Lamont Dozier, June 16, 1941 – August 8, 2022
In Memory of A Beautiful Soul
& True Genius of Songwriting
Words & Photographs by PAUL ZOLLO
Two days ago, on August 8th, the legendary and beloved Lamont Dozier left our world to start his next great adventure.
Unlike multitudes through the ages who depart after bringing havoc to the world and often worse, he left this world a better place than when he arrived. Because, on his own and with the enduring musical brilliance of Brian and Eddie Holland, his Motown songwriting-production partners, he injected our lives with joy. The real-time, inspirational, romantic, danceable, soulful and glorious joy instilled in all of their songs is alive and more powerful than ever in their songs, all of which are modern standards.
He was born on June 16, 1941 [a birthday he shares with Tupac Shakur, Stan Laurel and Geronimo] in Motown itself – Detroit, Michigan. He died on August 8, 2022, though the news didn’t emerge until yesterday, August 9.
Lamont wrote an astounding bounty of great songs, including fourteen songs which became Billboard Number 1 hits. Fourteen! Ten of them were all with one group. Led by Diana Ross, who became a star and then an icon, soaring on the wings of his great songs, they were The Supremes.
Lamont’s Fourteen Number One Hit Songs:
- “Where Did Our Love Go?” The Supremes, beginning Aug. 22, 1964 (two weeks at No. 1)
- “Baby Love,” The Supremes, Oct. 31, 1964 (four)
- “Come See About Me,” The Supremes, Dec. 19, 1964 (two)
- “Stop! In the Name of Love,” The Supremes, March 27, 1965 (two)
- “Back in My Arms Again,” The Supremes , June 12, 1965 (one)
- “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” Four Tops, June 19, 1965 (two)
- “I Hear a Symphony,” The Supremes, Nov. 20, 1965 (two)
- “You Can’t Hurry Love,” The Supremes, Sept. 10, 1966 (two)
- “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” Four Tops, Oct. 15, 1966 (two)
- “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” The Supremes, Nov. 19, 1966 (two)
- “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone,” The Supremes, March 11, 1967 (one)
- “The Happening,” The Supremes, May 13, 1967 (one)
- “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” Kim Wilde, June 6, 1987 (one)
- “Two Hearts,” Phil Collins, Jan. 21, 1989 (two)
He was also a great singer and artist, and he recorded two top 40 hit songs as both the artist and songwriter. both in 1974: “Trying to Hold on to My Woman” and “Fish Ain’t Bitin’ ”
I was among the many very lucky songwriters and music people who got to know and even work with Lamont. How sweet it is, and always will be, to have connected with his gentle, joyful soul in all of these songs. It’s a body of work unified by the word which recurs most in his titles and life: love. Because Lamont loved life. He also loved songwriting – and his great fortune at becoming one of the world’s most successful songwriters without diluting ever, even slightly, the beautiful purity of his immense heart and sweet soul.
He was always an authentic and generous man. That generosity is something I got to know first-hand. I was editor of SongTalk, the journal of the National Academy of Songwriters, for more than ten years. NAS was a non-profit organization created to provide songwriters with information, protection and inspiration. During my first years, Lamont became the Chairman of the Board of the academy. It was a position which came with much effort and little glory. Yet he took it on with the purity that he brought to everything in his life – work, friends, family and faith.
I asked him if he would consider writing a column for each issue of SongTalk to share his wisdom on the business and art of being a songwriter. He was an honest guy, and didn’t want to make any promises he didn’t feel he could keep. He told me he would like to do that, but knew he didn’t have either the time or the knowhow to do it well.
Of course, I understood. And, of course, came up with a solution. How about if I were to interview him every week or so about certain songwriting issues, and then I would remove the questions, and form his column out of his answers. He immediately agreed. This was thrilling for me – I was still new to this job, and I had landed Lamont Dozier as a regular columnist!
We started a series of phone interviews in 1987 that worked even better than I had hoped, providing the perfect mix of Lamont’s humble wisdom about the business and the art, as well as golden tidbits about the iconic songs and records. All of which served to provide ample and genuinely insightful, practical wisdom and advice for songwriters, as well as very engaging stories of his songs and success.
Also he was a man that people could trust. His Motown success was immense, after all. That alone, separate from the timeless beauty and enduring greatness of the songs and records, was more than enough to garner great respect for him in the industry itself. Commercial success does always create more revenue than artistry. But those who could do both – write great songs and also create astoundingly dimensional and powerful records that were instantly loved upon release yet never shed their greatness, evolving into standards – those songwriters have reached the “toppermost of the poppermost” as the Beatles used to call it.
