Saturday, July 02, 2005

MOTOWNOBIT: Renaldo Benson

The death has been announced of Renaldo 'Obie' Benson, one of the original Four Tops.

Born in 1936, Benson came together with Levi Stubbs, Abdul Fakir and Lawrence Payton in 1953 to form the band, originally named The Four Aims. The line-up remained unchanged until the death of Lawrence in 1997. Over the course of fifty years they managed two number ones - I Can't Help Myself and Reach Out, I'll Be There - but their status never quite regained after their songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland quite Motown in 1967, leaving the Four Tops to be shuffled from one team of producers to another. Although they never touched the top again, they remained successful enough to make a living from music. Even a forced change of label when they elected to not follow Motown to Los Angeles in 1972 didn't leave them totally beached - they still charted regularly until the late 70s.

After the chart action started to dry up (their last visit to the Top 40 was 1988's destructable), the band focused their attention on a lucrative business of tours, cabarets and PAs. Besides a one-off festive special, they haven't bothered with a new album since 1988, but being The Four Tops had effectively provided them with all they needed to guarantee an interested audience would turn up.

Obie died in a Detroit Hospital on Friday, from lung cancer. He was 69, and his last appearance with the band was on a performance on David Letterman's show in April this year.