The Commodores are an American funk/soul band of the 1970s and 1980s. The members of the group met as freshmen at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in 1968, and signed with Motown in November 1972, having first caught the public eye opening for The Jackson 5 while on tour. The Commodores have sold over 75 million records worldwide.
This group is best known for their ballads, such as "Easy" and "Three Times a Lady", but, for the most part, the group mainly recorded funky, driven dance-floor hits which include "Brick House", "Say Yeah", "Fancy Dancer", and "Too Hot Ta Trot". The Commodores originally called themselves the Jays, but had to change their name because of the similarly named O'Jays. To choose a new name William King opened a dictionary and randomly picked a word. "We lucked out," he remarked with a laugh when telling this story to People Weekly Magazine. "We almost became The Commodes!"
"Machine Gun", the instrumental title track from the band's debut album, became a staple at American sporting events, and is similarly featured in many films, including Boogie Nights and Looking for Mr. Goodbar. It reached #24 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975. Another instrumental, "Cebu" (named after an island in the Philippines), later became a staple in the Quiet Storm format. Three albums released in years 1975 and 1976 (Caught in the Act, Movin' On, Hot On The Tracks) are considered the peak of their harder funk period. Only one such hit from that era scored big, the funk-driven "Brick House" which reached #5 in the U.S. After those recordings the group started to move towards softer sound. That move was hinted from their 1976 Top Ten hits "Sweet Love" and "Just to Be Close to You". In 1977 the Commodores scored a ballad hit with "Easy", which became the group's biggest hit yet, reaching #4 in the U.S. After years of toiling in the Top Ten, the group finally reached #1 in 1978 with the sweet "Three Times a Lady". 1979 saw the Commodores score another Top Five ballad hit "Sail On" before reaching the top of the charts once again with another ballad, "Still". The group had no major hits in 1980, but by 1981 they were back with a vengeance, scoring Top Ten hits with the ballad "Oh No" (#4 U.S.) and their first upbeat single in almost five years, "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" (#8 U.S.)
Many of their hit tunes were written or co-written by Walter "Clyde" Orange, the original lead singer before Lionel Richie came on board. Lionel and Clyde alternated as lead singers. Clyde was also the lead singer on "Nightshift" and "Brick House" among others. Clyde now lives with his family in Coral Springs, Florida and has three children named Paula, Colin and Cody.
After Richie left to pursue a solo career, former Heatwave singer J.D. Nicholas assumed co-lead vocal duties with drummer Walter "Clyde" Orange. However, with the exception of the Grammy-winning "Nightshift" (#3 in the U.S., a tribute to Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson) the band never achieved the same level of success it had enjoyed with Richie. Ironically, "Nightshift" won The Commodores their only Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals in 1985.
The Commodores made a brief appearance in the 1978 film Thank God It's Friday. They performed the song "Too Hot to Trot" during the dance contest; their songs "Brickhouse" and "Easy" were also played during the movie.
Performing at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, FL
Over time, the group's founding members began leaving. McClary left in 1982 (shortly after Richie left) to pursue a solo career and to develop a gospel music company. McClary was replaced by guitarist/vocalist Sheldon Reynolds. LaPread left in 1986 and moved to New Zealand, and Reynolds departed for Earth, Wind and Fire in 1987. Williams exited the band in 1989. The group also gradually abandoned its funk roots and moved into the more commercial pop arena. In 1983, Skyler Jett, replaced Lionel Richie as the lead singer for The Commodores, and toured the world and performed in over 32 countries in a two year span.
In 1985, the group performed two commercials for NBC affiliate WXIA in Atlanta, Georgia. The group left Motown in 1986 for Polydor, and released several additional albums, which are primarily compilations of previous material. They have re-recorded Commodores hits and have recorded a live album and a Christmas album.
On Sunday 19 August 1990 the group made an appearance at Seagulls Rugby League Football Club, on Gollan Drive, West Tweed Heads, in New South Wales, Australia.
Today, the Commodores consist of Walter "Clyde" Orange, James Dean "J.D." Nicholas and William "WAK" King, along with a backing band. King married songwriter Shirley Hanna-King ("Brick House" co-writer) in 1976. Together they have four children, Adam, Ryan Hanna, Leah Hanna and Noah.
Since the late 1990s, Orange has also been working in conjunction with singer/songwriter Craig Deanto, and they have released an album titled "Who Hears The Cries". The group continues to perform, selling out concerts around the world, annually. They have the opening act for Trump casinos and Hard Rock casinos.
Original band personnel
Lionel B. Richie Jr. (vocals, saxophone and piano) - born 20 June 1949, Tuskegee, Alabama.
Thomas McClary (lead guitar) - born 6 October 1949, Eustis, Florida.
Milan Williams (keyboards, trombone, rhythm guitar) - born 28 March 1948 Okolona, Mississippi, died of cancer, July 9, 2006 Houston, Texas.
William "WAK" King (trumpet, rhythm guitar, synthesizer) - born 30 January 1949, Alabama.
Ronald La Pread (bass guitar, trumpet) - born 4 September 1946, Alabama.
Walter Orange (vocals, drums) - born 10 December 1946, Florida.