NEW YORK (AP) — Lamont Dozier, the middle name of the acclaimed Holland-Dozier-Holland team who wrote and produced “You Can’t Hebrew Love,” “Heat Wave” and dozens of other hits, and helped make Motown one indispensable album making company of the 1960s and beyond, has died at the age of 81.
Dozier’s death was confirmed Tuesday by Paul Lambert, who helped produce the stage musical The First Wives Club, which Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote for. Duke Fakir, the last surviving member of the original Four Tops, called Dozier a “handsome, talented bloke” with an uncanny sense of what material would work best for a given group.
“I like to call Holland-Dozier-Holland ‘music cutter,'” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “You could take any artist, call them into their office, talk to them, listen to them, and write them a top 10 song.”
In Motown’s historic, self-proclaimed rise to the “Sound of Young America,” Holland-Dozier-Holland distinguished itself from even such gifted peers as Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Barrett Strong. Over a four-year period, 1963-67, Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland created more than 25 Top 10 songs and mastered the blend of pop and rhythm and blues that allowed Detroit label and founder Berry Gordy to to transcend the boundaries between them black and white music and compete with the Beatles on the airwaves.
They wrote “Baby I Need Your Loving” and “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” for the Four Tops, “Heat Wave” and “Jimmy Mack” for Martha and the Vandellas, “Baby Don” for Marvin Gaye . ‘t You Do It” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)”. The music lived on through countless soundtracks, samplings and radio broadcasts, in covers by the Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and many others, and in generations of songwriters and musicians influenced by the Motown sound.
“Their structures were simple and direct,” wrote Gerri Hirshey in the 1984 Motown story Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music. Fast food jingle that lurks subliminally until it connects with real hunger.”
Brian Wilson, Ron Wood and Mick Hucknall were among the many musicians who offered tributes on Tuesday. Carole King, who was another leading hitmaker of the ’60s with her then-husband Gerry Goffin, tweeted that “struggling to keep up with them made us better songwriters”.
HDH’s glamor was a perfect match for Motown’s signature act, Diana Ross and the Supremes, for whom they wrote 10 #1 songs including “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “You Can’t Hurry Love”. Expectations were so high that when “Nothing But Heartaches” failed to make the top 10 in 1965, Gordy sent out a company memo demanding that Motown only release chart-topping songs for the Supremes, an order HDH dubbed ” I Hear a Symphony” and a few more recordings that followed.
Holland-Dozier-Holland weren’t above formulas or repeating an earlier hit, but they worked in different moods and styles: the casual joy of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)”, the escalating desire of “Heat Wave” , the urgency of “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”. Dozier’s focus was on melody and arrangement, whether it be the haunting echoes of Vandellas backing vocals in “Nowhere To Run,” the flashing guitar lights driving The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On,” or the hypnotic gospel piano in Gaye’s “Can I Get a Witness?”
“All the songs started out as slow ballads, but once we got into the studio we upped the tempo,” Dozier told the Guardian in 2001. “The songs had to be fast because they were for teenagers – otherwise it would have been more for your parents. The emotion was still there, it was just a little short of the optimism you got from the up tempo beat.”
HDH and Motown’s heyday ended in 1968 amid questions and litigation over royalties and other issues. HDH left the label, and neither side would recover. The Four Tops and the Supremes were among the acts that suffered from not having their most trusted writers. Meanwhile, HD-H’s efforts to start its own business lagged far behind Motown. The Invictus and Hot Wax labels both disappeared within a few years, and Dozier recalled with disbelief that the Hollands dismissed future superstars like Al Green and George Clinton. HDH released several hits including Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold” and Honey Cone’s “Want Ads”.
Holland-Dozier-Holland were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two years later. Alone, Dozier had a Top 20 hit with “Trying to Hold on to My Woman,” helped produce Aretha Franklin’s album “Sweet Passion,” and worked with the likes of Eric Clapton and Hucknall. His greatest achievement was co-writing Phil Collins’ chart-topping “Two Hearts” from the 1988 film “Buster,” a Motown-style mid-tempo ballad that won a Grammy, a Golden Globe, and received an Academy Award nomination.
HDH reunited for a stage production of The First Wives Club, which premiered in 2009, but their time together was short and unhappy. Dozier and the Hollands often clashed, and Dozier got out before the show started. “I can’t imagine that we’ll ever work with Lamont again,” wrote Eddie Holland in Come and Get These Memories, a memoir by the Hollands released in 2019, the same year that Dozier published the memoir How Sweet It is.”
Dozier acknowledged that his early success conflicted with his family life, but eventually settled down with Barbara Ullman, who died in 2021 after more than 40 years of marriage. His children included songwriter-record producer Beau Dozier and composer Paris Ray Dozier.
Like so many Motown artists, Dozier was born in Detroit and grew up in a family of singers and musicians. He sang in the choir at his Baptist church, and his love of words was endorsed by an elementary school teacher who, he recalled, liked one of his poems so much she kept it on the blackboard for a month. By the late 1950s he was a professional singer and eventually signed with Motown, working first with Brian Holland and then with Eddie Holland, who wrote most of the lyrics.
Some of Motown’s biggest hits and catchiest phrases hail from Dozier’s home life. He recalled his grandfather addressing women with “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch,” the opening words and ongoing chorus of Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” inspired by all three songwriters, who had issues with women named Bernadette, while a falling out with another Dozier friend helped inspire a Supremes favorite.
“She was pretty upset because I was quite a womanizer at the time and cheated on her,” Dozier told the Guardian. “So she started swearing at me and hitting me until I said, ‘Stop! In the name of love!’ And as soon as I said it, I heard a cash register in my head and I laughed. My girlfriend didn’t find it very amusing: we broke up. The only ones who were happy were the Supremes.”
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