Colorado Springs, New Orleans, Washington, D.C. and soon Cranston. That’s the itinerary of The Temptations, the five-member group that burst onto the national scene in 1964 with “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” In the nearly half century since then, their signature singing style and precise, energetic, yet refined dance steps have set the standard of soul and R&B groups.
Today, they crisscross the country working an average of 40 weeks a year, radical changes in music tastes notwithstanding, their appeal to a wide range of audiences remains strong.
Otis Williams, the single remaining member from the original group, was in Los Angeles recently when he was stopped on the street by two young men.
“They were in their late teens, maybe their early 20s,” he says. “They were very polite. They said, ‘Mr. Williams, we don't mean to bother you, but we know who you are, and we just want to say that you guys made better music than what we have today.’ We hear that a lot. It makes us feel really good.”
Williams refuses to stand in judgment of other musical groups, but some of their language and gestures do bother him.
“When we started out in the ’60s and early ’70s, there were certain words you couldn’t use,” he says. “We couldn’t even say the word ‘damn.’ It kills me hearing some of the language they’re using today. Somebody must have gotten the FCC to relax their regulations. Freedom of speech being what it is now, some people are just getting too forward – we’d say offensive.”
So The Temptations have made it one of their missions to offer music and performances that people can bring their families to listen to and watch.
“You don’t have to cup your kids’ ears or worry about our gestures,” he says. “It’s straight up entertainment without all of the gimmickry. With some performers today, you don’t know who to focus on because they come out with 1,000 dancers behind them. It takes away from them, but that’s just the way it is.”
The Temptations try to stay true to what they were taught years ago at Motown.
“We were taught about being in show business,” Williams explains. “We made it our vocation rather than our avocation. I’m grateful to the groups that we learned from like The Supremes and The Miracles – about our etiquette and about how to carry ourselves off stage as well as on.
“In Motown they wanted to see what kind of person you were when you weren’t on stage. They taught us to try to be consummate professionals wherever we were. So we just had a completely different work ethic and better training.”
The work ethic and training pay off daily. Despite their grueling travel schedule, they rehearse constantly. The Temptation Walk (aka Temptation Strut) looks fluid and natural.
“It’s not difficult because we’re steeped in it,” Williams says.
But for men of their ages (Williams is 70), it’s a constant physical challenge. Williams works out daily on exercise machines and even sparring in the boxing ring.
“I take care of myself,” he says. “I avoid all of those things that would make your body break down. We never take our dance talents for granted. We try to make sure that the money people put out to see us is well spent.”
The Temptations will be at the Park Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9.