The Commodores
1995 Inductees (Lifework Award)
William King (Jan. 30, 1949- ), Ronald LaPread (Sept. 14, 1950- ) William McClary (Oct. 6, 1950- ), J.D. Nicholas (April 12, 1952- ) Walter “Clyde” Orange (Dec. 10, 1946- ), Lionel Richie (June 20, 1949- ) Milan Williams (March 28, 1948-July 9, 2006)

Renowned for the funk, soul and R&B hits “Just to Be Close to You,” “Easy” and “Brick House,” the Commodores became one of the top bands in the world during their long tenure at the Detroit-based Motown label. The group is credited with 50 albums that produced seven No. 1 songs and a host of other Top 10 hits on the Billboard charts.

The members of the Commodores all attended Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. The original lineup consisted of William King on trumpet, Thomas McClary on guitar, Ronald LaPread on bass, Walter “Clyde” Orange on drums, Lionel Richie on saxophone and Milan Williams on keyboards. At loss for a name for their new group, Orange gave King a dictionary and told him to pick a name – and the word he chose was “commodore.”

The Commodores’ long association with Motown began as a result of a tour opening for the Jackson 5 in 1971. The group made its Motown debut recording the up-tempo instrumental dance cut “Machine Gun” in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The Top 10 hit was followed by the Top 20 single “I Feel Sanctified” and the group’s first No. 1 record, “Slippery When Wet.” The septet rocked the airwaves with its brand of Southern funk, spiced with an animated vocal delivery courtesy of lead singers Richie and Orange.

The Commodores’ Motown hit streak continued with their second No. 1 single, “Just to Be Close to You,” the Top 10 hit “Fancy Dancer” and the group’s first No. 1 ballad, “Easy.” The funky dance smash “Brick House,” which quickly became the group’s anthem, was followed by the consecutive No. 1 singles “Too Hot ta Trot,” “Three Times a Lady” and “Still.”

In 1982, Richie left the group to pursue a successful solo career. In his absence, the Commodores promptly courted tenor J.D. Nicholas (formerly of Heatwave) to join the group and ended up recording their biggest hit. Penned by Orange, “Night Shift” paid tribute to the late soul singers Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. The single topped the charts for four consecutive weeks and earned the group its only Grammy Award to date.

The Commodores left the Motown label in 1985 and signed with Polydor the same year. The group returned to the Top 10 with “Goin’ to the Bank.” During the 1990s, the band’s lineup was reduced to a core of three Commodores: Orange, King and Nicholas. The trio later established its own label, Commodore Records, continuing to record and perform classic and contemporary sounds for sold-out crowds all over the world well into the 21st century.

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame


The Commodores is an American funk/soul band of the 1970s and 1980s. The members of the group met as freshmen at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in 1968, and signed with Motown in November 1972, having first caught the public eye opening for The Jackson 5 while on tour. The Commodores have sold over 75 million records worldwide.

This group is best known for their ballads, such as "Easy" and "Three Times a Lady", but, for the most part, the group mainly recorded funky, driven dance-floor hits which include "Brick House", "Say Yeah", "Fancy Dancer", and "Too Hot Ta Trot". The Commodores originally called themselves the Jays, but had to change their name because of the similarly named O'Jays. To choose a new name William King opened a dictionary and randomly picked a word. "We lucked out," he remarked with a laugh when telling this story to People (magazine). "We almost became The Commodes!"

"Machine Gun", the instrumental title track from the band's debut album, became a staple at American sporting events, and is similarly featured in many films, including Boogie Nights and Looking for Mr. Goodbar. It reached #24 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975. Another instrumental, "Cebu" (named after an island in the Philippines), later became a staple in the Quiet storm format. Three albums released in years 1975 and 1976 (Caught in the Act, Movin' On, Hot On The Tracks) are considered the peak of their harder funk period. Only one such hit from that era scored big, the funk-driven "Brick House" which reached #5 in the U.S. After those recordings the group started to move towards softer sound. That move was hinted from their 1976 Top Ten hits "Sweet Love" and "Just to Be Close to You." In 1977 the Commodores scored a ballad hit with "Easy", which became the group's biggest hit yet, reaching #4 in the U.S. After years of toiling in the Top Ten, the group finally reached #1 in 1978 with the sweet "Three Times a Lady." 1979 saw the Commodores score another Top Five ballad hit "Sail On" before reaching the top of the charts once again with another ballad, "Still." The group had no major hits in 1980, but by 1981 they were back with a vengeance, scoring Top Ten hits with the ballad "Oh No" (#4 U.S.) and their first upbeat single in almost five years, "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" (#8 U.S.).

