"Berry Gordy wouldn’t have put any records out if he didn’t have the publishing."
——Eddie Holland


An exclusive HITS dialogue with Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland by Roy Trakin
The legendary Motown songwriting/producing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland is arguably the greatest in pop history, with only Lennon & McCartney, Leiber & Stoller and maybe Phil Spector as competition. Brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, along with Lamont Dozier, created one of the most distinctive sounds ever for Berry Gordy’s Detroit-based hit factory. From the incredibly prolific period starting in 1962 and lasting until their abrupt departure in 1968, the trio composed more than 130 chart records for artists like The Four Tops, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Marvelettes and the Isley Brothers. Seventy of them were Top 10 hits, and 20 more reached #1. The songs speak for themselves: "Baby Love," "Where Did Our Love Go?" "You Can’t Hurry Love," "Stop! In the Name of Love," "I Hear a Symphony," "How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You," "Reach Out I’ll Be There," "Love Is Like a Heat Wave," "I Can’t Help Myself"… The list goes on and on.

Brian and Eddie originally hooked up with the Motown founder in 1958, when Gordy produced solo singles for both brothers. Both Brian and Lamont were part of Motown’s extended family stable when they began writing music together, before turning to Eddie for lyrics. They teamed up in 1963 on Martha & the Vandellas’ "Come and Get These Memories" and took off from there. After leaving Motown in a dispute with Gordy in ’68, the threesome formed the Invictus and Hot Wax labels, where they continued penning and producing hits for Freda Payne ("Band of Gold") and Chairman of the Board ("Give Me Just a Little More Time").

Though they haven’t worked together as a team for years, all three continue to head successful music operations. Eddie and Brian’s Holland Group incorporates a series of labels with jazz player Ronnie Laws, soul singer Mavis Staples and new artists like rapper Flexx G, Bryan Carter and Rick Littleton. Lamont, meanwhile, has returned to performing, earning a Grammy nomination for last year’s An American Original, an album featuring rearranged versions of some of his biggest hits. H-D-H, as they are still known, have already been inducted into the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Songwriters, a Grammy Trustees Award and a spot on Guitar Center’s Rock & Roll Walk of Fame. Tuesday night (5/13), they received BMI’s prestigious 2003 ICON honor at the performing-rights organization’s annual Pop Awards, which took place at L.A’.s Regent Beverly Wilshire. Recently, they took time out from their busy schedules to share it all with HITS’ starstruck Roy "It’s The Same Old Song and Dance" Trakin.

Did you ever think these teenpop songs written for the radio would still be so vital and vibrant some 40 years later?
Lamont Dozier:
Absolutely not. It was as much a surprise to me as the rest of the guys. I look back in retrospect and I find myself analyzing the songs. When I walk into Ralph’s supermarket and they’re being played over the speakers, I’m listening to these songs and thinking, "Wow." There used to be a time when I’d want to grab somebody with a shopping bag and tell them, "I wrote that." But then I was afraid they’d call the wagon to have me locked up for harassment. I just thank God my name is on this stuff. It’s a great feeling. This is feel-good music. It has a life of its own. You can hear the determination in the music to make a point. It has a demand, an urgency, that’s still there. We were fortunate to have artists like Levi Stubbs, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross, who brought that to the table. They got it. They got the message.
Eddie Holland: This BMI Icon award is so mind-boggling. I never looked at us as icons. I just looked at us as very good, successful and fortunate songwriters. It took a little time to sink in, but it’s great.

What was the working relationship between the three of you? Eddie wrote the lyrics, Brian composed the music and Lamont was the concept guy, right?
Lamont: Yeah. I was the idea man. I came up with the song titles… I would start the lyric off and give it to Eddie to finish. I also arranged the background vocals. Brian came up with a lot of the melodies, as did I. On most of the pictures from back then, Brian and I are sitting side by side at the piano. Brian would start off with a groove [singing "Reach Out I’ll Be There"], and then I’d take it over. "Now if you feel like you can’t go on…" We’d lay down some dummy melodies and then I’d give Eddie a title, and he took it from there. He’d finish writing the lyrics, then teach it to the artist.

