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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, September 6, 2002

Commodores bring old favorites to Shell

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

The Commodores, from left, J.D. Nicholas, William King and Walter "Clyde" Orange, survived Lionel Richie's departure in 1982 and will headline a benefit concert in the Waikiki Shell.

Two decades have passed since Lionel Richie left The Commodores. It's been almost 15 years since Richie or the group he departed last generated interest among music industry movers and shakers outside of "Behind the Music" producers. In 1986, The Commodores even won their first-ever Grammy Award (for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal) for "Nightshift," without the benefit of a Richie lead vocal assist.

And yet Commodores drummer, vocalist and founding member Walter "Clyde" Orange still gets grilled about the band's life with and without Lionel in interviews. The Commodores' current lineup — along with Orange, trumpeter/founding member William King and vocalist J.D. Nicholas — headlines a multi-act benefit for Rotary International's Polio Plus program Saturday at the Waikiki Shell. A good sport, Orange still answers queries about his former bandmate patiently, and enthusiastically.

Take Richie's 1982 Commodores departure: Apparently, he left to work on his first solo album and never bothered to tell anyone he wasn't coming back. Not that the band hadn't received a couple of warning signs from Richie beforehand.

"He left us with ... 20,000 people in Houston, Texas," recalled Orange of a 1981 concert where Richie walked off stage mid-show and never returned. The singer went completely missing the next night at a Miami tour stop. "That was my first time walking on stage ... and trying to sing a whole show without him. When we saw that happen, we said, 'Wait a minute. Wake up!' That's when we really knew. There was no more shying away from it."

The Commodores

Also featuring The Makaha Sons, Yvonne Elliman and others

6 p.m. Saturday
Waikiki Shell
832-0144, 526-4400

Also: 7:30 p.m. today at Maui Arts & Cultural Center. $35, $40, $65. (808) 242-7469

Orange claimed no lingering animosity between him and Richie, but the two haven't spoken in more than 12 years. Orange did, however, offer props to Richie where props were due.

A funk fanatic, Orange initially loathed the Richie-penned love ballads that were outselling the band's funk/R&B compositions in the late 1970s. Between 1976 and 1981, The Commodores placed nine songs in the Billboard Hot 100 Top 10. Seven of these were ballads; two of them, No. 1 ballads.

"We were playing with all these funk groups like Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & The Gang, and here we come with 'Three Times A Lady,' 'Still,' and 'Sail On,'" remembered Orange, then-embarrassed about throwing down so many love songs on the same stage as his peers' more uptempo jams.

"We were all young and stupid, not knowing what was really paying the bills and bringing in the crossover market. Believe me, it wasn't anything funky that I was writing. It was those ballads. Those ballads brought attention to this group."

Still, Orange is pleased that The Commodores' tune with arguably the lengthiest pop culture shelf life (not to mention some decent trickle down in the form of royalty checks) is his own "Brick House," which he wrote and sang the lead on. The storied song about an even more storied female's Wonder Woman-esque anatomy remains a licensing favorite of movie and television producers, and a classic dance-floor anthem

"Every club, every disco ... still plays that song," said Orange, proudly. "Everybody still relates to it. And that keeps us fresh."