Commodores Explained

Img Capt:Performing at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, FL
Origin:Tuskagee, Alabama, USA
Years Active:1968-present
Label:Motown, Polydor
Current Members:Walter Orange
William King
J.D. Nicholas
Past Members:Lionel Richie
Thomas McClary
Ronald La Pread
Milan Williams
Sheldon Reynolds

The Commodores are an American funk/soul band of the 1970s and 1980s. The members of the group met as freshmen at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in 1968, and signed with Motown in November 1972, having first caught the public eye opening for The Jackson 5 while on tour.


This group is best known for its ballads, such as "Easy" and "Three Times a Lady", but, for the most part, the group mainly recorded funky, driven dance-floor hits which include "Brick House", "Say Yeah", "Fancy Dancer", and "Too Hot Ta Trot".

Lionel Richie's "Oh No" is highlighted in the movie The Last American Virgin, and reached #4 on the U.S. charts. "Machine Gun", the instrumental title track from the band's debut album, became a staple at American sporting events, and is similarly featured in many films, including Boogie Nights and Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Another instrumental, "Cebu" (named after an island in the Philippines), later became a staple in the Quiet Storm format. Three albums released in years 1975 and 1976 (Caught in the Act, Movin' On, Hot On The Tracks) are considered the peak of their harder funk period. After those recordings the group started to move towards softer sound.

The Commodores originally called themselves the Jays, but had to change their name because of the similarly named O'Jays. To choose a new name William King opened a dictionary and randomly picked a word. "We lucked out," he remarked with a laugh when telling this story to People Weekly Magazine. "We almost became The Commodes!"

Many of their hit tunes were written or co-written by Walter "Clyde" Orange, the original lead singer before Lionel Richie came on board. Lionel and Clyde alternated as lead singers. Clyde was also the lead singer on "Nightshift" and "Brick House" among others. Clyde now lives with his family in Coral Springs, Florida and has three children named Paula, Colin and Cody.

Band members typically alternated lead vocal duties. After Richie left to pursue a solo career, former Heatwave singerJ.D. Nicholas assumed co-lead vocal duties with drummer Walter "Clyde" Orange. However, with the exception of the Grammy-winning "Nightshift" (a tribute to Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson) the band never achieved the same level of success it had enjoyed with Richie. Ironically, "Nightshift" won The Commodores their only Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals.

On Sunday 19 August 1990 the group made an appearance at Seagulls Rugby League Football Club, on Gollan Drive, West Tweed Heads, in New South Wales, Australia.

Over time, the group's founding members began leaving. McClary left in 1982 (shortly after Richie left) to pursue a solo career and to develop a gospel music company. McClary was replaced by guitarist/vocalist Sheldon Reynolds. LaPread left in 1986 and moved to New Zealand, and Reynolds departed for Earth, Wind and Fire in 1987. Williams exited the band in 1989. The group also gradually abandoned its funk roots and moved into the more commercial pop arena. In 1983, Skyler Jett, replaced Lionel Richie as the lead singer for The Commodores, and toured the world and performed in over 32 countries in a two year span.

In 1985, the group performed two commercials for NBC affiliate WXIA in Atlanta, Georgia. The group left Motown in 1986 for Polydor, and released several additional albums, which are primarily compilations of previous material. They have re-recorded Commodores hits and have recorded a live album and a Christmas album.

Today, the Commodores consist of Walter "Clyde" Orange, James Dean "J.D." Nicholas and William "WAK" King, along with a backing band. King married songwriter Shirley Hanna-King ("Brick House" co-writer) in 1976. Together they have four children, Adam, Ryan Hanna, Leah Hanna and Noah.

Since the late 1990s, Orange has also been working in conjunction with singer/songwriter Craig Deanto, and they have released an album titled "Who Hears The Cries". The group continues to perform, selling out concerts around the world, annually. They have the opening act for Trump casinos and Hard Rock casinos.

Original band personnel




YearSongU.S. Hot 100U.S. R&B chartUK singlesAlbum
1974"Machine Gun"22720Machine Gun
"The Zoo (The Human Zoo)"align="center"-align="center"-44
"I Feel Sanctified"7512align="center"-
1975"Slippery When Wet"191align="center"-Caught In The Act
1976"Sweet Love"5232Movin' On
"Just to Be Close to You"7162Hot On The Tracks
1977"Fancy Dancer"399align="center"-
"Easy"419The Commodores
"Brick House"5432
1978"Too Hot ta Trot"24138The Commodores Live!
"Three Times a Lady"111Natural High
"Flying High"382137
1979"Sail On"488Midnight Magic
"Still "114
"Old-Fashion Love"208align="center"-Heroes
1981"Lady (You Bring Me Up)"8556In The Pocket
"Oh No"4544
1982"Why You Wanna Try Me"6642align="center"-
"Painted Picture"7019align="center"-All The Greatest Hits
1983"Only You"5420align="center"-Commodores 13
"Animal Instinct"432274
1986"Goin' To The Bank"65243United
1987"Take It from Me"align="center"-38
"United in Love" (hit on AC charts)align="center"-?
1988"Solitaire"align="center"-51Rock Solid

Awards and recognition

The Commodores were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003.

External links