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Motown's Holland-Dozier-Holland tell their stories in separate accounts

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2019

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At Motown and beyond, It's never been the same old song for Brian Holland, Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier.

And there's a story — or, rather, stories — to every one of them.

The Detroit-born trio of songwriters and producers is among the most successful in the history of music, contemporary or classic. The Holland-Dozier-Holland moniker is as synonymous with Motown's success as Berry Gordy Jr., Smokey Robinson or Diana Ross. The impact of its songbook stands alongside those of other teams such as Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bacharach and David and the Gershwin brothers.

Starting with Martha & the Vandellas' "Heat Wave" in 1963, the HDH team has racked up more than three-dozen Top 10 Billboard Hot 100 singles — including 10 of the Supremes' 12 No. 1 hits and tracks covered by Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and others. Their songs are all over the Broadway hits "Motown: The Musical" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg: The Life and Times of the Temptations." HDH was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988, and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two years later.

The Hollands and Dozier have recounted those triumphs, along with some travails, in a pair of new memoirs — the brothers' "Come and Get These Memories: The Genius of Holland-Dozier-Holland, Motown's Incomparable Songwriters" and Dozier's "How Sweet It Is: A Songwriter's Reflections on Music, Motown, and the Mystery of the Muse." The two tomes bring an insightful end to Motown's 60th anniversary year, even if their creators were initially hard-pressed to put pen to paper.

"I really didn't want to do a book," Eddie Holland says by phone from his home in Los Angeles. It wasn’t until a friend who's a minister in Detroit pointed out that "if you don't write the book, someone else is gonna do it, so you might as well write it like the way it was," he changed his tune.

"As a matter of fact, I really wanted to call the book 'Setting the Record Straight,'" Holland, 80, says, "but everybody said, 'No, no, you can't do that because it sounds too antagonistic. It sounds too feisty."

Dozier, similarly, had been approached at least twice about writing a book, "by a very prestigious publisher in each instance, but I declined because they were intent upon my writing a kiss and tell book ... and that just did not appeal to me." After a podcast interview with co-author Scott Bomar, however, Dozier, 78, warmed to the idea.

"I've always wanted to write a book to inspire people, and especially other writers," he explains.

If the Hollands had their way, there would have been one book written by all three men.

"We all have different inflections of how we view things," notes Eddie, who like Dozier had performing aspirations before moving into songwriting. "I said, 'We'll take the book and put it in one package and called Holland, Dozier AND Holland.'" But Dozier, who left the full-time partnership during the mid-'70s, felt his story was best served under separate cover — though he calls "Come and Get These Memories" "an excellent read."

"This (separate book) was a decision I made a long time ago," Dozier explains, "because I feel that my career has continued since being part of HDH and I felt that should be included as part of my legacy. I am happy we each have our own book. Nothing really surprised me about our different recollections. Some of my recollections are different ... however, there is truth in everything, and the reader can enjoy it all."

Both books delve into untold and under-told aspects of the three men's lives and careers. Dozier even notes that in reading the Hollands' book "there were things I didn't know, and I learned more about them, even having known them for 60 years."

There are details about the creative process and the development of iconic hits such as "Stop! in the Name of Love," "Reach Out I'll Be There," "You Can't Hurry Love" and scores of others, along insights into the inner workings of Motown — particularly from Eddie, who served at tenure as Motown's head of A&R. Both books also document HDH's initial split from the company and its protracted, acrimonious legal dealings with Gordy.

There are personal revelations as well, ranging from Brian Holland's relationship with Diana Ross to Dozier's difficult relationship with his father, his failed first marriage and other issues. "How Sweet It Is" also discusses a drinking problem brought on by the stress of his professional and private lives. (Dozier stopped drinking in 1979 after the birth of his son, Beau.) And both books delve into the inner and sometimes volatile workings of the trio, which launched labels such as Hot Wax and Invictus after leaving Motown during the late ’60s, producing hits for Freda Payne, Honey Cone, Chairmen of the Board and others.

"Nobody argues more than my brother and I," Eddie Holland says. "When we were writing those songs, man, we used to get into the worst arguments. You would not believe! Lamont, it would frighten him to death half the time. He wanted to get out of the room and a lot of times he WOULD walk out of the room. We're still like that. It's just siblings and sibling rivalry."

Dozier, meanwhile, says the HDH relationship has been "a bit of a roller coaster" over the decades but maintains that the good outweighs all else.

"I feel like Eddie and Brian are my family," he says. "We have had great times and not so great times with each other, but all in all we have so much love for one another and nobody can ever change that. We wrote some incredible songs, and our catalog songs are like our children. You cannot be in love with the spouse any longer, but you cannot deny that the children were created out of love and a blending of you both — or in this case all three of us."

HDH did reunite to compose songs for a stage musical adaptation of the film "The First Wives Club" that premiered in 2009, and Eddie Holland says an HDH musical is in the works as well, which will be more like a song revue but "a bit more involved" than something like "Smokey Joe's Cafe." Dozier — who on his own has written hits for Phil Collins, Alison Moyet, Simply Red and others — released a solo album, "Reimagination," in 2018. He also teaches at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music.

"I still don't know how we did it — honestly," Eddie says of the HDH accomplishments documented in the two books. "When I look back I laugh at some of this stuff. I say, 'Where the hell did this come from?' I'm still astonished because when we first started writing I was trying to do my best and trying to learn the best way I could. There's no way in the world someone could have told me these songs would be this successful for this long. I would've thought they'd lost their mind.

"I still don't know what to think of it, to be honest with you. I really, truly don't. It's just phenomenal."

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