Sunday, October 19, 2008

Levi Stubbs

It was a great pleasure to come from a family that loved music. My mother would teach me about the great country artists of her time: Hank Williams, Homer and Jethro, Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, Little Jimmy Dickens, Lefty Frizzell and so forth. My older brother would vicariously pull me along in his musical education. When the Four Tops first hit the radio in 1964, I was eight. My brother, on the other hand was 16. See how that worked? I got my musical education at a very early age. That musical education featured the sweet sounds of Motown drifting from the transistor radio that belonged to my brother. The very first time I heard "Baby, I Need Your Lovin", I felt the pain and emotion drenched feeling behind that song, even though I was much too young to know what love was. The Four Tops only had two number one songs, "I Can't Help Myself" and "Reach Out", but it was that heart wrenching baritone of Levi Stubbs that made the Four Tops kings of Motown in my book. If you'll go back and check it out, very few groups were fronted by a baritone, there were mostly tenors fronting the big groups. That's what stood out for me, that ballsy, gruff, deep emotional sound coming from Levi Stubbs, those wonderful harmonies and the perfect instrumental accompaniment from The Funk Brothers. The songs were written in a tenor's range to give them a sense of urgency and it certainly worked for me. There were some low points in their career, but to have hits in the mid 60, then in the early 70's, that proved the staying power of the band. With the passing of Levi Stubbles (Stubbs)earlier in the week, there's only one original member left, just like there's only one original Temptation, too. Through the magic of music, the voices never grow old or out of tune. These guys who are passing will always remain 23, 25 or, in Stevie Wonder's case, a mere boy. In the case of my brother, he'll never be older than 45.
Thanks, Levi, for your contribution to my musical knowledge and thanks for your contribution to my heart. When I listen to music from back then, my heart pangs a bit. It makes me feel a number of different things. Mostly happy but sometimes very nostalgic for times that weren't really like I remember. We tend to choose what memories to keep. We filter out the ones we would like to toss away.

Thanks, Levi for being the soundtrack to a time when my life was full of awe. I miss that.

My favorite Four Tops songs.....

1. "Baby, I Need Your Lovin" #11 1964 They say your first is your favorite, that would be the reasoning here. Johnny Rivers got nothing on these guys. The Funk Brothers, as usual, shine on.







2. "Reach Out, I'll Be There", #1 1966. Nothing more needs to be said, a true musical classic with everything a great pop song should have. This is the definition of soul music. This song still gets me in my solar plexus still after 42 years







3. "Ain't No Woman Like The One A Got" #4 February 1973 This song was a breath of fresh air coming out of my crackly AM car radio speakers during my junior year in high school. The magic of the Four Tops captured in this awesome video...







4. "Standing In The Shadows of Love" #6 1966. This is the song that I discovered how a set of drums could influence a song. This one of my favories to dance to. Soul music at it's best







5. "Walk Away Renee" #14 in 1968. I am not a fan of covers, but this is as good as the original and sung with much more soul. Typical Funk Brothers backing perfection.





As an actor, he provided the voice of the carnivorous plant "Audrey II" in the movie version of the musical Little Shop of Horrors (1986) and the voice of Mother Brain in the animated TV series Captain N: The Game Master (1989). Stubbs has also guest starred in a number of TV shows as himself.
Stubbs and his wife Clineice were married from 1960 until his death, and had five children. In 1995, Stubbs was diagnosed with cancer, and later, a stroke, and stopped touring. Since 2000, Theo Peoples has taken Stubbs' place as the lead singer of the Four Tops, with Ronnie McNeir taking the place that Payton originally held. Levi Stubbs died in his sleep on October 17, 2008 at his home in Detroit from his ailments. Abdul "Duke" Fakir is the only surviving member of The Four Tops.
Stubbs was a cousin of soul singer Jackie Wilson He also had a brother, Joe, who was a member of both The Contours and The Originals, who died February 5 1998.

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