Brian Holland, Eddie Holland, and Lamont Dozier make up the legendary Motown songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, penning classics both timeless and era-defining, with “Stop! In the Name of Love”, “Can I Get A Witness?” and “Heat Wave” just scratching the surface of their catalog of 50 plus chart topping hits. They reunited to pen all-new original songs for First Wives Club: The Musical. We’re thrilled to have the chance to sit down with these music legends.
It’s so exciting that your music is adding such a wonderful dimension to First Wives Club.
Eddie: To be honest, theater is what I would like for my brother and I to do from now on. Theater has always interested us, and it’s become so much a part of me now with First Wives. It’s fun, challenging – it’s become like a new life for us. I would prefer writing for musicals than just writing pop songs because there so much more depth to it. Not that writing songs for the pop world isn’t important, but when you are older and your mind has grown or expanded with life, there is just so much more to express, and you want to express yourself differently. It’s stimulating. And it’s so important to constantly have your mind and your emotions stimulated, especially when it comes to song. And in theater, there are the characters you are writing for with their own arcs and realizations. There is just nothing like it.
Have you always wanted to do a Broadway Musical, or have you had the idea to do one in the past?
Eddie: We went to a lot of musicals as kids – my mother took us to a lot of musicals. I always enjoyed it and I always had a great feel for it. But I seriously started thinking about musicals [as a composer and lyricist] about ten or fifteen years ago, and before we started First Wives.
Lamont: I’ve been chasing that Broadway, “The Great White Way”, or whatever you want to call it since I was about 11 or 12 years old. Ever since I saw My Fair Lady, I’ve been hooked on musicals. Before I joined Motown I was so into hopefully getting my chance to do theater, but it takes a long time to do these things. There is so much more preparation and work that you have to do and learning that you have to acquire. It’s a great challenge, and I just love musicals. They’ve been in my blood, they’ve been in my family’s blood, and we’ve all just gravitated to the stage or to musicals in general. It started for me in the 50s – My Fair Lady is my all-time favorite and the one that really got me interested in the genre. Being on Broadway has been a long-time dream of mine.
I guess it must be so different when you are writing songs by yourself or with your partners. Is it completely different than working with a whole group in a musical?
Eddie: It’s a very different process, and there’s a lot more detail involved because you have to write for the character, and you have to be aware of the director and where he and the writer want to take it. You have to be aware of the combination of all the different characters involved. It’s very interesting because it really keeps your mind thinking in different ways — it keeps your mind always moving on these different levels and how this character plays out in their individual journeys.
Due to the fact that I write in a very analytical way and am always considering the relationships of people, the process became very interesting to me. Songwriting is very interesting, too, but it’s not nearly the same in my opinion. With songwriters, when you are writing a song, and you usually just think about one person singing a song that you have created, and we have control over the entire shape of the song, so it is almost like you can do what you want to do.
When you are writing for a musical, you can’t do that. You are part of a group, and the songs are a part of a story, so that makes a big difference. It actually makes it more interesting, especially if you are interested in people as a rule and the combination of the dynamics between people, and in this case the characters.
It’s been a lot of work, but I have really enjoyed the challenge. The hard part is sometimes you put so much time into writing a song and then you find out that they aren’t going to use that particular scene or you have to rewrite the song or watch it get cut up differently than your originally intended. At first, it was very difficult for me to adjust to that mentally. When you are writing pop songs, once you write that song, it is what you want, and the only judge as a rule is going to be the public when you release it.
In writing for theater, you can work hours and hours on a particular song and scene and it then for one reason or another it has to be changed; sometimes totally, sometimes partially, but it is always like, “Wow, after all that work”. It took me a few years to adjust mentally to that. After I did it, it’s OK now. I can live with that fact and make that emotional and psychological adjustment to do whatever it is I have to do for the whole, rather than be one particular part of it.
It’s like my brother Brian basically creates commercial type of music – something you can feel, something you can tap your foot to, something that you can walk away from and carry with you. It’s never a mundane melody; his melodies are very unique and the songs are very different and it’s something he just does so naturally.
The melody my brother came up with for one of the main songs in the show, Shoulder to Shoulder, which was created to express the moment the girls decide to stop their anger, to stop their pain, to rise out of it and take control to form the Club – Brian captured that feeling in this melody, and it was so intricate. I listened to it and I said, “I AM going to have a tough time writing the lyrics to this song.” I’ve never written to this type of pattern before, but the music was so enchanting and exciting, instead of asking him to write the melody differently, because it is more difficult for me to write words to, in this case I said I am going to accept what he is doing because it was so exceptional, and I am just going to have to find a way to write the lyrics to what he is doing.
