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Lamont Dozier, Motown hitmaker for the Supremes and more, dead at 81

<i>Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images</i><br/>Lamont Dozier
Michael Ochs Archives
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Lamont Dozier

By Scottie Andrew, CNN

Motown legend Lamont Dozier, a songwriter who crafted hits for the Supremes and Marvin Gaye, among other icons, has died, according to a statement from his son shared on Instagram. He was 81.

“Rest in Heavenly Peace, Dad,” Lamont Dozier Jr. wrote in a post, along with a photo of himself with his father.

The Detroit-born musician and songwriter was a star for Motown Records. Berry Gordy, the founder of the label, paid tribute to Dozier in a statement to CNN.

“Lamont was a good friend and will be missed by the entire Motown Family. My sincere condolences to his family and friends,” Gordy said.

Dozier was a member of the songwriting trio Holland-Dozier-Holland, along with brothers Brian and Edward Holland. Together, they wrote some of the greatest earworms of the 1960s and ’70s, including “Reach Out I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops, the Supremes’ “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “You Can’t Hurry Love,” Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is” and “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas.

“If Holland, Dozier and Holland’s output had begun and ended with these five songs, their words and melodies would still resound today,” musician and writer Andrew Schwartz wrote in 1990, ahead of the group’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “But these acknowledged classics are only the tip of a creative peak that began to take shape three decades ago.”

It took some time for the trio to find their footing within the Detroit music scene, though. In 1963, Gordy coupled Dozier and his colleagues with Diana Ross and the Supremes when neither group had released a star-making hit — and the rest is history.

Dozier was an unconventional songwriter: In a 2004 interview with “Fresh Air,” he explained that he’d begin at the piano alongside Eddie Holland, and the two would start writing a song based on an “idea or feeling of sorts.” Some of their catchiest lyrics were inspired from phrases they heard in life — “sugar pie honey bunch,” anyone? — and, of course, their own romantic escapades, he said.

“I don’t read music, and I can’t write it either,” he told the Detroit Free Press in 2019. “I did it all by ear and feeling when I sat down at the piano.”

Speaking to Songwriter Universe in 2005, Dozier fondly recalled his time with Motown Records as “awesome.”

“During this period, whatever we touched seemed to go straight into the Top 10,” he said. “It was as if we stumbled onto the best door on ‘The Price Is Right,’ where the prizes just keep on coming and coming! The hits went on and on. Many of our songs have turned into beloved songs of the American Songbook.”

But it wasn’t perfect, Dozier told the Free Press in 2019: “There were a lot of things happening behind the scenes that aren’t written about — the moments where there was sometimes jealousy and envy, which you had to overlook so your ego didn’t get in the way of your talent or your purpose, which was to write a hit song.”

The trio departed Motown after butting heads with Gordy over royalties and started their own labels in Invictus and Hot Wax, where artists like Chairmen of the Board and Laura Lee recorded. In 1973, he explored a solo career as a singer-songwriter, and in the following decade collaborated with artists like Phil Collins, with whom he wrote and produced the Oscar-nominated song “Two Hearts.”

In 1990, more than 25 years after he first linked up with the Supremes to craft his biggest hits, Dozier, along with the Holland brothers, were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He recounted this and more victories — plus some setbacks — in a 2019 memoir, “How Sweet It Is: A Songwriter’s Reflections on Music, Motown and the Mystery of the Muse.”

In his memoir, he outlines 19 guiding principles to great songwriting. In the final principle, he encouraged readers to accept that “there are no bad days” — just “learning days.”

“There’s a way to grow and improve,” he wrote. “To live up to your full potential, you have to approach writing and life with humble awe.”

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