Lamont Dozier, author of many Motown hits, dies at 81

Lamont Dozier, the prolific songwriter and producer who played a crucial role in Motown Records’ success as a third of the Holland-Dozier-Holland team, died Monday in Arizona. He was 81 years old.

Robin Terry, president and CEO of the Motown Museum in Detroit, confirmed the death but did not specify a cause.

Working with brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, Mr. Dozier has written songs for dozens of musical acts, but the trio has worked most often with Martha and the Vandellas (“Heat Wave,” “Jimmy Mack”), the Four Tops (“Bernadette”, “I Can’t Help Myself”) and especially the Supremes (“You Can’t Hurry Love”, “Baby Love”). Between 1963 and 1972, the Holland-Dozier-Holland team was responsible for more than 80 singles that reached the Top 40 on the pop or R&B charts, including 15 songs that reached No. 1. “It was like we were playing the lottery and winning every time,” said writes Mr. Dozier in his autobiography, “How Sweet It Is” (2019, written with Scott B. Bomar).

Nelson George, in his 1985 Motown Story, “Where Has Our Love Gone? (named after another Holland-Dozier-Holland hit), described how the young trio had won over the label’s more experienced staff and musicians. “These kids,” he wrote, “had real insight into the tastes of the buying public” and possessed “an innate gift for melody, a sense of story song lyrics, and an ability to craft the vocal licks. and recurring instrumentals known as ‘fish hooks.’

“Brian, Eddie and Lamont loved what they were doing,” Mr. George added, “and worked around the clock, making music like old man Ford made cars.”

In his memoirs, Mr. Dozier confirmed, “We thought of HDH as a factory within a factory.”

Lamont Herbert Dozier – he was named after Lamont Cranston, the main character of the radio series “The Shadow” – was born on June 16, 1941 in Detroit, the eldest of five children of Willie Lee and Ethel Jeannette (Waters) Dozer. His mother largely raised the family, earning a living as a cook and housekeeper; her father worked at a gas station but struggled to keep a job, possibly because he suffered from chronic back pain from a World War II injury (he fell from a truck ).

When Mr. Dozier was 5, his father took him to a concert with an all-star program that included Count Basie, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald. While the music excited the young boy, he was also impressed by the ecstatic reaction from the audience and decided he would make people feel the same way.

As a high school student, Mr. Dozier wrote songs, cut up grocery bags for lyrics, and formed the Roméos, an interracial doo-wop group. When the Romeo song “Fine Fine Baby” was released by Atco Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic, in 1957, Mr. Dozier dropped out of high school at age 16, anticipating fame. But when Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler wanted a second single, Mr. Dozier overplayed his hand, saying the band would only make a full LP. He received a letter wishing him good luck and removing the Romeos from the label.

After the Romeos broke up, Mr. Dozier auditioned for Anna Records, a new label called founded by Billy Davis and sisters Anna and Gwen Gordy; he was inserted into a group called the Voice Masters and hired as a caretaker. In 1961, billed as Lamont Anthony, he released his first solo single, “Let’s Talk It Over” – but he preferred the flip side, “Popeye”, a song he had written. “Popeye,” which featured a young Marvin Gaye on drums, became a regional hit until it was suppressed by King Features, owners of the cartoon and comic book character Popeye.

After Anna Records closed in 1961, Mr. Dozier received a phone call from Berry Gordy Jr., brother of Anna and Gwen, offering him a job as a songwriter on his new label, Motown, with a salary. $25 per week as an advance. against royalties. Mr. Dozier began collaborating with young songwriter Brian Holland.

“It felt like Brian and I could complete each other’s musical ideas the way some people can complete each other’s phrases,” Dozier wrote in his memoir. “I immediately realized that we shared a secret language of creativity.”

They were soon joined by Brian’s older brother, Eddie, who specialized in lyrics, and began writing songs together – although rarely with all three parties in the same room. Mr. Dozier and Brian Holland would write the music and oversee an instrumental recording session with the Motown house band; Eddie Holland would then write the lyrics to the track. When it was time to record the vocals, Eddie Holland guided the lead singer and Mr. Dozier coached the backing vocals.

In his memoir, Mr. Dozier summed it up: “Brian was just music, Eddie was just lyrics, and I was the ideas man who bridged the gap.”

Sometimes he had an idea of ​​how a song felt: He wrote the Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll Be There” with Bob Dylan’s phrasing on “Like a Rolling Stone” in mind. Sometimes he concocted an attention-grabbing gimmick, like the choppy guitars at the start of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” that evoked a radio newscast.

And sometimes Mr. Dozier would say a real-life phrase that worked in the song, like he did one night when he was at a motel in Detroit with a girlfriend and another girlfriend started. to knock on the door. He begged the intruder, “Stop, in the name of love” – ​​and then realized the power of what he had said. The Holland-Dozier-Holland team quickly hammered out the phrase in a three-minute single, “Stop! In the name of love.”

In 1965, Mr. Gordy circulated a bold memo to Motown staffers that read in part, “We will release nothing less than Top Ten product on any artist; and because the worldwide acceptance of the Supremes is greater than that of other artists, we will only release #1 records on them. Holland-Dozier-Holland stepped up: Although they didn’t reach the top every time with the Supremes, they wrote and produced an astonishing 10 No. 1 pop hits for the band.

“I accepted that a career as an artist just wasn’t in the cards for me at Motown,” Mr. Dozier wrote in 2019. “I still wanted it, but I was constantly bombarded with demand. more songs and more productions for the growing list of artists.

When Marvin Gaye, who had transformed from drummer to singing star, needed to record material before leaving for a long tour, Mr. Dozier reluctantly dropped a song he had saved to revive his own career as an artist: “How sweet (to be loved by you). Mr. Gaye showed up to the session with his golf clubs, late and unprepared, and nailed the song in one perfect take.

Mr. Dozier and the Holland brothers left Motown in 1967, at the height of their success, in a dispute over money and ownership, and launched their own labels, Invictus and Hot Wax; their biggest hit was Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold”, a Top 10 hit in 1970.

“Holland-Dozier-Holland is gone and the sound is gone,” Mary Wilson of the Supremes lamented to The Washington Post in 1986.

Mr. Dozier wrote further hits with the Hollands (many credited with the collective pseudonym Edythe Wayne due to ongoing legal disputes with Motown) and retired on his own in 1973, resuming his singing career.

He released a dozen solo albums over the years, but failed to achieve stardom as a singer; he had the most chart success in 1974, notably with the song “Trying to Hold On to My Woman”, which reached the Top 20, and “Fish Ain’t Bitin'”, with lyrics urging Richard Nixon to quit, became a minor hit when his record label released a letter he had received from the White House asking him to stop promoting the song.

Mr. Dozier had more success collaborating with other artists in the 1980s, writing songs with Eric Clapton, Simply Red frontman Mick Hucknall (who released “Infidelity” with the credit “Hucknall-Dozier- Hucknall”) and Phil Collins, who hit No. 1 in 1989 with the Dozier-Collins song “Two Hearts”.

Information about survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. Dozier has served as artist-in-residence professor at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and chairman of the board of the National Academy of Songwriters, imparting his hard-earned wisdom to young songwriters.

“Always put the song before your ego,” he wrote in his memoir. And he revealed the secret to his relentless productivity: “Writer’s block only exists in your mind, and if you let it, it will cripple your ability to function as a creative person. The answer to so-called writer’s block is to get the job done.

Jenny Gross contributed report.

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