So I just kept listening to it, over and over again, and the more I listened to it, I realized in my mind I was having a problem trying to adjust. Sure enough, when I laid the melody down, where normally I could have written it in a few days, a week, whatever mood hits me, depending on what I am doing at the time, and that song took me two and a half months to write.
I kept toying with it and toying with it; the reason why is I had to go against myself – against what I was used to doing in a certain way, that certain feel, and certain syncopation of how we write. When you get used to that for so many years and then are faced with something that is different to our ears and to our emotions, it’s not an easy thing to switch to, at least not for me.
I labored on it, and then, I finally got it. I just had to come up with a simple pattern that was infectious and that lyrically made sense and kept the music moving along this melody. You take a simple word on a certain beat and you just drop that word on that beat. You stay on line and you drop that same word on the same beat. It becomes repetitious and it becomes meaningful because it is driving the point home. Coupled with the music, it ended up capturing the exact emotion everyone was looking for to finish the first Act.
What do you think the real theme of First Wives Club is? The women are out for revenge, but the men have their own issues. It was adapted from the movie and I think the play is going to be much more brilliant with the music.
Lamont: I’ve always been a hero of women, ever since I was a kid. I used to hear stories coming from my grandmother’s home beauty shop. I would hear these women talking about the sad affairs that they have had with their husbands or boyfriends. As a little boy listening to these things, I sort of took the woman’s side of the situation. I’ve always been like a hero of women – that sensitive side of me. Growing up, my mother was a single parent. I’ve always leaned toward the woman’s side of things, especially in a love situation.
Listening to all these women in my grandmother’s home beauty shop talking about their problems, it sort of steered me in that direction to write love songs, of unrequited love or whatever it may be.
This play is about the women coming into their own. I like the idea of women winning at the end of a story and having the strength to continue regardless of what they have gone through. They are getting themselves together and getting the knowledge and the strength to continue. A lot of people fold up or give up, but this story is a winning story for the women. They win against all odds and that is what I liked about it. It was a great movie and I think we are going to have fun with it in the theater as well.
Eddie: There has been some discussion of the play that the men don’t come across with redeeming qualities, but one or two of them did. Morty, he is a character in the play that ultimately has a redeeming quality. You just play around with it the best that you can.
But the play is extremely interesting to me for the simple reason it has so many big parts to it, meaning it has the upside to men and the downside to women, and the flip of both. There is a lot of camaraderie, there’s a lot of comedy, there’s a lot of laughter and a lot of love, but there’s emotion too, and some tears, pretty much everything we’ve always written about. To me, this is what makes it overall interesting where it can show so many human dynamics in one play.
My brother is quiet, I usually do the talking. Maybe my mouth has a motor in it.
Brian: But you speak so eloquently about it, you’re absolutely correct – I just bow to your motor.
I think that is why your music resonates with me, because you get right into the hearts of women’s emotions. You three men just have this great ability to express their emotions.
Eddie: Basically, I think that all started when I was a young boy. I was just a people watcher. I was always curious about people. I was very quiet and introverted, but I would watch the dynamics between the adults in my life. As I grew older into the teens, I started noticing a big difference in personalities between the male and female, and I was very curious about it. I would watch it very closely and ask a lot of questions. By the time I hit my 20s, I realized there was a real big difference, in my opinion, between males and the females. I also realized that men weren’t fully aware of it. That caused me to be even more curious because I would talk to men and they had no idea about this difference.
I wouldn’t get into these conversations with men too much because it never went anywhere, but women, they have a whole other facet about themselves mentally. I realized that by the time I was in my 40s that I truly felt that the female was superior, and the reason why I felt that way is because they seem to be able to think on so many different levels and in many different ways then men do. I noticed that women played so many different roles with men. They had to function in a way to be who they are and who they want to be, and yet sometimes they had to hide who they are in order to get along and they had to intentionally be careful. It’s like how they say, walking on eggshells, because the man, his ego was so fragile. It didn’t take much to derail him, so to speak.
At an early age I realized for women, it was like walking through a minefield, and I just developed a respect for them. So when I was younger, I would start asking women a lot of questions about how they worked. When I was around 25 to 28, I had a lot of female friends and I would ask them questions. They didn’t really want to tell me the answers, cause it was almost like giving away female secrets. But they would take the time and talk to me, and even though they were good friends of mine, and there was some camaraderie, they didn’t want to readily express it.
