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Saturday, March 23 , 2019, 2:16 pm | Mostly Cloudy 62º

 
 
 
 

Jeff Moehlis: Fondly Remembering the Same Old Songs with The Four Tops

The group, with original member Abdul 'Duke' Fakir, performs Motown classics at the Ventura County Fair

It is truly amazing to learn that The Four Tops, one of Motown’s premiere music groups, stayed together without changing personnel from 1953 until 1997. During that time, group members Levi Stubbs, Renaldo “Obie” Benson, Lawrence Payton and Abdul “Duke” Fakir entertained millions of people with hit records and countless performances. When Payton passed away in 1997, the group carried on, but Stubbs suffered a stroke in 2000 and died in 2008, and Benson died in 2005.

That only one of the original Four Tops is still alive is certainly sad, but Duke, who has been first tenor all these years, is still going strong in his mid-70s. With help from Payton’s son, Lawrence Payton Jr., Ronnie McNeir and lead vocalist Harold “Spike” Bonhart, the group still does justice to the band’s name, as witnessed at The Four Tops concert on Tuesday afternoon at the Ventura County Fair.

The group, looking sharp in pink suits with purple shirts and doing some simple group choreography, provided ample magical Motown moments. This included the timeless classics “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Bernadette,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There” and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch).”

They also paid tribute to the “three fallen brothers,” with Duke describing Stubbs as having “one of the finest voices ever,” Benson as “carrying the smile of a happy little child” and Payton as having an “awesome musical ear.” This included a very touching tribute by Lawrence Payton Jr. to his father with Luther Vandross’ “To Dance With My Father Again.” Duke also told how he recognized that by changing one word, a classic song “becomes the story of The Four Tops,” morphing “My Way” into “Our Way,” for which he took the lead vocal.

Duke told a few stories, including one about a bet from Motown chief Berry Gordy that the band couldn’t put the Left Banke song “Walk Away Renee” into the Top 10. The Four Tops won the bet, and while the specific terms weren’t revealed, Duke said he made enough to by a car for his girlfriend (who later became his wife) with cash.

It seems unfair to compare the “new Tops” in the band to the originals, who left very big shoes to fill. Suffice it to say that they did an admirable job, and it’s certainly a joy to hear The Four Tops’
songbook performed live.

After “It’s the Same Old Song,” Duke thanked the audience for remembering it. The elderly woman sitting next to me joked that she remembered it clearly — it’s the short-term memory that’s gone.

At any rate, kudos to The Four Tops for helping us remember what a great group they are.

Setlist

MacArthur Park
Baby I Need Your Loving
Bernadette
It’s the Same Old Song
Walk Away Renee
Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over)
Still Water (Love)
Keeper of the Castle
Something About You
Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever
In the Still of the Night
Ask the Lonely
To Dance With My Father Again
Our Way (My Way)
When She Was My Girl
Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)
Reach Out I’ll Be There
Standing in the Shadows of Love
I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)

Encore:
You Got Me Rockin’ and Reelin’

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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