The band may have changed, but the music remains the same
Abdul “Duke” Fakir is the last surviving member of the Four Tops, the legendary Motown vocal group that joined their fellow singers and musicians in forever changing the pop and soul landscape. Though the band’s run of chart hits is remarkable, it’s even more notable when you realize the Tops had the same lineup from their start in 1953 until 1997, when founding member Lawrence Payton died. Joining Payton through those decades were Fakir, Levi Stubbs and Renaldo “Obie” Benson.
“Yes, we were together for 44 wonderful, wonderful, great fun-loving and exciting years,” Fakir told UK freelance music writer Malcom Wyatt in a recent interview on his website, writewyattuk.com. “We had so much fun together and enjoyed doing things off stage together. More than that we enjoyed singing, rehearsing and performing — no matter what. We had arguments from time to time, but when we got to the stage, there was nothing to argue about — it was all love.”
Now, Fakir joins three other Tops for continued touring around the world. The group will perform Jan. 27-28 at the Nugget Casino Resort.
The newest Four Tops are carrying on the tradition of the original members. Benson died in 2005, while Stubbs died in 2008. The current lineup includes Fakir with singers Ronnie McNeir (with the Tops since 2000), Lawrence’s son Roquel Payton (with the group since 2005) and singer Harold “Spike” Bonhart (who joined in 2011).
Fakir, 80, told the Daily Express newspaper in the UK in a recent interview that the three new members are doing a great job keeping the group’s legacy intact.
“I felt truly, totally alone,” Fakir said of being the last member of the original group. “But I carried on. Today, I’m with a wonderful group of guys who are about as close to the original Four Tops as it’s possible to get.”
Reaching out to audiences
The Four Tops began in Detroit, eventual home to Motown Records where they made their name in the international music world. With Stubbs as the lead singer — unusual for a baritone in a soul band — the group had one of pop’s classic songwriting teams pen most of their songs.
“The writing team of Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier — who I consider to be the greatest songwriters and music producers of all time — came up with ‘Baby I Need Your Loving.’” Fakir told the Daily Express: “I thought it was the best song on the radio at the time. It changed my life completely. It even enabled me to buy my momma a house.”
After “Baby I Need Your Loving” in 1964, the Four Tops spun out a ton of radio standards: “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” “Bernadette” and “7 Rooms of Gloom.” Those first two on the list went to No. 1 on the pop charts.
Fakir told the Midland (Mich.) Daily Press in a recent interview that he turned down a college scholarship to be a part of the Four Tops, but added that being at Motown was like going to a college of music.
“We would go into the reception area and we would watch people record,” he said. “If guys were writing we would listen to them write, listen to people rehearse. It was a wonderful student union. We would toy with the girls, do little pranks.
“We would learn scores of music for the act, dance steps, how to dress for the act, and how an actual stage show was put together. It was not only about making wonderful music, but developing stars. Creating stars, that’s what Motown was all about.”
Fakir told the Daily Express that the groups on the label all got along great together.
“There was no rivalry with the other groups on the label like The Temptations or The Supremes because we had our own style,” he said. “We’d have dinner at each other’s houses, play golf with Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye or play cards. It was like a big family.”
Staying in Detroit
Like several other Motown artists, the Tops made a switch from Motown in 1972 when the label moved to Los Angeles. In their case, the group recorded for ABC-Dunhill Records and had two further top 10 hits, “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)” and “Keeper of the Castle.”
“We actually went out to Los Angeles, just to be sure, Fakir told WriteWyattUK about the ’70s move of Motown Records. “We knew we didn’t want to leave, but went out and looked around, looking at houses, having a big discussion among ourselves. But we decided ‘no’, we didn’t want to raise our families out there. We wanted to stay right here in Detroit, where the rest of the family was.
“We ended up staying ... and I’m glad we did. I’ve raised a wonderful family, my kids are all professionals, and I’ve had a great life here in Detroit.”
The rest of the Four Tops career has included occasional hits on the R&B charts and tours have been consistent. Still, Fakir told WriteWyattUK that the continuation of the band has been bittersweet.
“Sometimes I wonder why (Fakir survived the other three members). We all did the same things and I think our health was about the same. I don’t really know, I wonder about it sometimes, but I’m healthy. And there’s no doubt about it, I dream about them quite a bit.”
For now, Fakir did tell the Midland Daily News about some other plans. He is working on a musical about the Four Tops, and writing his memoirs, to be named “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch.” Then, of course, there’s the road dates that the group continues to do.
“We have Memorex, the closest thing to the real Tops,” Fakir said. “That’s the sweetest part. We do all the classics. We couldn’t get on stage if we didn’t sing what people came to see.”