Eddie Holland with Mary Wilson (The Supremes)
I would talk to them and ask, what about this thing about the crying and things like that. I will never forget this friend of mine, she said, “Well, that’s just a game we sometimes have to play, but usually it’s real.” It was a really interesting topic. She was giving me examples and as she was telling me this, and after hearing so much of what she went through, tears started rolling down my face; I realized then the difference between men and women. She said, “We have to use what we have to make it work with men.” I just found that women are extremely intelligent and very analytical, and I gravitated to their way of thinking.
Lamont: My mother was everything to me, and the women in my family; my grandmother as well. They raised me and taught me things. They’ve always been my heroes with their way of caring and loving. I just always felt something special for woman and I am always taking their side, no matter what it is.
Some people are saying the song Shoulder to Shoulder is going to be a new anthem for women. Do you agree?
Lamont: Could be. We’ll see.
Eddie: That I don’t know, but it could.
Brian: I do! We would be blessed.
Lamont, you also have a great love for young people and I know you work with a lot of young artists and have been very involved with USC?
Lamont: I’m a Professor of Songwriting over there and work with a lot of fabulous kids. There is great talent coming out of there that we are going to be hearing for years to come.
Even at our age, we can learn a lot from young people, too.
Lamont: Today’s music is very poignant. You get a lot of gratification and you learn what people are thinking. The new thinking about love and situations today is a lot different than when I was coming up. It’s just nice to see that the kids are writing great stuff. Over at USC, some of the beautiful ideas they come out with and what they are trying to express is just a beautiful thing.
It must be a lot harder for kids in the music business now.
Lamont: Oh, it is, but I just keep telling them to just keep working at it, believe in yourself, and love what you are doing first and foremost, and have a great work ethic. I work seven days a week still because I love it. It’s what I do and it’s what I was put here to do. I think I was blessed to have that ability to write songs.
And there are all different genres of music you’ve been involved with.
Lamont: I like all types of music; you name it, from gospel to country to classical. I sort of cut my teeth on all types of these genres of music and it’s just a good feeling. Music, I think, is the soul of man and we were given that spirit of music that really helps us in life.
Why do you think some music like yours is timeless? Look how many generations are listening to your music and it will just go on forever.
Lamont: That’s a blessing within itself. Some of the songs we have written go back 50 years. There is no sign of it disappearing. Each generation seems to pick up on it. It’s a good learning tool, some of the songs we’ve written. A lot of the people I am involved with in school, they seem to really gravitate to that music because it helps them identify what they are trying to do for their own music. There is a certain kind of thinking and work ethic that you have and a mindset that you have to have to be a songwriter. That music seemed to be a learning process for a lot of young artists that are coming up now. They get a lot of experience or ideas or ways of expressing themselves from that era of music. It goes on because it speaks of then, now, and in general of the human process and love and what we go through in life.
That is so true. Some music just gets into your soul and makes you want to dance and sing. That’s the thing with First Wives Club, because it does speak to love and loss and human emotion for men and women. Do you think men will be interested in this play? I think so.
Lamont: I think so, too.
Brian: Well, you will enjoy this show because we have the same kind of feeling.
Eddie: I think a lot of it comes from our gospel background. There is something about that sound of a gospel song; certain types of gospel music that has a repetitiveness to the melody that becomes infectious. It becomes haunting and you get caught up in it. Basically, I really learned to write from listening to the music that my brother was creating. I had no intentions early on of seriously being a songwriter. It got to a point where I wanted to for other reasons, but the thing that helped me through it and made it possible for me to relate to song writing was listening to the melody that my brother went with because he used different types of chords and different types of rhythm patterns.
It was a rhythm pattern that carried a moving kind of a beat. It was fun at the same time. For some of the song that were ballads, he used a minor chord that carries a haunting feel. When I first started writing, when we were kids almost, I would listen to his music over and over again, until I almost got into a hypnotic state so to speak. I started writing whatever it made me feel. I am not really that great on melodies.
In the last five years, I’ve gotten much better. I’ve gotten better because of what Brian has taught me. Whatever I know about melodies is because of my brother. It made it easier to catch on to it, but without the type of melodies that he did, I would never have been able to write those songs that we did all those years or the songs for the play. I’ve never looked at myself as that type of songwriter. I basically wrote what the music said to me and I sort of expressed it back, such as we are doing in the play.
