Oxford AASC: Dozier, Lamont Herbert

Dozier, Lamont Herbert

By: Steve Feffer
Source:
 African American National Biography What is This?

Dozier, Lamont Herbert

(16 June 1941– ),

songwriter, music producer and performer, was born in Detroit, Michigan. Information about his parents is largely unknown. As a young child he rehearsed with a local Baptist church's gospel choir and listened to his aunt play classical music on the family piano. His interest in music developed in the late 1940s and early 1950s as he heard popular singers such as Nat “King” Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Tony Bennett through his father's record collection. Later he started his own collection of singles by singers such as Johnny Mathis and vocal and doo-wop groups that included Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and the Spaniels. Though he was a self-taught musician, he was writing his own lyrics by the age of eleven and music by the age of twelve, and at the age of thirteen he formed the musical group the Romeos.

In 1957 the Romeos released the single “Moments to Remember You By,” with “Fine Fine Baby,” a rhythm and blues single, on the reverse side, on Detroit's small Fox record label, which was later picked up by the ATCO label. In 1959, after the Romeos disbanded, Dozier joined the doo-wop group the Voice Masters, who released a couple of singles for Detroit's fledgling Anna Records, founded by Gwen Gordy, the sister of Detroit's Motown Records label founder Berry Gordy Jr. and named after their sister Anna. Dozier's breakthrough as a solo artist came with the novelty song “Popeye the Sailor Man,” issued on Anna in 1960 and recorded under the pseudonym Lamont Anthony. However, in response to the objections of King Features, who owned the rights to the cartoon strongman, the song was recut as “Benny the Skinny Man” and reissued. In 1961 Dozier released “Just to Be Loved” on Check-Mate, a subsidiary of Chicago's legendary Chess Records label run by Berry Gordy's former partner Billy Davis.

By 1962 Dozier was attracted to the burgeoning Motown label by Berry Gordy, who was interested in the multitalented singer and songwriter. The same year Gordy released Dozier's “Dearest One” under the label's Mel-O-Dy subsidiary, Dozier's first and only single under his own name as a solo recording artist for Motown. However, “Dearest One” is perhaps most significant for marking the first appearance of what became Motown's most successful writing and production team, Holland-Dozier-Holland (as the trio is best known), composed of Dozier and Eddie Holland and Brian Holland, two singer-songwriter brothers.

According to the rock critic Dave Marsh in The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1999): “As Motown's (and arguably the world's) premier production team, Holland-Dozier-Holland have as much right to be considered artists as anybody in the history of rock and soul. Their records had an essential coherence that went beyond the specific acts with which they worked” (496). The deep gospel influence of Dozier's early church choir experiences, especially the prominent rhythm of the tambourine, and the lush strings gleaned from his aunt's classical piano came to define the Motown signature sound (or “the sound of young America” as advertised by the label) and dominate the popular music charts during the early and mid-1960s. According to Eddie Holland in his liner notes for The Complete Motown Singles: 1959–1967, “Lamont was usually the guy who'd start things at the piano” (vol. 1966, 6). Between 1963 and 1967 Holland-Dozier-Holland was responsible for more than fifty of Motown's—and rock and soul's—most memorable songs, especially for the Four Tops, who recorded, among others, “It's the Same Old Song” (1965), “I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” (1965), and “Reach Out I'll Be There” (1966); and for the Supremes, who scored historic hits with “Baby Love” (1964), “Where Did Our Love Go” (1964), and “Stop! In the Name of Love” (1965). Holland-Dozier-Holland also contributed hits to most of Motown's leading artists, including Martha and the Vandellas' “Heat Wave” (1963) and “Nowhere to Run” (1965), Marvin Gaye's “Can I Get a Witness” (1963) and “How Sweet It Is” (1965), and the Miracles' “Mickey's Monkey” (1963).

However, in 1967, amid a myriad of lawsuits over royalties and workload, Dozier and the Hollands left Motown to form the Invictus and Hot Wax record labels. Their music during this period was nearly as successful as their most important Motown work and includes producing and writing Freda Payne's anti–Vietnam War anthem “Bring the Boys Home” (1970) and the Chairmen of the Board's hit “Give Me Just a Little More Time” (1970). Following the collapse of the Invictus label in 1972, Dozier once again pursued a solo career. He moved to California and with the major label ABC-Dunhill recorded and released his debut album Out Here on My Own (1973), which included the hits “Trying to Hold on to My Woman” and “Fish Ain't Bitin'.” Ironically considering he had been in music since the 1950s, the album scored him a Billboard Magazine Best New Artist Award. His solo career continued in the 1970s and early 1980s with recordings for a string of major labels, including Warner Brothers, which released the hit “Going Back to My Roots” (1977). In 1980 he moved to Europe with his wife, Barbara Ullman Dozier, and their two children; while overseas he wrote songs for the vocalist Alison Moyet, including her top ten hit “Invisible” (1984), the British group Simply Red's hit “You've Got It” (1989), and “Hung Up on Your Love” and “Run” for the guitar legend Eric Clapton's 1985 album August. Dozier and Phil Collins collaborated in 1988 on the song “Two Hearts” for the soundtrack to the movie Buster, which earned the duo a Grammy Award and an Oscar nomination.

Dozier was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. In 1991 Dozier again signed with a major label, Atlantic Records, for the album Inside Seduction, but record company politics soon disillusioned him. Following the release's poor sales, Dozier and his wife, Barbara, started their own record company, and Dozier released An American Original (2002), featuring reinterpretations of the songs that made him a songwriting legend. The album, originally released only over the Internet and later renamed Reflections of … Lamont Dozier (2004) with bonus tracks, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Album.

Further Reading

  • George, Nelson. Where Did Our Love Go? The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound (2007)
  • Marsh, Dave. The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1999)

Discography

  • The Complete Motown Singles: 1959–1967, 7 vols. (2005–2007).
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