Many of their hit tunes were written or co-written by Walter "Clyde" Orange, the original lead singer before Lionel Richie came on board. Lionel and Clyde alternated as lead singers. Clyde was also the lead singer on "Nightshift" and "Brick House" among others. Clyde now lives with his family in Florida and has four children named Paula, Dominique Crawford, Colin and Cody.

After Richie left to pursue a solo career, former Heatwave singer J.D. Nicholas assumed co-lead vocal duties with drummer Walter "Clyde" Orange. However, with the exception of the Grammy-winning "Nightshift" (#3 in the U.S., a tribute to Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson; recently re-recorded a version dedicated to Michael Jackson in 2010[1]), the band never achieved the same level of success it had enjoyed with Richie. Ironically, "Nightshift" won The Commodores their first Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals in 1985.

The Commodores made a brief appearance in the 1978 film Thank God It's Friday. They performed the song "Too Hot ta Trot" during the dance contest; their songs "Brickhouse" and "Easy" were also played during the movie.

Over time, the group's founding members began leaving. McClary left in 1982 (shortly after Richie left) to pursue a solo career and to develop a gospel music company. McClary was replaced by guitarist/vocalist Sheldon Reynolds. LaPread left in 1986 and moved to New Zealand, and Reynolds departed for Earth, Wind and Fire in 1987, which prompted trumpeter Walter "WAK" King to take over primary guitar duties for live performances. Keyboardist Milan Williams exited the band in 1989. The group also gradually abandoned its funk roots and moved into the more commercial pop arena. In 1983, Skyler Jett, replaced Lionel Richie as the lead singer for The Commodores, and toured the world and performed in over 32 countries in a two year span.

In 1985, the group performed two commercials for NBC affiliate WXIA in Atlanta, Georgia. The group left Motown in 1986 for Polydor, and released several additional albums, which are primarily compilations of previous material. They have re-recorded Commodores hits and have recorded a live album and a Christmas album.

On Sunday 19 August 1990 the group made an appearance at Seagulls Rugby League Football Club, on Gollan Drive, West Tweed Heads, in New South Wales, Australia.

Today, the Commodores consist of Walter "Clyde" Orange, James Dean "J.D." Nicholas and William "WAK" King, along with a backing band. King married songwriter Shirley Hanna-King ("Brick House" co-writer) in 1976. Together they have four children, Adam, Ryan Hanna, Leah Hanna and Noah.

Since the late 1990s, Orange has also been working in conjunction with singer/songwriter Craig Deanto, and they have released an album titled "Who Hears The Cries". The group continues to perform, selling out arenas, theaters and festivals around the world, annually. They have the opening act for Trump casinos and Hard Rock casinos.

Lionel B. Richie Jr. (vocals, saxophone, drums and piano) - born 20 June 1949, Tuskegee, Alabama.

Thomas McClary (lead guitar) - born 6 October 1949, Eustis, Florida.

Milan Williams (keyboards, trombone, rhythm guitar) - born 28 March 1948 Okolona, Mississippi, died of cancer, July 9, 2006 Houston, Texas.

William "WAK" King (trumpet, rhythm guitar, synthesizer) - born 30 January 1949, Alabama.

Ronald La Pread (bass guitar, trumpet) - born 4 September 1946, Alabama.

Walter Orange (vocals, drums) - born 10 December 1946, Florida.

