I awoke Monday to the news that Ali-Ollie Woodson had passed away. The report said that he ‘d died Sunday from complications of leukemia.
You can’t quite place the name, right? Unless you’re an avid fan, you hardly remember that Ali-Ollie Woodson was once a member of the Temptations, the legendary Motown group. He did two stints as ‘a Temptation’, from 1984 thru 1986 and then again from 1988 to 1995.
Since the very early days of Motown, the Temptations have had scores of iterations, permutations, and even spin-off troupes made up of very talented but usually very estranged former members. (The Temptations Review with Denis Edwards comes to mind almost immediately). It is also well documented for anyone who has been paying attention at all that there have been enough comings and goings of new and old members of the quintet over the years to populate a small town.
Woodson, born in Detroit fifty eight years ago, was not a member of the original Temptations that included Elbridge Bryant, Melvin Franklin, Otis Williams, Paul Williams, and Eddie Kendricks. Nor was he a member of the ‘classic’ Tempts line-up which included the iconic David Ruffin (think ‘My Girl’). Rather, Woodson came along twenty five years after the fact and replaced Denis Edwards who replaced David Ruffin who himself had replaced a recalcitrant Elbridge Bryant in those primordial Motown days on West Grand Blvd in Detroit. (I sometimes wonder what gets into people who pick the days ‘just before’ or ‘just after’ major success hits to become so egotistical, and so disgruntled, that they decide to part ways. But I guess that is another issue for another day.)
All of the twenty or so guys who have been Temptations have necessarily been great singers ‘in their own right’ (to borrow a hackneyed phrase). Ruffin, Franklin, Kendricks, Williams, Williams, and Edwards are the Temptations that we tend to remember the most. Woodson though was the absolute best of them all —including the spectacularly talented but troubled Ruffin—himself likely the most imitated soul R&B singer of the past half century.
Woodson always reminds me a little of ‘Apollo Creed’ of Rocky fame. Or perhaps he reminds me of Muhammad Ali if he had he been an extremely gifted singer. (Apollo Creed was modeled after Muhammad Ali as it turns out and one wonders who the man named officially named Ollie Creggett at birth was emulating when he took on the hyphenated first name. You think that maybe …just maybe he was thinking of The Champ?) Tall, lithe and athletic, he took complete control of a song and control of the stage while still meshing in with the intricate choreographies and complex harmonies that were and still are an indelible part of The Temptations act.
You never know how much behind the scenes practice goes into ‘genius’, but Ollie Woodson seemed a natural and gifted showman. The songs, the moves, the interpretation seemed to come as easy to him as falling out of bed. I don’t think that he could ever —-or wanted to— do much of anything else but sing, dance, and perform. The fact that before his days with The Temptations, he’d had ‘cups of coffee’ with both The Drifters and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (after Teddy Pendergrass took his leave) are perhaps a testimony.
Ollie Woodson is likely remembered most for his volcanic and earthy lead vocals on ‘Treat Her Like a Lady’ (above YouTube, from 1988 – Woodson is the one in the middle), ‘Lady Soul’, or the smooth Temptations interpretation of the Broadway hit, ‘Some Enchanted Evening’. He was the lead vocalist on scores of other Tempts songs over the years too. If you’ve never heard him take the lead on ‘To Be Continued’ or ‘Hoops of Fire’ or ‘Elevator Eyes’, you’ve been as much deprived as if you’d never eaten your grandmother’s southern fried chicken. (I suggest that you get yourself to the Internet as soon as you finish up here and do some immediate ‘Tempts Research’. ) If Ollie Woodson (and the rest of the Temptations) doesn’t make your toes tap, your hips wiggle, and your heart sing, then maybe you should check your pulse. (Cantrell promises that you won’t need to.)
Otis Williams, the founder, still boss, and only living member of the original Temptations, once said of Ali-Ollie Woodson after he’d left the group the first time “Ollie was one ‘singing ass brother’!” If you need translation: Ali-Ollie could WAIL!
Damn, but I going to miss Ollie Woodson.
In ‘ Rock’n Roll Heaven’, their ‘ Helluva Band’ just got even better. By miles.
Thanks Ollie. Great job.