Did you tailor the songs to the individual artists?
"This Old Heart of Mine" was originally written for the Four Tops, but they were touring in Europe. So it went to the Isley Brothers. In those days, when you wrote a song, it came out right away. Not like today. We used to record a single and put it out within a month. That particular song was just laying around waiting for the Tops to come back, but they had an extensive stay in Europe, so we decided to give it to the Isleys…with the Tops’ blessing. We always had that gospel-pop thing going for both the Supremes and the Four Tops. The songs were about love, despair and heartbreak, and we always took the girls’ point of view, because they were the ones buying the records. We had the male groups accent their female side, their vulnerable side, begging for a response from the girl. Or forgiveness…take me back. That’s how we wrote. And everybody did it well.

Did you think the music would cross over to white teenagers?
Motown was an R&B company. When I got there and teamed up with the Hollands, our
purpose was to make music for all people. And the reason we got along so well is because that was their theme, too. Brian and I came from the same sort of place—gospel and classical music. We listened to a lot of Top 40 stuff. Our fathers and mothers played Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and so on. We had that feeling in us of pop bringing people together.
Brian Holland: I used to go to these classical music shows at the Masonic Temple in Detroit, and see all these string players. I don’t understand why they don’t continue to do that for kids, teach them music appreciation.

What was your favorite cover of one of your songs?
Brian: The one I thought was great was Vanilla Fudge’s version of "You Keep Me Hanging On." When I first heard that, I couldn’t believe how good it was. They took it to a totally different place. Most cover records just copied what we did. But Vanilla Fudge made it a whole different ballgame.

What did you think of Standing in the Shadows of Motown ?
It’s a great thing. The guys have been long overdue for this kind of recognition. I just wish Benny Benjamin and Jamie Jamerson were around to see this. They didn’t really get recognized in their time for their accomplishments. Especially Benny Benjamin. He was the first drummer I can remember being on recording sessions, when I was 18. It was thrilling to watch him and listen to the kind of pick-ups he did. I would listen to the record just for the pick-ups. He had a special way of doing those. He enjoyed himself... He was smiling ear to ear.
Brian: He really had some of the quickest hands I’ve ever seen. But Lamont was a pretty good drummer, too.
Lamont: I was just happy for the guys getting their just rewards after all those years. Music goes in cycles. You just have to be there and be ready. I believe a person is the master of his own ship. Rap music isn’t the only urban music selling.
Eddie: Christina Aguilera’s "Beautiful" is a Motown track.
Lamont: You can change things around, but it still smells like Holland-Dozier-Holland. I’m just trying to keep that competitive edge in the game, because the game is always changing. You always have to be there looking for new ways to get around the bureaucracy and shit you’re gonna run into.

Any regrets about splitting Motown in 1968?
Eddie: It’s just something that happened. The confusion that took place came about because, the closer people are, the more sensitive they become, the more stubborn they get. When a relationship is close between two parties, it makes you vulnerable. You have a tendency to take things personally.

There was plenty of competition at the label between the various producer/writers, like Smokey Robinson, Mickey Stevenson and Norman Whitfield.
Brian: If you came up with a substantial hit record for a group, it gave you a head up on the next one.
Eddie: Basically, it was a very competitive, but friendly, situation. If you had an "8" and the other person had a "10," you lost. The public was the final judge, though. We tried to keep the follow-up songs as close as we could without it sounding like the same record. Sometimes we were lucky with it, sometimes we weren’t.

How do you feel being so closely associated with Motown?
[Laughs] Lucky as hell. It’s an honor and a blessing. Who knew these songs would be around for 40 years? I look upon it as a learning experience, because we’re still doing it individually, but at the same time, because of Motown, so many new creative things have emerged. It was like going to school for us. We were able to try certain things. We were given our head to take chances creatively. And I thank God for that time. It allowed me to do the things I’m doing now.

Eddie, I’ve read that you were the one who looked after the business side.
Eddie: [Laughs] No, I didn’t look after the money. What I did was ride point. With all that lyric-writing piled on me, it caused me to be more aggressive by nature. I could see how prolific Brian and Lamont were. Which let me figure, more artists, more songs, more for us.

You didn’t hold on to your publishing, though.
Eddie: No, we didn’t. Berry Gordy wouldn’t have put any records out if he didn’t have the publishing. And he still has it. At least the part he didn’t sell. All we have on those is the songwriting.
Lamont: In those days, very few artists held on to their publishing. The Beatles didn’t have theirs. Burt Bacharach and Hal David did, but we were not as fortunate. Or maybe we were. It all depends on who’s doing the listening and the analyzing. Other things came to us, even if we didn’t retain the publishing.

