Motown songwriter praised as ‘brilliant musician’

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By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

Lamont Dozier, who helped define a decade of pop music as one-third of the legendary hit-making Motown songwriting trio, Holland-Dozier-Holland, died Aug. 8, at his home near Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 81.

Dozier’s son, Lamont Dozier Jr. announced his father’s death on Facebook and Instagram with the message, “Rest in Heavenly Peace, Dad!” No specific cause of death was given.

Dozier began his writing career in the early 1960s, signing with Motown Records in 1962 and teaming up with Brian Holland, later to be joined by Brian’s brother, Eddie.

“Lamont Dozier was a brilliant man musically,” said former Motown executive Miller London. “Musically he was one of those guys that made it seem like it came through him naturally. You could see his creativity from the standpoint of a producer and writer.

“His collaboration with the Holland brothers — they were destined to be successful. The Holland-Dozier-Holland collaboration changed the face of music. Their impact was tremendous.”

London, who worked at Motown from 1969 to 1990 as a regional sales manager and then as an executive vice president and general manager, said Dozier’s death was “a great loss.”

“Well, when I think about it, it’s not really a loss because he left a legacy of music that will live on for generations,” he said.

Holland-Dozier-Holland, a significant part of Motown’s success and iconic sound, would prove to have the winning songwriting formula, penning more than 25 top 10 songs from 1963 to 1967 for the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Marvelettes, the Isley Brothers and more.

Hits from their catalog include “Baby Love,” “Heat Wave,” “Bernadette,” “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Stop! In The Name of Love,” “Nowhere to Run,” “Baby, I Need Your Loving,” and more.

A celebrated and prolific tunesmith, Dozier often told the story of how he came up with some of the catchy phrases in the songs.

He reportedly said the Four Tops hit “Bernadette” was inspired by all three songwriters having troubles with women by that name. He remembered his grandfather addressing women as “Sugar pie, honey bunch,” the first line from the Four Tops hit, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch).”

“Lamont Dozier is a critical piece of our history,” said Aundrae Russell, former program director and current community affairs director at radio station KJLH. “He’s a part of the fabric. He did our soundtrack for Black folks, especially during the 60s and 70s.

“He was such a purist. That’s when the music was great and we had real musicians and real music. I’m reappreciating just how amazing he was. They don’t make them like that anymore. Today, they are just stealing beats that people did back in the day. When you lose someone like a Lamont Dozier, you’re losing an original.”

Holland-Dozier-Holland didn’t just craft Black music, they dared to make good, relatable and memorable music that manifested in countless samplings and soundtracks and in covers by mainstream artists like James Taylor, the Rolling Stones and Linda Ronstadt. Dozier went on to make hits with Simply Red, Jon Anderson, Boy George and more.

After leaving Motown, Holland-Dozier-Holland started the labels Invictus and Hot Wax. The trio released “Band of Gold” by Freda Payne and “Want Ads” by the Honey Cones. Eventually, Holland-Dozier-Holland broke up and went their separate ways.

The Detroit native, who grew up singing in the Baptist church, collaborated with Eric Clapton and Mick Hucknall, produced and co-wrote Phil Collins’ Grammy-winning “Two Hearts,” from the 1988 movie “Buster,” produced Aretha Franklin’s “Sweet Passion” album, and even had his own solo Top 20 hits with, “Trying to Hold On to My Woman” and “Fish Ain’t Bitin’.” His debut album came in 1973 with “Out Here on My Own.”

Holland-Dozier-Holland reunited in 2009 for the Broadway production, “The First Wives Club,” a musical with music and lyrics by the trio. It was based on the 1996 movie of the same name.

Over the years, Holland-Dozier-Holland, instrumental in helping to define Motown as the “Sound of Young America,” amassed a number of accolades.

The trio was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988 and into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. They received a star for Holland-Dozier-Holland on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2015.

Dozier joined the USC Thornton School of Music faculty from 2009 until 2013. As the first artist-in-residence, he was a driving force in creating the school’s popular music program.

Many in the entertainment industry posted tributes to Dozier.

Singer Billy Valentine posted on Facebook, “I want give a shout to the legend Lamont Dozier, one of the pillars of Motown USA. Architect of the Motown sound. RIP.”

On social media, singer Rod Stewart posted, “There will never be another Lamont Dozier. His songs for Motown changed our world forever, they changed our lives for the better. Music would not be what it is without the magic of Lamont Dozier. From “Heatwave” to “Standing In The Shadows of Love” and “This Old Heart Of Mine,” which I had a Top 10 hit with — his songs are all wonders of the world.”

Dozier’s wife of 40 years, Barbara Ullman Dozier, died in 2021. He is survived by his six children; Lamont Dozier Jr., Michelle Dozier, Michael Renee Dozier, Beau Alexandre Dozier, Paris Ray Dozier and Desiree Starr Dozier.

 

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

 

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