Lamont Dozier, a Motown songwriting legend who helped define popular music in the ’60s, has died at age 81. He helped craft early hits for the Supremes, the Isley Brothers and Four Tops before later returning to the top of the charts with Phil Collins.
Dozier’s death was confirmed by his son, Lamont Dozier Jr. No cause of death was immediately released.
Born on June 16, 1941, in Detroit, Dozier’s first brush with writing happened at age 12. He was a new student at Detroit’s Poe Elementary when an English teacher named Edith Burke encouraged Dozier to consider poetry. His first verses were fittingly titled “A Song.” Perhaps inevitably, Dozier later added a piano melody.
An enduring dream was born. Dozier found little initial success with lesser-known Detroit labels, however, before founding a new songwriting tandem in 1962 with siblings Brian and Eddie Holland at Motown. They’d go on to painstakingly construct hundreds of songs together, reshaping radio one spin at a time.
“We’d get there at 9 a.m. and we would sometimes work until 3 a.m.,” Dozier later told The Guardian. “It was blood, sweat and tears. We pounded on the piano and put our ideas down on a little recorder and just worked and worked them out until we came up with things.”
They began by writing three quick hits, including “Heat Wave,” for Martha & the Vandellas. “Where Did Our Love Go” then became the first of 10 chart-topping Supremes smashes composed by Holland-Dozier-Holland. Soon the trio started experimenting, following Dozier’s credo: “Know when to break your own rules.”
Before composing the 1967 Four Tops hit “Bernadette,” for instance, Holland-Dozier-Holland had avoided titles with female names. “We figured no girl was going to buy a record that had some other girl’s name on it,” Dozier later told the Detroit Free Press. When they finally did, Dozier took inspiration from a childhood crush.
They left Motown in the late ’60s to form two new labels, both of which released Dozier solo projects. After splitting with the Hollands in 1973, Dozier returned to the Top 40 with “Trying to Hold on to My Woman” and “Fish Ain’t Bitin’.” He then saw his early single “Going Back to My Roots” become a disco-themed hit for Odyssey at the turn of the ’80s. Later in the decade, a collaboration with Collins on “Two Hearts” for the film Buster returned Dozier to No. 1, garnering a Grammy and a Golden Globe.
Watch Holland-Dozier-Holland Enter the Rock Hall
In all, Dozier collaborated on more than 100 Top 10 hits, the Free Press reported. Holland-Dozier-Holland were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988 and then the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
“I was considered the ideas man,” Dozier told The Guardian. “Like, I had a bass line for [Four Tops’] “I Can’t Help Myself.” That phrase, ‘Sugar pie, honey bunch,’ was something my grandfather used to say when I was a kid, and it just stayed with me and went in the song.”
Among those offering condolences was Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood, who covered the Holland-Dozier-Holland track “Leaving Here” on his 2001 solo album Not for Beginners: “God bless Lamont,” he wrote on Twitter. “His music will live on.”
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