Commodores just keep rollin’

When Li­onel Rich­ie left the Com­modores in 1983, many fans wondered where that would leave the group. For­tu­nately, they didn’t have to won­der for long.

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 can­did­ates be­fore fi­nally de­cid­ing on J.D. Nich­olas, who had been the lead vo­cal­ist for Heat Wave. The match was per­fect, and the sub­sequent suc­cess of Night Shift proved it.

“Al­though we had had hits be­fore, we won our first Grammy with that song in 1986 — without Rich­ie,” said Wil­li­am King, one of the founders of the ori­gin­al group. Along with Wal­ter Or­ange, King and Nich­olas form the Com­modores of today.

The group will per­form their hits at the Trop­ic­ana Show­room in At­lantic City on Sat­urday, Sept. 24.

The ori­gin­al group was formed in 1968 when 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,” King said. “It wasn’t about re­hears­ing or get­ting fam­ous. It was just about hav­ing fun. All we wanted to do was play mu­sic and meet girls.”

That happened. And what also happened was that the group made great mu­sic to­geth­er and went on to big­ger and bet­ter things. Known as “smart guys,” the Com­modores were smart enough to open for the Jack­son 5, to be dis­covered by Berry Gordy in the pro­cess, and to sell more than 60 mil­lion re­cords for Mo­town.

In fact, they 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 oth­ers.

Later, the group struck out on its own, and set 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 CDs ac­tu­ally turned out for the best.

In late 1991, King, Or­ange and Nich­olas began the mam­moth un­der­tak­ing of cre­at­ing new di­git­al re­cords of the Com­modores’ clas­sic hits. Their pro­ject worked and was, said King, “a bless­ing in dis­guise.”

Today, the Com­modores are busier than ever. And their suc­cess, said King, is be­cause of their mu­sic and the show it­self.

“Our mu­sic has made such a dif­fer­ence in so many lives, and our fans let us know that,” he said. “They tell us they met their wives with our mu­sic play­ing in the back­ground, got mar­ried by our mu­sic, even con­ceived their chil­dren. And, as strange as it may seem, some people ask us for cop­ies of our mu­sic to die by. They find it so sooth­ing and so mean­ing­ful.”

The Com­modores are cur­rently work­ing on new ma­ter­i­al for their next CD. King ex­plained that they push aside any ego prob­lems and ar­rive at the se­lec­tion pro­cess demo­crat­ic­ally.

“It’s really simple,” he said. “We take a vote. And once the die 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.”

And in the end, he con­cluded, “one of the most im­port­ant things about us is that we treat each oth­er like gen­tle­men.”

“We’re old enough to know that show busi­ness is di­vided in­to two parts: There’s the show and then there’s the busi­ness. We try to take care of both sides.” ••

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