 

Albums

Year Album Peak chart positions

US UK

1974 Machine Gun 138

1975 Caught in the Act 26

Movin' On 29

1976 Hot on the Tracks 12

1977 Commodores 3

Commodores Live! 3 60

1978 Natural High 3 8

1979 Greatest Hits

Midnight Magic 3 15

1980 Heroes 7 50

1981 In the Pocket 13 70

1982 All The Great Hits

1983 Commodores 13 103

1984 All the Great Love Songs

1985 Nightshift 12 13

1986 United 101

1988 Rock Solid 101

1992 Commodores Christmas

1993 No Tricks

"—" denotes releases that did not chart

[edit]Singles

Year Single Peak chart positions[2][3] Album

US US R&B US Dance US AC UK

1969 "Keep on Dancing" Non-album song

1974 "Machine Gun" 22 7 20 Machine Gun

"The Zoo (The Human Zoo)" 44

"I Feel Santified" 75 12

1975 "Slippery When Wet" 19 1 Caught in the Act

"This Is Your Life" 13

1976 "Sweet Love" 5 2 32 Movin' On

"Just to Be Close to You" 7 1 62 Hot on the Tracks

1977 "Fancy Dancer" 39 9 33

"Easy" 4 1 9 The Commodores

"Brick House" 5 4 34 32

1978 "Too Hot ta Trot" 24 1 38 The Commodores Live!

"Three Times a Lady" 1 1 1 1 Natural High

"Flying High" 38 21 37

1979 "Sail On" 4 8 8 Midnight Magic

"Still" 1 1 6 4

1980 "Wonderland" 25 21 40

"Old-Fashion Love" 20 8 Heroes

"Heroes" 54 27

"Jesus Is Love" 34

1981 "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" 8 5 56 In the Pocket

"Oh No" 4 5 5 44

1982 "Why You Wanna Try Me" 66 42

"Painted Picture" 70 19 All the Greatest Hits

1983 "Only You" 54 20 8 Commodores 13

1985 "Nightshift" 3 1 6 2 3 Nightshift

"Animal Instinct" 43 22 9 74

"Janet" 87 65 8

1986 "Goin to the Bank" 65 2 43 United

1987 "Take It from Me" 38

"United in Love" 22

1988 "Solitaire" 51 Rock Solid

"—" denotes releases that did not chart

The Commodores were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003. Among multiple Grammy nominations, they won a Grammy for "Nightshift" in 1986.

