Lamont Dozier, singer-songwriter who with Brian and Eddie Holland created ‘the Sound of Young America’ – obituary

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Lamont Dozier in 1990 - Bob Berg/Getty Images
Lamont Dozier in 1990 - Bob Berg/Getty Images

Lamont Dozier, who has died aged 81, was a singer, songwriter and producer who as part of the writing and production team of Holland, Dozier and Holland was responsible for some of the most exhilarating and memorable pop music of the Sixties and Seventies.

A key component in the “hit factory” of Motown records, Dozier, along with the brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, wrote and produced an unparalleled succession of hits for artists including the Supremes, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas and the Marvelettes.

The songs they created established the blueprint for what became known as the Motown Sound, a fusion of driving, gospel-based rhythms, giddy melodies and sweeping arrangements that in a time when pop music tended to be divided along racial lines appealed to both black and white audiences, fulfilling the ambition of the label’s creator and mastermind Berry Gordy to make music for “the whites, blacks, the Jews, Gentiles, the cops and the robbers” and vindicating Gordy’s boast that Motown was “the Sound of Young America’’.

Dozier in 1965, standing, right, with Brian and Eddie Holland and, sitting, Smokey Robinson - Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Dozier in 1965, standing, right, with Brian and Eddie Holland and, sitting, Smokey Robinson - Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hits such as Baby Love, Where Did Our Love Go, Reach Out I’ll Be There and You Can’t Hurry Love were largely responsible for turning the fledgling Detroit record company into an industry groundbreaker and multi-million-dollar concern.

Lamont Herbert Dozier was born in Detroit on June 16 1941 and began writing songs before he was a teenager. Aged 13 he founded the Romeos who, after performing in local youth and community centres, were signed to Atco records in 1957. The group enjoyed a minor chart success with the Dozier-penned R’n’B song Fine Fine Baby but soon broke up and Dozier joined the Voicemasters, a doo-wop group contracted to Anna Records who performed widely across Michigan without enjoying marked success in the charts.

In 1962, aware that the doo-wop style of singing was becoming passé, Dozier sent a tape of self-penned soulful ballad songs to Berry Gordy, who promptly signed him exclusively to Motown records as an artist, songwriter and producer.

Berry introduced Dozier to another Tamla artiste/songwriter, Brian Holland, and the pair were later joined by Brian’s brother Eddie with a brief of writing songs for Motown’s newly signed stable of acts such as the Supremes and the Four Tops. The trio soon found they preferred being writers/producers to being performers and wrote some 100 songs for contracted Motown artistes, which included 25 hit singles that featured in the top 10 of both the US and UK charts.

Reflecting on his Sixties collaboration with the Hollands, Dozier said they had no idea what impact their songs were having on young people. “We were just kids, banging this stuff out week after week,” he said. “We were contracted to write a certain number of songs a month, so we cranked them out. I had no idea the songs would be around from one month to the next, much less 40 years later.”

In 1967 Holland-Dozier-Holland was arguably the most prolific and successful songwriting partnership in America, but following a dispute with Berry Gordy over profit-sharing and royalties, the trio walked out of Tamla Motown and started their own record labels, Invictus and Hot Wax.

Dozier at the piano in the Motown studio c. 1965, with, l-r, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard of the Supremes, and the Holland brothers (Eddie on guitar) - Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Dozier at the piano in the Motown studio c. 1965, with, l-r, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard of the Supremes, and the Holland brothers (Eddie on guitar) - Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The bandwagon of success continued with the trio writing a string of hits that rank with the best of anything they penned for Motown. Band of Gold, written for Freda Payne, and Chairman of the Board’s Give Me Just a Little More Time and Why Can’t We Be Lovers were huge hits on both sides of the Atlantic and appeared to secure the success of their own labels.

Motown, however, sued the trio for breach of contract, and Dozier and the Holland brothers countersued. The subsequent litigation was one of the longest legal battles in the history of the music industry. Due to the lawsuit, Dozier and the Hollands were forced to forgo composer credits on the songs they had written for Invictus and Hot Wax, which subsequently appeared under the pseudonym “Wayne and Dunbar”.

The lawsuit was finally settled in 1977 with Dozier and Hollands having to pay only a reported $10,000 in damages, but the costs of the case resulted in both Invictus and Hot Wax closing.

Dozier broke all business ties with the Hollands and moved to California, where he resumed his career as a singer and signed a recording contract with ABC Dunhill records. As a solo artiste he enjoyed two American Billboard hits with the self-penned Trying to Hold On to My Woman and Fish Ain’t Biting, the LP from which they were taken also enjoying success in the US album charts.

In 1978 Dozier left Dunhill and worked as an uncontracted writer-producer for the Warner Brothers, Arista and Columbia labels, enjoying gold and platinum success in the album charts. In 1980 he and his family moved to England, where he began working with UK performers such as Simply Red and Alison Moyet; he enjoyed UK chart success with the latter with Invisible and You’ve Got It.

He returned to the US in 1983 where, in 1985, he met Phil Collins in Los Angeles. Collins had enjoyed a top 10 success in the UK with You Can’t Hurry Love, and at the time was co-producing Eric Clapton’s August album. Dozier was also invited to write two songs for the Clapton album, and came up with Hung Up On Your Love Again and Run.

At George Martin's Air Studios in Montserrat in 1985 - Andre Csillag/Shutterstock
At George Martin's Air Studios in Montserrat in 1985 - Andre Csillag/Shutterstock

In 1998 Dozier teamed up again with Collins to write the soundtrack for the film Buster; the song Two Hearts won a Grammy for Best Record of 1998, a Golden Globe for Best Original Song and was nominated for an Oscar.

In the early 1990s Dozier recorded a solo album, Love in the Rain, for Atlantic, but despite guest contributions from Collins and Clapton the album enjoyed, at best, moderate success in the US. Unhappy with how he was being promoted at Atlantic, in 1999, with his wife and business partner, Barbara, he started his own label, HitHouse Records, to market and distribute a new cannon of songs. His 2002 album Lamont Dozier... An American Original earned him a Grammy nomination.

Dozier’s golden age as a songwriter was, without doubt, his collaborative efforts with the Holland brothers in the Sixties and early Seventies. Though he was to enjoy success throughout his career, he never reproduced the phenomenal number of hits he enjoyed with the Hollands – which, according to Dozier, “had more than an element of zeitgeist about them”.

Rehearsing at the Royal Festival Hall in 2001 - David Sinclair/Popperfoto via Getty Images
Rehearsing at the Royal Festival Hall in 2001 - David Sinclair/Popperfoto via Getty Images

Arguably that was part of the secret of his success at Tamla: the Kennedy era saw greater social integration; white middle class teenagers were wholly receptive to black artists and their music, and found they had the disposable income with which to buy their records. Holland-Dozier-Holland songs were produced with Prom dancing in mind, while young Americans also identified with the angst in the lyrics of songs such as Where Did Our Love Go, Baby I Need Your Loving and Nowhere To Run. In his later years he continued to work as producer/songwriter and singer.

Lamont Dozier married Elizabeth in 1959. They had three children but divorced in 1968, and in 1980 he married Barbara Ullman, with whom he also had three children. She died in 2021, and he is survived by his six children.

Lamont Dozier, born June 16 1941, died August 9 2022