Aren’t you currently involved in a lawsuit with Gordy?
Suing today is like having a gunfight in the Old West, except we’re more civilized. We still have shootouts, but they’re in court, which is unfortunate, because the lawyers sorta egg you along, while they’re the only ones making any money. Berry sued me in California for suing him 15 years ago. The bottom line is, we don’t have harsh feelings. We can still pick up the phone and talk to one another. It’s not that type of thing. But you have to understand. Motown wasn’t really Motown until Holland-Dozier-Holland made it so. It would have been successful without us, but it wouldn’t have become what it became without Holland-Dozier-Holland. But if we didn’t have that place to go, where the owner allowed you to express your talent in the way you wanted to, we never would have happened. It was the combination of a lot of things that helped make Motown what it was. Talent alone does not do it. You need the right mixture. Chemistry. That’s what the three of us had.

Have you considered getting back together?
It’s not a question of wanting to. We’re just basically interested in doing different things. If it happens, it happens. We don’t just get together in a forced situation. If we feel good about something, we’ll do it. Everybody’s happy doing whatever they’re doing.

Do you miss the old days?
You have to grow up and get past that point. Leave and start your own family. I enjoyed it very, very much when I was there, though.
Eddie: It’s unfortunate, but you have to lose your innocence. A happy youth always stands out in reflection.
Lamont: It’s like your first love. I get a hard-on just thinking about it.

Speaking of, was there an actual Bernadette?
There were a couple of Bernadettes.
Lamont: [Laughs] There were three Bernadettes, and they were all different girls. We sorta kept that to ourselves that we all had our own Bernadette. We always said, we’d never bring a girlfriend’s name into the songs. We had this hidden thing when the name came up, so we didn’t say anything. So at least two of us were thinking about the Bernadettes we knew.

"I Hear a Symphony" is an amazing lyric.
Eddie: Basically, I was awakened at three or four in the morning by Brian while in the arms of a wonderful, beautiful creature. And he said they were in the studio and Berry heard this track, and since the band is leaving town tomorrow morning, which is really the same day, I had to finish the song and dub them in before they left. That was the most nightmarish time of my life. It usually takes me two or three weeks to write a song, rarely less than a week. The title came from Lamont. Brian got the tape to me, because I know I didn’t leave the house to get it. I worked and worked on it, but I was still sleepy, because I’m not a night person. I was so tired, I didn’t have the power to do it. But then I thought, if I gave up, I’d disappoint my brother. It was the only way I was able to do it. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t have had the spiritual strength to complete it. By midnight, Diana was in the studio. By 12:15, I was teaching her the song as I finished writing it. And then we recorded it.
Lamont: I can remember falling into bed after being in the studio eating barbecue and drinking Cold Duck until three or four in the morning, trying to finish up an album with the Four Tops before they had to leave town on the Motown Revue. And we were all wound up. The point is, the workload was so strenuous and stressful.

Your productions had a very distinctive sound, the vocal "ooh-oohs," the use of the tambourine and vibes, the thumping bass, all sorts of different percussion.
Brian: People don’t know that, on "Nowhere to Run," we used chains, the kind you put on your tires when it snows. We’d do anything. Anything goes.

How do you see your legacy?
I think we accomplished everything we wanted to and more. I, personally, am not completely satisfied with the picture. When I look back on the success, it’s overwhelming, but it took me years to see it that way. Because I never believed in getting caught up with what we’d already done. The records were flying up the charts so fast, and coming down just as fast, that we were always busy producing the next one. It was almost impossible to appreciate it at the time. It didn’t really hit me until 1979-80. I hadn’t heard those records in such a long time. I was sitting in someone’s car listening to an oldies station, and they played "Standing in the Shadows of Love," and I said, "Damn, that was a powerful record." And I started thinking about what I was going through when I wrote it.
Lamont: I’ll hear the stuff, and tears would fill my eyes. Those songs were just so overwhelming. They seemed to take over the airwaves. The spirit that they were done with is still there today. It feels like they were just recorded yesterday.
Eddie: Berry Gordy told me once, "Man, you’re a genius." I was shocked. That’s the first time I’d heard him say that. "How did you write all those lyrics to all those songs?" I made it quite clear he was the genius, not me.
Lamont: When you hear that music, it transports you back to the same place you were 40 years ago. The feeling is still so infectious. We were like an assembly line within an assembly line within a factory. We didn’t follow Motown. We had our own way of doing things. We cared. We took our feelings and put them in the music. That was the magic.