about. Naturally we tried to add The Temptations spin on it and Terry Weeks is singing lead on it and did a great job.

Talk about the current original single, “Waitin’ on You.”

Otis Williams: Well that one was a collaboration. I started off with singing “I want to be wherever you are,” and it just started from there. Once Universal heard it they said it had to go on the album. It’s just one of the many Temptations songs that we have come up with over the years.

How about the song “Move Them Britches (Heathen’s Remix)?”

Otis Williams: Larry Braggs and some young man that he knows came up with that (laughs). It’s got one of those drives to it that makes you want to get up and party when you hear it. It’s a great element to that. Ron Tyson came up with “Be My Wife,” and most women love when a guy sings that kind of message so that added another kind of freshness to the originals and the cover jobs that we were doing.

The album is a good one and it’s exciting that it will be available on vinyl!

Otis Williams: I love that too. Vinyl became so obscure so it was great to see it coming back. So now I have to go buy me a record player so I can listen to music the old-fashioned way.

It’s been over five decades since The Temptations released their debut album on Motown; looking back did you ever even imagine the impact you would have on music or that you would still be putting out new music in 2018?

Otis Williams: No, honestly, we were hoping that would be around a long time, but we’ve been around 58 years. So, we had no idea that we’d still be here. Of course, there have been trials and tribulations along the way; but it’s wonderful to do something that you really enjoy and it brings happiness and pleasure to our many fans all over the world. I’m a blessed person. God has blessed me to continue doing this, because you know show business is so damn fickle. You can be high today on the charts, then the next day and or couple of weeks later, people are asking where you are. So, it’s just wonderful to still be able to perform after all these many years all over the world.

Since you have that longevity, you have had the chance to see music’s evolution over the years. With you being a founding member and the last living original member of the group, how do you ensure the group’s legacy stays intact, while making sure you are still keeping up with the times?

Otis Williams: The one thing in life that’s constant is change. We have to work at it, we can’t take anything for granted, it’s a labor of love. There’s going to be trials and tribulations. We’ve been around for so many years, but when you love something and you’re blessed to be able to do it, like the saying goes, “I’ll ride the hair off the horse so when I get off the horse it’ll be bald.” It’s a lot of things to maintain and keep it moving. Being able to adapt to the many different personnel changes that I’ve gone through, it’s just a labor of love. I’m just happy that I’m able to be apart of something that touches so many people’s lives and brings them joy and happiness.

What is your proudest moment in your career?

Otis Williams: For me, I can’t single out one because I’ve had so many wonderful experiences. I could run down a litany of experiences. We hold records at the Apollo Theater, records at the Copacabana, we were on The Ed Sullivan Show many different times, we have a star on the Hollywood [Walk of Fame], we have multiple Grammy Awards, and have been acknowledged by many different presidents. When I walk around my house I have about 40 different Gold records, it’s just a plethora of different things. I’m thankful for them all and I never could have imagined any of it when we started out in Detroit in the 1960s.

Is there anything that you haven’t accomplished yet that you are hoping to?

Otis Williams: The next thing that we hope will do well for us is The Temptations life story. The mini-series has been widely accepted since the ’90s and here it is 2018 and they are still showing it on television. We are about to debut the musical at the Kennedy Center in June, and after that we go to Los Angeles and hopefully onto Broadway. The name of the play is “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations.” This is the next thing I hope is equally if not more successful than what we’ve already accomplished.

With the recent passing of former Temptations lead singer Dennis Edwards earlier this year, do you have any memories of him that you would like to share?

Otis Williams: The first Grammy that The Temptations received was with Dennis and it was for “Cloud Nine” is one I will always remember.  That was the initiating thing of him being in the Tempts. A lot of people look at him as if he were one of the original members of The Temptations because he was on so many hits, and I think he was on more hits with us than David Ruffin. When he sang the line “It was the 3rd of September,” that was the day his real father died, so that caused a brouhaha in the studio when we got ready to record it. We have so many memories when it comes to Dennis Edwards, but I’m just sad that my friend is gone.

Why do you think it is important to have the National Museum of African American Music?

Otis Williams: It’s very important because people need to know about the history of the artists that have brought so much enjoyment to people. It’s important to introduce the new generations to history. It’s important to have it so you can historically characterize everything so people can even say they remember those girls and guys. It’s important to document it.

My music matters because (fill in the blank):

Otis Williams: My music matters because it touches the spirit, the soul, and has moved people to tears. It has even moved me to tears. A lady told me a few years ago that she loved The Temptations and as she was leaving this earth, she said she asked God not to take her until she talked to Otis Williams. I sat there and cried, I never would have thought that what I have been doing and enjoying would touch people to that extent. My music matters because it touches the spirit because people want to take our music with them to their final resting place. I never would have imagined that I would have that profoundness laid upon me by that wonderful lady. That’s it, that’s my story.

Keep up with The Temptations on their website.

About the Author

Shameika Rhymes
Shameika Rhymes

Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika