“People know us but they don’t know us. We’re six different writers, six different producers, six different arrangers, and we come from six different ways.” Ronald LaPread, bassist of the Commodores
One of the leading musical groups of the 1970s and1980s, the Commodores blazed the charts with their dramatic hit singles “Machine Gun,” “Just to Be Close to You” (1976), “Easy,” “Brickhouse,” and “Three Times a Lady.” In addition, the band earned a Grammy Award for their song “Nightshift” (1985).
Although the Commodores lost some of his members (Lionel Richie, Thomas McClary, the late Milan Williams and Ronald LaPread) and had some trouble with Motown Records, they still made it to the charts with the No.2 Billboard R&B track “Goin’ to the Bank” (with Polydor Records) and made several albums under their own label, the Commodore Records. The inductee of The Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2003) re-recorded their previous hit songs in two compilation albums, as well as released a holiday recording and a studio album.
The Tuskegee Musicians
Childhood and Family:
Formed in 1967, at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, the Commodores originally included Lionel Richie (born on June 20, 1949, in Tuskegee, Alabama) on vocals/saxophone/piano, Thomas McClary (born on October 6, 1950, in Eustis, Florida) on lead guitar, Milan Williams (born on March 28, 1948, in Okolona, Mississippi) on keyboards, William King (born on January 30, 1949, in Florida) on the trumpet, Ronald LaPread (born on September 4, 1946, in Alabama) on the bass guitar and Walter “Clyde” Orange (born on December 10, 1946, in Florida) on vocals/drums. On July 9, 2006, in Houston, Texas, keyboardist Milan died of cancer.
In the dawn of the 1980s, Lionel quit and was replaced by tenor singer J.D. Nicholas. Next, guitarist Thomas left to develop a gospel music company and bassist Ronald moved to New Zealand. Gradually shifting to more commercial pop music, the Commodores currently consists of “Clyde” Orange, William King and J.D. Nicholas.
The Commodores launched their professional career around Alabama in towns like Tuskegee, Montgomery, and Birmingham, before heading to New York City. Besides performing at clubs, the Commodores also auditioned as an opening act for a Jackson 5 tour. The two-and-a-half-year tour eventually resulted in a deal with Motown Records, with which they released the debut singles “Machine Gun” and “I Feel Sanctified.”
After hitting the Top 20 charts with their debut album, the Commodores scored higher success with their No.1 songs, “Slippery When Wet,” “Just to Be Close to You” (1976), and the legendary ballad “Easy.” The group again offered soul and funk music with the No.4 top hit “Brickhouse,” which became one of their signature songs, the No.1 R&B smash “Too Hot ta Trot” and the mild track “Three Times a Lady.” Their single “Still” became a last chart-topping single for the group while Richie was a member.
Following such chart-burning songs as “Old Fashion Love,” “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” and “Oh No,” the Commodores, with their new lineup, produced their most successful hit in 1985, titled “Nightshift.” Penned by Clyde Orange, “Nightshift” perched on the top of the charts for four consecutive weeks, as well as became the Commodores’ only hit to win a Grammy.
Still in 1985, the Commodores left Motown. Moving to Polydor Records, the band spawned another hit with “Goin’ to the Bank,” which settled on the second position on the Billboard R&B chart for 20 weeks. However, after 2 fruitless albums in the late 80s, the Commodores left the recording company and set up their own label, Commodore Records.
With the indie label, “Clyde” Orange, William King and J.D. Nicholas re-recorded Commodores hits in such albums as Commodores Hits Vol.1 and Commodores Hits Vol.2, using the latest digital recording technology. They also released the studio album Commodores XX – No Tricks, the live album Commodores Live, as well as a Christmas album titled Commodores Christmas.