Friday, October 17, 2008

Levi Stubbs

Stevie Wonder. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Diana Ross and the Supremes. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. In later years, the Jackson Five. All great.

But the Motown sound for me was crystalized by the Four Tops. And its lead singer didn't even get top billing. Only in the last few years of his career did the public become familiar with the name Levi Stubbs, mostly for long-overdue recognition of his vocals on a slew of Four Tops' hits, but also because he was the voice of a voracious plant in the movie "Little Shop of Horrors."

I was already into Four Tops music by the time I went to college. I'd seen the Supremes, the Temptations and the Tops on the same bill one Saturday night at the old Forest Hills tennis stadium. At SUNY New Paltz (New Paltz State in the late '60s), the Tops played Elting Gym one night. I was the editor of The Oracle, the student paper, and I tagged along as our entertainment writer to catch two shows - one in rehearsal, the other the main event.

What a wonderful group. And what an iconic sound Levi Stubbs provided as lead singer.

The Tops played UPAC a couple of years ago. Two surviving members performed - Duke Fakir and Obie Benson - along with two others from the Motown stable. Lawrence Payton, one of the other original Tops, already had passed. Levi Stubbs, who had been suffering from cancer and then a stroke, was nearly a decade removed from touring. (Benson died not long after the UPAC performance.) The Four Tops' performance that night was spirited and entertaining. The crowd was on its feet for the conclusion. But it wasn't the same Four Tops sound without Levi Stubbs out front.

Levi Stubbs died today at age 72. Fortunately for those who enjoyed the Four Tops, his voice will live on.
comments powered by Disqus

<< Home