That is another thing that makes doing this musical so interesting to me because it takes me places that I normally wouldn’t have gone. I’ve learned a lot. It’s one thing doing songs and recording, but since I have been working with the play, I have learned a lot. I think I’m a better songwriter and, hopefully, I will be even a better one. I am really hoping, just like my brother is hoping that this is going to be a very successful play, not just for us, but for people like Paul Lambert and Jonas Neilson — they’ve been at this thing a long time and never gave up. They’re excited about this. And then you’ve got our director Simon, who I think is a very intelligent and has done an amazing job in shaping the story and structure.
There are always loggerheads with a team – the book writer and director, and trying to communicate what the music means melody wise and lyrically to the theme and to the characters, and how all of the comes together. It’s not that easy trying to communicate certain things my brother and I just feel, and feel are important, because we come from a different art form. But there is stuff we’ve learned over a long, long period of time, and it works. I know it works and I can feel it, and we’ve tried to bring that talent to telling this story musically. It speaks to me and it speaks to my brother. He and I together make a very strong combination. I am very fortunate to have him as a brother because he puts up with me more than anyone else would [laughs].
Brian: But you’ve been right though, so many times, so many songs. That’s the main thing.
What has it been like working with people like Simon Phillips and Diane Louie?
Lamont: They are great people and they have done great things in the past. They‘ve had a lot of success and I respect them of course. I look up to what they do in the theater and what they bring to the table. They are absolutely great people to work with.
I know on American Idol and shows like that, people love to sing your songs. They are going to want to hear your new songs and they will be singing those.
Eddie: That would be nice. Paul Lambert and Jonas Neilson and I, about four years ago, we went to a Diana Ross concert and I was looking around and said, “Look at all these young people here.” When Diana started singing the songs we did for her, I could not believe it. Those young people knew the words better than I did. They were singing word for word of every song. Paul reminded me that these kids grew up on these songs. Their parents were playing these songs. I was so amazed and excited watching and listening to them because I had forgotten the lyrics. The melody I remembered, but not the lyrics. That was a really exciting moment. I hope people like these as much.
It’s the kind of music that affects everyone. Would you say that is what your success is based on?
Lamont: I think we hit to the heart of everyone who hears music and appreciates music. It resonates with them. It’s the kind of music that will always test them in some form or fashion because of what it is saying. If we don’t believe it or feel it, they won’t. We try to make sure that it is something we are saying that is poignant. It will make other people stop and think and try to get out their feelings, bring out what they are feeling at that moment, no matter what it is about. The music has to be related to the human psyche.
Can you give us some insight into what to expect musically in First Wives Club? You’ve written new music and Simon said that there are going to be some of your classic songs
Eddie: I think there are about four of five of the so-called classic songs. Simon being the director he is and being as innovative as he is, he sees the scenes when the girls were younger being influenced by the songs we did from that era – when the girls are finishing college, then dating and moving on to getting married. That was a time, fortunately for us, where those songs were very popular. Simon thought it would make sense to use those songs to express the hope of love, the hope of youth, the hope of the girls when they are young – which makes so much sense – and the our new songs would represent the voice of the women when they’re older.
Lamont: There are about four or five songs we are doing from the past which are classic HDH songs – it sort of goes with the story of these characters when they were in their youth. It just gives it a lift and fits that happy time in all of our lives. What I think the audience is going to appreciate is just the idea that you can survive no matter what the consequences in the relationship, no matter what the problem; our songs speak of that situation and encourage you to get through it no matter what it is. We hope the audience feels uplifted by the music in the play.
Get YOUR TICKETS here!
Playing at Chicago’s Oriental Theater
Previews: February 17th – March 10th
Premiere date: March 11, 2015
Chicago run: thru March 29th
About Holland – Dozier – Holland
Award winning songwriters and producers Holland – Dozier – Holland need no introduction. Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier produced and wrote many of the timeless songs that made Motown great. We all know titles like these: “Stop! In the Name of Love” or “You Can’t Hurry Love” made famous by the Supremes, the hit tunes “Heat Wave” and “Jimmy Mack” sung by Martha and the Vandellas, or “Reach Out I’ll Be There” and “Baby I Need Your Loving” by the Four Tops. “Can I Get a Witness” and “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You” sung by Marvin Gaye also bring back those great memories. The three men were all born and raised in Detroit, which is where they met Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. Holland – Dozier – Holland were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. They were also inducted into the Soul Music Hall of Fame in December 2012.