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Motown in Moorhead: The Temptations bring their classics to Bluestem

Today’s Temptations, (from left), Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Joe Herndon, founder Otis Williams and Bruce Williamson. Special to The Forum1 / 2
The Temptations at their height in the mid-1960s, (from left), Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin and David Ruffin. Special to The Forum2 / 2

FARGO - After more than 50 years of making music, Otis Williams, the founder and sole living member of the original Temptations, has one bit of advice: Don’t mess with a good thing.

In his case, he’s talking about the group’s signature soul hits like “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”

The 72-year-old and the current version of the Motown vocal group bring these hits and more to the Bluestem Amphitheater on Thursday.

“Some things in life you just don’t try to be slick with,” he says. “Some things you leave alone. That’s just like trying to alter the pyramids. It’s like trying to change the Empire State Building. Some things are there and you leave them alone and accept them for what they are.”

What the songs are, are classics. “My Girl” shot to the top of the charts in 1965 and stayed there for 13 weeks. Thirty-nine years later, Rolling Stone placed it at 88 on the list of the 500 greatest rock ’n’ roll songs.

“This is probably my favorite group to play with. I love their music. This is the kind of stuff Post-Traumatic plays. It means a lot for us to play with them,” says Russell Peterson, leader and saxophonist of Post-Traumatic Funk Syndrome.

The horn section of the Fargo-based band will back the group again, having played with them at the Fargo Civic Center in 2005.

While the tunes haven’t changed, the lineup has. Over the years Williams, a baritone, has sung with 21 other Temptations.

Becoming a Temptation isn’t just a matter of hitting the right notes or learning the dance moves, he says.

“I’ve been around a lot of talented people and they had all of the talent in the world, but excuse me, I’m going to say this the way it is, they are (jerks) as a person because they don’t take care of business,” he says. “You can have all of the talent in the world, but if you can’t be on time and take care of business, you will negate that talent.”

The comment seems targeted at his former bandmates, David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, who split from the band at its height in ’68 and ’71. After the two took shots at their former band, The Temptations responded with the tune “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are.)”

The trials and tribulations, as well as the music and moves, of The Temptations are becoming a Broadway musical, Williams says. If it’s anything like the 1998 NBC miniseries, based on Williams’ book on the band, it could create a stir among the families of former members. While the show was a hit, it prompted a number of lawsuits based on defamation of character and inaccuracies. The lawsuits were consolidated and the judge ruled in favor of Williams and the other defendants.

Williams calls the miniseries, “98 percent very true,” adding, “We took a small percent of what they call dramatic license to make it ebb and flow.”

One of the things the miniseries showcased were the group’s dance moves, which Williams credits to his former bandmate, Paul Williams.

“One day Paul said, ‘We are not just going to stand and sing. We’ve got to be exciting. We have to have movement. We’ve got to sell sex.’”

The Temptations weren’t the only Motown act to incorporate dancing to their stage show and Williams says there was a healthy rivalry with other acts on the label, particularly The Four Tops.

“Motown was built upon that kind of competitiveness. It was a healthy thing to have that fire and desire to try to make it,” he says.

All of which made Motown even more special.

“The ’60s were the most tumultuous decade in the last 100 years. Everything was happening. World leaders were getting assassinated. Vietnam was raging. Dr. King was assassinated. And through all of that, here comes this little two-story, family flat, 2648 West Grand Boulevard (the label’s original address), that housed all of those talented people to make all of that wonderful music,” Willliams says.

“Motown was no happenstance. God, in his infinite wisdom, brought that little company together to become soothing to a troubled soul,” Williams says. “There was a reason for Motown coming along and I’m just glad I was at the right place at the right time.”


WHAT: The Temptations with Post Traumatic Funk Syndrome

WHEN: Gates open at 5 p.m., music at 7 p.m., Thursday

where: Bluestem Amphitheater, 801 50th Ave. S., Moorhead

INFO: Tickets are $22.50 for general admission lawn, $32.50 for general admission benches and $55 for reserved seats. (866) 300-8300.