R&B/Pop group
Throughout the 1970s, the six-member Commodores grew into one of the biggest selling acts of all time. Breaking on to the scene with the album Machine Gun in 1974, the Commodores established a style of heavy funk, then moved on to score with a string of ballads. Although the band’s members shared in songwriting duties, singer Lionel Richie was singled out into the limelight, so much so that he left the band in 1982. While Richie’s subsequent solo career soared, a new incarnation of the Commodores that included vocalist J.D. Nicholas continued to make albums of lesser stature that veered increasingly toward a middle of the road style.
The Commodores’ story began in 1968 on the campus of the Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama when business majors William King, Thomas McClary, and Lionel Richie banded together as the Mighty Mystics because, as Richie later told Rolling Stone’s Steve Pond, "the best way to get girls was to play every party on campus." The trio featured King on trumpet, McClary on guitar, and Richie taking up vocal duties, and were soon joined by
keyboard player Milan Williams after his band, The Jays, dissolved. After randomly flipping through a dictionary, the four some decided to dub themselves the Commodores, and adopted two more members, bassist Ronald LaPread and drummer Walter "Clyde" Orange. For over a decade, this lineup would not change.
Went Pro
Although Orange alone was a music major, all of the Commodores boasted rich musical backgrounds, as well as exposure to a wide variety of styles, as most of the sextet had relatives who were band leaders, composers, or performers. Richie, for example, had a grandmother who was a classical music teacher and an uncle who had arranged for the legendary big band leader Duke Ellington. Their earliest performances and recordings may have belied a similarity with upbeat funk acts like Sly and the Family Stone, but their appetite for a wide palette of sounds would soon lead them to form their own sound. "People always want to tag us by citing [R&B stars] James Brown and the Temptations as our main influences," Richie later told High Fidelity’s Stephen X. Rea. "But we also grew up in a pop environment. We listened to [rock acts like] the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, [country singers] Glen Campbell and Merle Haggard as much as we listened to Brown."
The group continued to play an often exhausting number of shows, squeezed into their class schedule, and began to expand their touring orbit beyond Tuskeegee. After packing their equipment into a van and trekking to New York City, the Commodores managed to slate a gig at the nightclub Small’s Paradise. Although the group’s instruments were stolen shortly after pulling into the city, the Commodores managed to buy back the hijacked equipment and deliver a show that impressed audience member and talent agent Benny Ashburn. Ashburn immediately became the Commodores’ manager, and remained in that position until his death in the early 1982.
Guided by Ashburn, the sextet capitalized on their own considerable business savvy and organized the Commodores into a no-nonsense corporation, complete with conduct guidelines and mission statements. The band’s members prided themselves in their professional, drugfree behavior and aimed their sights at surpassing the success of the Beatles, one of the biggest selling pop group ever. After an impressive European tour in 1970 and a forgettable debut single was released for Atlantic Records, the Commodores signed with the Motown label in 1971 but refused to adopt the company’s slick mode of packaging their acts and use of studio musicians. "We were different and Motown didn’t know what to do with us," LaPread told Billboard. "We didn’t fit the standard way of doing things and we’d started to write our own songs. When we met up with producer James Carmichael, things changed. Carmichael was won over by the Commodore’s uncompromising attitude, and like Ashburn, continued to collaborate with the group for the next decade.
Became Pop Superstars
It took three years of finagling before the Commodores were able to release their debut album Machine Gun, but in the interim they continued to make a name for themselves on stage, often as the opening act for Motown label mates the Jackson 5. However, if the Commodores had taken their time getting started, success quickly caught up with them. Machine Gun’s title cut, a bass-fueled funk workout written by Williams, became a Top 30 single and the album itself went gold shortly thereafter. After more touring with acts like the Rolling Stones and the O’Jays, the Commodores were able to draw crowds on their own merits and found their name topping the marquis of increasingly larger venues.
For the next two albums, Caught In The Act and Movin’ On, the Commodores stuck with their aggressive funk sound, which helped lay the foundation for the emerging trend of disco dance music. With all six members sharing the writing duties, the group produced a number of hits, such as "Slippery When Wet" in 1975 and "Brick House," released 1977,. However, by 1977 the group began having immense luck with ballads written and sung by Richie. Aside from their lack of dance appeal, songs like "Easy," written in 1977, showed Richie’s graceful blending of country flourishes with R&B, and he rapidly became identified by the public as the center of the Commodores.
By the late 1970s, the Commodores had become veritable superstars, with each of their albums having sold anywhere from gold to triple platinum status. Much of this success continued to be credited to Richie’s love songs, with tunes like the number one A Three Times A Lady" inciting other performers to seek Richie’s services. Returning a favor to one of his influences, Richie penned the immensely popular ballad "Lady" for country singer Kenny Rogers, who also tapped Richie to produce his album Share Your Love in 1980. In addition to Richie’s allure, the Commodores benefited from their ever-keen business sense. Creating the umbrella corporation Commodore Entertainment, the group had turned a college party band into a multi-million dollar empire. "I think of these guys more as businessmen than musicians," Richie confessed to Rea. "We’re always thinking of the bottom line."
