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Four Tops

March 2010

IT is an unusual name for a black American born in the 1940s.
“My father was East Indian,” says Abdul Fakir, better known as Duke by fans of The Four Tops.
“He came to America and met my mom. He was a devout Muslim and my mum was a devout Christian. After six kids their religions clashed,” he laughs.
“So they parted. He went back to the old country, where he passed away. He was around when I started singing. I remember he’d say ‘I wish you’d go to work like I did’. He’d retired from the factories by that time. He’d say ‘I know people who work for peanuts but I know nobody who works for peanut shells’.
“He was a great dad. The only thing he missed was my success.”
Duke, was raised as a Christian, a regular at his grandfather’s church in Detroit, where he still lives.
“It’s a beautiful morning here,” says the father of three and grandfather to seven.
“The sun is up, no clouds in the sky, it’s a wonderful day.”
Next week, he’ll be back in Nottingham, a city he has played many times with The Four Tops.
“Every city has a specialty and the word is that Nottingham (pronounced “Nodding-hairm”) has the some of the most beautiful women in England.”
He’s referring to our international reputation for having three women to every man, something that dates back to height of the lace industry. No point in shattering the illusion for the old fella.
Even after Motown’s peak many of the groups would tour the UK where demand for classic soul remained. Still does.
“They took the Motown, they put it on their shelf and they polish it every year,” is how the Duke puts it.
And he recalls Nottingham.
“We’ve played there many times. Most of the cities in the UK are very responsive but Nottingham and Sheffield to me seem to have the edge. The response is a little more spontaneous, maybe a little louder.”
The Four Tops joined the Motown label in 1963 but they’d been asked by label founder Berry Gordy to sign up in 1959.
“We told him no,” laughs Duke.
“At that time in Detroit there were a couple of record labels that really took advantage of people so we weren’t anxious to sign to anybody in Detroit.
“We worked in Vegas, in Playboy clubs, in supper clubs without a record label, and years later he decided he still wanted us. I’m just glad he didn’t hold it against us for saying no.”
Along with their own hits -- Reach Out I’ll Be There, Walk Away Renee, I Can’t Help Myself and Loco in Acapulco -- The Four Tops supplied backing vocals on many other hits for Motown artists.
“Whenever they needed male backing vocals they’d call us. So there are a lot of songs we are on, I just can’t remember which ones,” he laughs.
Many believe that when Berry moved Motown to Los Angeles in the early seventies it marked the death of the label.
“In a sense yes but there were still some great stars that came out of there, like Rick James and The Commodores.”
He admits: I was devastated when they left. I think Motown could still be flourishing if they had stayed, like Ford Motors. There is still in so much talent here.”
Although the songs ain’t what they used to be.
“They just can’t seem to come up with the songs of that calibre or that kind of musical thrust these days. But I’m still looking. I’d like this new line-up to really feel what it means to have a hit and see an audience really respond to it.”
Duke is the only member of the original group still alive.
“I don’t know why I’m still here,” he says.
“I’ve asked myself that question and I can’t put my finger on it. Of course I’m glad I’m still here but it’s bittersweet because I miss those three guys. You couldn’t have greater friends. We grew up together and shared everything together.
“It’s a big hole in my life.”
The current line-up features Roquel Payton, Theo Peoples and Lewis McNeir.
“They’re as good as you can expect them to be without being the originals,” says Duke, who has no plans to retire.
“I don’t see the end of the road. As long as people still respond to what we do, I’ll love it. It fills me up every night.”

Who: The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Drifters, The Three Degrees
Where: Trent FM Arena
When: Thursday, March 25
Tickets: £38, 08444 124 624

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