Abdul "Duke" Fakir is a true musical icon. A founder member of The Four Tops, the Motown soul singer has won countless accolades, and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Grammy Hall of Fame. The group’s lone surviving original member, Duke says that he’s “honoured that I’m here to” carry on the band’s legacy. With over five decades in music, at 83 years of age, the Detroit man has nothing left to prove. We sat down with Detroit original at Rewind Festival for a chat about The Four Tops' beginnings, the Motown years, and their ‘80s resurgence. Going loco; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Duke, how are you today?
I’m doing great. I’m excited, and I can’t wait to get on stage and feel the pulse of the wonderful people out there.
You’re not new to this game, are you?
I’ve been doing it for a while, yeah! [*Laughing*]. I’ve been doing it for a little bit.
What does it mean for you to be carrying the name of the Four Tops, as the last man standing?
Well, I feel very fortunate that I’m here to carry it over, and I love doing it, because I think that my brothers who’ve gone on, they would have wanted me to do this, to keep the name going , because they worked very hard, and for a long time in establishing that. So, I feel honoured that I’m here to do that. And we’ve got family; there’s the son of an original member [Lawrence Payton, Jr.], there’s a brother, so it’s family, and it is easy like that, real easy.
The Four Tops go back a long way, to the earliest days of the Motown label; did you find Berry Gordy, or did he find you?
Well, we knew Berry Gordy before he started the company, and when he started it, we didn’t want to join the company at first, because in Detroit a black company was like “whoop!” [*Laughing*] – down the toilet, you know? But he didn’t ask us. His uncle [presumably, Johnny Bristol or Harvey Fuqua], who wrote songs for Berry Gordy for Jackie Wilson, he was like our manager, so he said; “Don’t you want to come with this new company that Berry’s started?” It was a “nope!”; just like that, we all said; “nope!”
Yeah, ‘Motown’s never going to take off’…!
But about eight years later, Berry Gordy saw us on the T.V., and he said; "I like those guys, and I’ve always liked those guys, and I want to have them on my label”, so the A&R director, who was a very good friend of ours – we knew all the people, because we all come from the same neighbourhood and stuff – so he got in touch with us and said; “Berry wants you on”, and at that same time, was had seen a Motown reboot, and we said; “Man, we need to be there”. And so, after all of that, after all them years that we went through Colombia, through Chess Records; all we had to do was walk around the corner to Berry! But we learned a lot. That’s one thing; it’s priceless what we learned working and growing.
One of the band’s key tracks is ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There, and some critics have pointed to the ‘Ha!’ exclamation sound just before the chorus as a masterstroke.
We were just singing it, and somebody did it, and it was that natural, and the producer said; “Hey do that again!”, because that was natural. We did it with our voices, and it felt good, and we said; “yes, you’re right, it does feel good”, so we recorded it.
Does it mean a lot to you that your songs like that one still endure?
Over fifty years, it’s incredible. It just makes me feel so, more than proud that that music can last that long. I never thought that. Even when we started, and we had a hit record, we figured, ten, fifteen years, tops. Even fifty years later, people are still loving our music. It’s incredible!
Into the 1980s you scored a huge hit with ‘Loco in Acapulco’; what was it like working with Phil Collins?
We met him, and he wrote that with Lamont Dozier who was part of the [legendary Motown writing] team with Holland–Dozier–Holland. He sang on the recording, and when he won some kind of award, we came over with him to get some kind of award. We got to be pretty good buddies for a while there! I love him.
Also in the 1980s, you were part of the 'Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever Special'; what was it like to be a part of that?
Well, you know what, to all of us, that show was like coming home to a family gathering for the first time in a while. That’s the way it felt, and that’s what it meant to us, and it was just great. We had so much fun recording. I wish we could have recorded all the stuff that went on in the dressing rooms! It was great fun, and when they put us and the Temp’s [The Four Tops were teamed with The Temptations for a ‘battle of the bands’-style event], well, we kept it like that, and we’ve worked with The Temps now, for 37 years in a similar situation.
There seems to be no end in sight for The Four Tops.
Yeah, every time you turn around and you think the Motown sound has died out, something happens. It ain’t going nowhere. It’s all over the world like that, so we’re very, very appreciative, and very grateful.
Clearly you have nothing left to prove; are there no signs of retiring?
That’s not in my DNA! I could have done that a long time ago, but well, we’re going to keep touring, and we’re working on an album right now, of some ‘now’ music; there’s one or two word ‘rap’s, but not really rap. You always think; “well we was doing that, back then!”; this talking in between songs here and there. We’ve got all kinds of stuff going on. Yeah, I’m still dreaming!
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