Bottom Line Began to Drop
As the next decade began, the Commodores’ phenomenal success took a sharp dive, and for some critics, their growing corporate identity was to blame. For critics like Rolling Stone’s Stephen Holden, the emotion and energy of the group’s earlier work had faded into albums like Heroes, released in 1980, which offered bland material intended to appeal to the widest demographics. Although Heroes was in fact the first "message" album to be released by the Commodores, Holden found the record to be full of unconvincing platitudes, as well as sloppy songwriting. "The title tune—which solemnly informs us that we are the heroes we’re searching for in an unheroic age—is a pep talk that takes itself so seriously that it depresses more than it uplifts." Holden went on to say, "Wake Up Children’ utilizes simplistic nursery rhymes about pollution and the fate of man in a genteel pop-funk idiom that has no bite."
If Heroes was a relative disappointment overall, the release of In the Pocket put the group temporarily back on track, producing two top ten singles, such as the memorable "Lady (You Bring Me Up)." Still, the band could not shake off claims of overly commercial, adult contemporary banality from some critics. "[T]he Commodores’ In The Pocket exhibits some of the worst traits of current MOR (middle of the road) R&B: most depressingly, the tiresome me-man, you-lady condescension of the love songs and a lust for upward mobility expressed in the distressing visual pun on the album cover—the Commodores’ logo sewn onto the right hip pockets of the band members’ designer jeans.’ Nevertheless, the Commodores were still given a vote of confidence from record buyers.
Continued After Several Departures
After In The Pocket, the Commodores suffered a series of heavy losses. In 1982, longtime manager Ashburn died of a heart attack, and shortly thereafter Richie left to pursue a solo career. McClary left the following year, to be replaced by singer James Dean "J.D" Nicholas, but the group’s stability was affected nonetheless. After the disappointing Commodores 13 was issued in 1983, producer Carmichael also fled the Commodores’ camp and the group waited a full two years before releasing their next record.
The album Nightshift, released in 1985, marked a relative comeback for the Commodores, if only on the strength of its title cut, a stirring lament over Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye, two R&B singers whose lives had been cut tragically short. The song was a major hit, winning Grammy Award, and winning over even the most hardened critics. As Mark Moses wrote in High Fidelity, "[w]hat’s’ distinctive about "Nightshift" is that this tribute doesn’t simply rest on sentimentality: Its arrangements may coo softly, but its percussion ticks with relentless syncopations, its bass relishes long ominous slides." Still, many writers found the rest of Nightshift to be little more than filler material, as did Rolling Stone’s J.D. Considine. "That the remainder of the album fails to measure up to [the title song’s] standard comes as no surprise. Because the Commodores have been unable either to resurrect the hard funk of their earliest hits or the sort of MOR ballads Lionel Richie once provided, the band continues to sound unsure of its musical direction and ends up wallowing in mediocrity."
As Richie grew to become one of the hallmarks of 1980s pop music with albums like the Grammy winning Can’t Slow Down, the Commodores all but disappeared from mainstream eyes. By the latter half of the decade, the group was stripped down to a trio, with LaPread and Williams having retired to their families. After releasing the albums United and Rock Solid for Polydor, the enterprising Commodores once again showed their business know-how when they christened their own label in 1992. While the group did release an album of new material in 1993, Commodores XX—No Tricks, the trio primarily rested on the success of their past hits. With two greatest hits compilations released on Commodores Records, the group digitally re-recorded their standards, with Orange and Nicholas singing many tunes originally delivered by Richie. The trio also continued to perform live at state fairs and on nostalgia tours, and in 1998 celebrated what few pop acts can boast—thirtieth anniversary.
For The Record...
Members include William King, Jr., (born January 29, 1949, in Alabama), horns; Ronald LaPread (born 1950, in Alabama, left group in 1986), bass, trumpet; Thomas McClary (born 1950 in Mississippi, left group in 1983), guitar; James Dean “J.D.” Nicholas, (born April 11, 1952, in Paddington, England), vocals; Walter “Clyde” Orange, (born December 9, 1946, in Florida.), drums, vocals; Lionel Richie (born 1950, in Tuskeegee, AL, left group in 1982), vocals and piano; Milan Williams (born 1949, in Mississippi, left group in 1988), keyboards, trombone, guitar.
Band formed in 1968 by Richie, King, and McClary at the Tuskeegee Institute, in Alabama; took on manager Benny Ashburn, later to be called “the seventh Commodore,” 1968; signed with Motown and became opening act for the Jackson 5, 1971; released debut album Machine Gun, 1974; released Commodores, which featured several of the group’s biggest hit singles, 1977; appeared in the disco film Thank God It’s Friday, 1978; Richie departed for a successful solo career, 1982; released single and album Nightshift with new singer Nicholas, their last for Motown, 1985; signed to Polydor 1986; released United, 1986; released Rock Sollid, 1988; launched Commodore Records, 1992; released Commodores Hits (Vols. 1 & 2), 1992; released Commodores XX—No Tricks, 1993; Motown released definitive Commodores retrospective Ultimate Collection, 1997.
Awards: named best R&B Group in both Rolling Stone’s critics’ and readers’ polls, 1978; named act of the year by Performance magazine, 1978; Grammy Award for Best R&B Song by a Group for “Nightshift,” 1985.
Address: Record Company—Motown Records, 5750 Wilshire Blvd. #300, Los Angeles, CA 90036

 

 

 

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