Commodores endure with hits, devoted fans

by Rita Charleston

(NNPA)—One of the reasons the Commodores have lasted so long is because they understand that they are in a “business” and know how to work together.

That’s according to William King, one of the founders of the original group who, along with Walter Orange and J.D. Nicholas, form the current group.

“Everybody has to deal with ego problems and the desire to get their own way,” says King. “But we push aside any ego problems and arrive at any decision that needs to be made democratically.

“It’s really simple,” he continues. “We take a vote. And once the dye is cast, everybody jumps on the bandwagon and pushes it down the road. Even if it was something we didn’t want to do or something we didn’t believe in, in the end everybody gets on board to make it work.”

The original group was formed back in 1968 with Lionel Richie as a member. When he left the group in 1983, many people believed that would be the end of the Commodores. But they were wrong.

The Commodores flourished and in 1984, after deciding to re-establish the co-lead vocal formula that had catapulted them to the top of the charts in the past, the Commodores interviewed more than 50 possible candidates before deciding on Nicholas, who had been the lead vocalist for Heat Wave. The match was perfect, as the subsequent success of “Night Shift” proved it.

King says, “We had had hits before, but we won our first Grammy with that song in 1986—without Richie, proving not only could we go on but we could go on very successfully.”

Explaining the origins of the original ensemble, King says that the group was formed when all the members were in college at Tuskegee Institute. “It happened in our freshman year when we discovered each one of us played an instrument. That’s when we decided to get together and play. In those days it wasn’t about rehearsing or even getting famous. It was just about having fun. All we wanted to do was play music and meet girls.”

But as they played together, much more than fun and girls came the group’s way. Eventually they went on to open for the Jackson 5—only to be discovered by Berry Gordy in the process and go on to sell more than 60 million records for Motown.

In fact, the Commodores were Motown’s largest-selling act for two decades, racking up a string of hits that included “Machine Gun,” “Brick House,” “Easy,” “Three Times a Lady” and many more.

Later, the group struck out on its own, setting out to take control of their career in an unprecedented fashion Their first step was to regain control of their material. Motown’s refusal to grant master use licenses to them for their planned greatest hits CD actually turned out for the best.

In late 1991, King, Orange and Nicholas began the mammoth undertaking of creating new digital records of their classic hits, and their project was, says King, “truly a blessing in disguise.”

Today, the Commodores are busier than ever, continuing to bring in crowds worldwide. And the reason is, King believes, “because our music has made such a difference in so many lives, and our fans let us know that. They’ll often come up to us after a show to tell us they met their wives with our music playing in the background. Or they got married to our music. Or they actually conceived their children with our music playing. They tell us they find it so soothing and so meaningful.”

(Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune)

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