Their songs did everything that songs can do, and have never stopped. Like the greatest songs through our modern times, his songs expand in time. It’s not that they still sound good. They sound greater than ever. And we carry them not only in our physical world and experience them again in real-time every time we hear them, we carry them in our hearts. They are parts of us. With good reason.
When Lamont stepped down as chairman, replaced first by John Bettis and then Jeff Barry, the column by him was done. I reconnected them all, and put the questions back, so that I could include it in the first volume of my book Songwriters On Songwriting.
Lamont delivered a lot of wisdom in his columns, and in the world. Not only about life – and about the vagaries and victories of love – but about songwriting itself. He recognized the unbound potential of the song itself to speak to our hearts and our minds at the same time. He also realized he was given a whole lot of musical talent, and for this he remained always grateful. He knew that to whom much is given, much is asked. It was a fair deal to him. Yes, he and the Hollands and everyone at Motown had to literally compete with each other to get their songs recorded and released there. It wasn’t easy at all, and required real diligence and dedication both. Many times some of the greatest songs didn’t get chosen as the next record for a great Motown act, though they all knew that had it been selected as the next single for The Supremes (who recorded many of their songs), or Marvin Gaye, or other Motown icons, it would have been a hit like the others on their long hit list.
Of course, it could be heartbreaking and maddening, after investing so much into the writing and arrangement of a song, to see it cast away. (Many castaways did eventually get recorded, and joined the others in Lamont’s songbook of soul standards.) But that experience of being jettisoned from the perpetual Motown roller-coaster of triumph and tribulations derailed great songwriters for decades. But Lamont was never derailed. Never did he give up hope, or abandon ship.
To the end of his 81 years, he beamed with that calm joy which distinguishes his music. Rather than ever feel entitled in any way by his talent and success, he felt grateful. And any sorrow inflicted by a song’s reception was more than compensated by the real pride and joy of being a songwriter – and a successful beloved one – in these modern times. He never took it lightly. Writing a song – any song – he knew was a triumph. Writing ones which become beloved by millions over many decades was beyond triumph. It was a serious blessing, and one for which he never took for granted.
Nor did he take the artistry of songwriting and record-making lightly ever. To him songwriting called on our better angels, as it is a creation which can bring hope, healing and harmony to lives forever darkened by racism, poverty, dissonance, intolerance, hatred and everyday brutality. Like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and others, Lamont felt the airwaves were a sacred trust – a direct pipeline to the people at all times – and that songwriters had a responsibility to bring songs to the world which lifted our hearts and eased our minds with positivity. And to avoid the opposite.
“I no longer think in terms of good days or bad days,” said Lamont. “There are good days and learning days. If you woke up today, that’s a good day. And when things don’t work out your way, there’s always something to learn.”
And he knew well, as do all songwriters, that those songs which lift the spirits of others first lift the spirit of the songwriter himself Much in the way ancient scriptures tell us that when man writes songs, and creates a “joyful noise,” that it makes God happy. The songwriter, like the creator of all songs and author of all books, feels forever blessed when one of his own kids – a song – becomes world famous.
Lamont’s lifetime as a songwriter – first as a dreamer, then aspirant and ultimately one of the great geniuses of modern song – was a true journey of joy for Lamont, and he shared that joy freely with the world. Always the man was always generous. With kindness, compassion, time and love. Which made him happy. It’s why his autobiography is named after the single song he wrote which sums it all up: “How Sweet It Is.”
That book, which he composed and realized as beautifully as one of his miracle songs, reflects his richly reverential, generous spirit. Not only does he share with us all the telling, poignant, sad and triumphant details of his life, he also shared with all songwriters a great gift: a lexicon of the ample wisdom about songwriting he’d accumulated throughout his lifetime. He called it his “Guiding Principles of Songwriting.”
He generously allowed me to reprint this section in a series of articles I wrote then about him and the new book in 2020. Those principles will be reprinted here in Part II of our Lamont celebration.
Lamont knew well that it takes a whole lot more than talent to both write good songs as well as propel them into our world, full-blown. It’s the writing, but also the diligence in never giving up until the song is right, and also educating one’s self always on the elements which combine to create not only a great song, but one which will resound powerfully through the culture at that moment and beyond. Always the songs were both timely and timeless, about that which was then, and that which is forever.
With love and thanks to God and the universe for bringing Lamont’s soul into our lives within his beautiful songs, we will bring you his principles of songwriting in Part II of this tribute.