Lamont Dozier, great Motown songwriter and producer, dies at 81


Lamont Dozier, the Motown songwriter-producer whose melodies and craftsmanship left a colossal mark on popular music, has died. He was 81 years old.

The Detroit native, who was part of the central Holland-Dozier-Holland music team, died “peacefully” Monday at his home in Arizona, his family said. The cause of death has not been determined and an autopsy will be performed, a spokeswoman said.

Dozier, who left Detroit for the West Coast in 1973, had spent the last decades living in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but moved last year to join his family in Arizona after the death of Barbara Dozier, his wife. for four decades.

Motown songwriter and producer Lamont Dozier, December 2008 in Los Angeles.

Longtime partner Eddie Holland said Dozier hadn’t been well for several years. He knew his old friend was in crisis as he could no longer endure long airplane flights.

“The thing is, when his wife, Barbara, died, it cost him a lot,” Holland said Tuesday.

Still, news of Dozier’s death “comes as a shock,” he said. “I still haven’t processed it yet.”

Although he has spent most of his career behind the scenes, Dozier has received industry accolades, inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“Another family member is gone,” said Smokey Robinson, who arrived home in Los Angeles on Tuesday after an event at the Motown Museum in Detroit. “We will miss him, we really miss him.”

Alongside brothers Eddie and Brian Holland, Dozier was a studio force with a golden touch. Working in the hyper-competitive environment of Motown in the 60s, the trio were a “factory within a factory”, as Dozier would later describe it, achieving an extraordinary streak of success that regularly swept the Supremes, Four Tops, Martha Reeves, Marvin Gaye and others at the top of the cards.

Motown writing-production team Holland-Dozier-Holland.  From left to right: Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland, Brian Holland.

For music fans in the 1960s, the generic “Holland, Dozier, Holland” was a ubiquitous sight on 45s, stamped on the label of hit after hit. Many of these songs have taken on the stature of pop standards, anchored in the cultural fabric: “Reach Out I’ll Be There” (the Four Tops), “Heat Wave” (Martha and the Vandellas), “How Sweet it Is” , (Marvin Gaye), “Baby Love”, “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (the Supremes).

“Everything I write, I give credit to God, the master muse. I thank him for letting me put my name to his music,” Dozier told the Detroit Free Press in 2019. music and I can’t write it either. I did everything by ear and touch when I sat at the piano. I thank God for the chords and the melodies and everything I put into it. Because believe me, there was a lot of hard work banging on that piano to write a song and make it a hit on top of that.

Dozier was a melodic and song polisher, working with Brian Holland on the music and production side while Eddie Holland polished the lyrics. He saw himself as the bridge between music and words, and he credited this division of labor as the key to the trio’s formula for success.

A royalty dispute with Berry Gordy and Motown Records prompted Holland-Dozier-Holland to leave the company in 1967. Amid what would become a decades-long legal battle, they formed their own record labels in Detroit. , Invictus, and Hot Wax, and went on to exploit hits with artists such as Freda Payne (“Band of Gold”) and The Board Chairs (“Give Me Just a Little More Time”).

(L to R): Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland revisit the Studio A control room in Hitsville, USA in Detroit in June 2019. It was the last time the trio met in a recording studio.

Dozier and the Hollands parted ways in the early 70s, with Dozier later revealing his frustration that the brothers had turned down the chance to sign promising young artists such as Funkadelic and Al Green.

Dozier was gentle but ambitious, traveling to Los Angeles in 1973 to pursue a career as a solo artist. While he later said that stepping into the limelight was “a big challenge”, he scored several minor R&B hits, including “Trying to Hold on to My Woman” and “Fish Ain’t Bitin'”.

“Lamont was extremely sensitive. He was introverted,” Eddie Holland said. “A nice guy, extremely charming, but he was always in a calm mood.”

Dozier would tackle his dark times by escaping into music, sitting at the piano and creating, Holland said.

“It did something in his mind that was very, very strong. He had the music in him, he had the soul of the music in him,” he said. “He was the only creative person who could function better when he was sad and making melodies. It just made him stronger. I would marvel at that.”

Later, Dozier saw his role in the world as a mentor and muse for young artists: his 2019 autobiography, “How Sweet it Is,” was as much a music industry manual as a memoir.

Dozier grew up in a rented house on Congress Street in east Detroit, part of the neighborhood then known as Black Bottom. As a child, he was enchanted by a piano in his grandparents’ house, and he wrote his first poem at the age of 12: Encouraged by his English teacher at the primary school in Poe, Dozier accompanies his verses with a melody at the piano and gives it the title “A Song.”

Within a few years, while a student at Northwestern High School, Dozier was writing songs regularly.

Cover of Lamont Dozier's 2019 memoir,

“I began to play piano chords and find notes to accompany my words,” he wrote in his autobiography. “I was just messing around until I got a decent pattern of movements and chord changes that matched the feeling of the lyrics. It was just a process of finding the right notes to hit the melody I was hearing in my head.

He first aspired to a singing career, signing with the Gordy family’s Anna Records in 1960.

“I was essentially a glorified janitor eager to get into the studio to take my plunge,” Dozier would later write.

At 20, married with a young daughter, Dozier partnered with Berry Gordy’s Motown startup, accepting a $25 weekly salary as an advance on future royalties.

Along with longtime friend Brian Holland, he began writing songs for artists such as the Marvelettes and Stevie Wonder, with singer Eddie Holland soon joining to complete the team.

Martha and the Vandellas’ 1963 “Heat Wave” became their first R&B chart, and a year later the floodgates would really open with “Where Did Our Love Go” – the breakthrough hit from the girl group known around Motown. under the name of “Supreme without a hit.

Motown's Holland/Dozier/Holland with Supremes.  Lamont Dozier (left), Brian Holland (standing), Eddie Holland (seated with guitar).

It was the first of 10 HDH singles with the Supremes to top Billboard’s Hot 100, alongside a prolific number of hits for their other Motown bands.

Dozier would later recount the anxiety and alcohol abuse he battled amid his career triumphs. But in the 1980s, married to Barbara Dozier with young children, he says he found stability. His songwriting work continued and he was sought out for collaborations with British Motown-loving artists such as Simply Red, Boy George and Phil Collins. Along with Collins, Dozier won a Golden Globe for the 1988 song “Two Hearts.”

On the heels of a 2018 solo album, “Reimagination,” Dozier told the Free Press that he still sits at the piano for several hours a day, seven days a week, coming up with new musical ideas.

“It’s always been my job,” he said. “I have to do it. If you don’t use it, you lose it. So I work hard. It’s a good thing and it’s healthy for your mind.

A decade earlier, he and the Hollands had received the highest honor in the art of songwriting: the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, Valerie Simpson, William 'Mickey' Stevenson and Smokey Robinson appear onstage during Motown 60: A GRAMMY Celebration at Microsoft Theater on February 12, 2019 in Los Angeles.

He said he never took the endurance of his work for granted.

“They always play that music, man. It’s amazing,” he said. “I thought some of them wouldn’t last a day. But it’s been here for 60 years, and it’s a great feeling – all over the world.

Contact Detroit Free Press Music Writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or


About Author

Comments are closed.