- Faith & Family
Levi Stubbs had that distinctive baritone voice that made women swoon, leading the Four Tops, first known as The Four Aims, to stardom. He was surrounded by a “family” that included Renaldo “Obie” Benson, Lawrence Payton and Abdul “Duke” Fakir — a lineup that would remain intact for over four decades [from 1953 to 1997]. And they, like the Temptations with whom they shared the stage on Wednesday, Feb. 1st here in South Florida, are mainstays of the quintessential Motown sound. Fakir is the last living member of the group that originated in Detroit during their high school years.
“It doesn’t surprise me that the group is still popular after all these years,” said Ronnie McNeir, 62, who is now a member of the Four Tops, along with Payton’s son, Roquel, and lead singer Theo Peoples, III. “The Four Tops have had so many hits and enormous success —it’s all about the music and so the name carries on.”
The Four Tops will be heading to Europe in March for their always-popular tour of the United Kingdom. McNeir says they do it every two years and the group loves it.
“Seeing other places and meeting so many people who seem to really appreciate our music is something that’s hard to describe,” he said. “They just love soul music over there — sometimes it feels like they long for it more than folks back home.”
Family is the word that kept coming back to Ronnie during the interview. Ironically, as the name may suggest, he is part of this writer’s own family and was not only the first of the grandchildren but this writer’s first role model.
“Obie brought all of the newer members of the group in almost 30 years ago so we are really one big family,” McNeir said. “I started as their pianist and began to fill in for Levi from time to time after he got sick. Theo and I both sang lead for awhile but he eventually took the lead because he has the stronger voice. By the time Levi retired in 2001, he had enough confidence in me to make me an official member. But like I said, I’ve been part of The Four Tops for a long time.”
McNeir, who has solo projects and produces other groups, says he still gets excited when they perform hits like “Baby, I Need Your Loving” or “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.”
“Duke keeps us focused and reminds us that the Tops are like a well-oiled machine — our music has a positive message and our fans have remained loyal to that sound,” he said. “There nothing better than being a Four Top.”
By D. Kevin McNeir