Paul Williams, The Temptations’ Unsung Hero


Paul Williams, first left, with The Temptations. Picture: Gilles Petard/Redferns

In some ways, Paul Williams was the Temptations’ unsung hero. He and Eddie Kendricks have been their authentic lead singers, however when the Motown group broke worldwide and turned soul heroes with “My Girl” in 1964, it was David Ruffin’s voice that rang out.

Paul would stay a lesser-known identify than both Ruffin or Kendricks, regardless of his nice vocal presence and pivotal function within the rise of the traditional five-piece line-up, alongside Melvin Franklin and the only real survivor within the modern-day Temptations, Otis (no relation) Williams. However Paul’s key place within the group is nicely represented by actor James Harkness within the extensively acclaimed Broadway manufacturing Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Occasions of The Temptations. James T. Lane performed his half within the US touring manufacturing, and Kyle Cox when the present opened in London in 2023.

Williams was not a Detroit native. He was born on July 2, 1939 in Birmingham, Alabama, the place he knew Kendricks from elementary faculty days, occurring to type the Cavaliers with good friend Kel Osbourne. They turned the Primes, transferring to Cleveland in quest of work after which, as destiny decreed, Detroit.

The Primes didn’t make it, and Osbourne went house, however after extra personnel modifications and an efficient merger with the Distants (that includes Otis Williams, Franklin and others), they turned the Temptations and signed to the younger Motown label in 1961. After they launched the spirited “Oh Mother Of Mine,” their first single on the Miracle subsidiary in July that 12 months, Paul Williams shared lead vocal duties with Kendricks.

Certainly, Paul can be distinguished on many early Tempts sides, together with the terrific, doo-wop-flavoured follow-up 45 “Check Yourself” late in 1961 and, a 12 months later, “Slow Down Heart,” their first observe produced by Smokey Robinson, who additionally wrote it. The Temptations had made their R&B chart debut earlier in 1962 with the High 30 entry “Dream Come True.” Pay attention too for Paul Williams’ assured lead on the group’s first Robinson-composed A-side, 1963’s “I Want A Love I Can See.”

The Temptations in all their mid-60s finery, with Paul Williams, centre. Picture: Motown Information Archives

As soon as Ruffin arrived to switch “Al” Bryant within the line-up in 1964, Williams would usually play third fiddle, so to talk, behind him and Kendricks, who shared the (absolutely deserved) approval for most of the classics of the line-up’s classic years. His starring roles have been usually on album tracks or B-sides, however they’re all tremendous performances, and he was additionally essential to the group’s visuals, in choreographing lots of their slick dance strikes.

Attempt, for instance, his lead on a lesser-heard however important Tempts reduce from 1965, “Don’t Look Back,” which was the B-side of “My Baby” however charted High 20 R&B in its personal proper. The music went on to be coated by everybody from Bobby Womack to Peter Tosh and Mick Jagger, on a duet single.

What was hidden from public view was that Williams suffered from sickle-cell anaemia. He turned to alcohol as a approach of coping with the group’s relentless touring and recording schedule, and later within the Sixties additionally had critical monetary issues. In 1971, with the Tempts apparently on the peak of their powers and producing one traditional single after one other, Williams’ well being and unreliability finally led him to go away on medical recommendation, after a physician found a spot on his liver.

He remained of their shut circle, particularly as choreographer, and began to document solo materials in early 1973. On August 17, that 12 months, he was discovered useless in a Detroit alley, a gun shut by the physique. Williams’ dying was dominated a suicide, though sure circumstances led some to suspect foul play. Both approach, the title of considered one of his final recordings, “Feel Like Givin’ Up,” proved heartbreakingly prescient.

The story of Paul Williams is punctuated by tragedy, however his contribution to the legacy of the Emperors of Soul is indelible. As one other prime instance, his masterful lead vocal on the Temptations’ string-laden model of “For Once In My Life,” from the 1967 album In A Mellow Temper, units the temper for his soulful eloquence.

Take heed to uDiscover Music’s Paul Williams playlist.

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