Formed in the mid ‘50s the band was and still is, synonymous with the Motown sound and while other singing groups have come and gone, the Four Tops is still thrilling audiences around the world, albeit as a legacy act with Duke the lone remaining member.
The Senior recently caught up with the musical legend in his home town Detroit, Michigan where Duke is preparing for a short Australian tour in December.
Earlier this year Duke fell and broke his hip but the consummate professional was on stage that same night, in a wheel chair, and didn’t miss a single show.
“I apologised to the people before I went on that I wouldn’t be skipping, hopping or dancing or prancing, but would be singing and they accepted it; and the guys (the other three members of the Four Tops) worked extra hard,” he said.
However Duke reckons he’ll be up and ready to do some of the dancing and prancing when he comes to Australia..
“I love Australia,” he said. “I love the people, I love the food. It’s really tremendous.”
The celebrated performer also loves touring. “People ask me, ‘don’t you get tired of singing those same old songs night in night out’.
“But let me tell you something, as long as people love those songs, I love them even more. You know every night is different and every front row is different and every audience is different. You see different faces but one thing you always see is a lot of joy, a lot of love and a lot of happiness and you know it just makes you feel great and I get all excited, every show. How do you give that up.”
Readers will be familiar with many of the songs that made the Four Tops world-famous. Songs such as I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch), It's The Same Old Song, Reach Out I'll Be There, Standing In The Shadows Of Love, Bernadette, Ask The Lonely; Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over) and their covers of Walk Away Renee and If I Were A Carpenter plus a host more helped define a generation and still resonate with audiences today.
It’s the quality of the music that keeps people loving the Four Tops sound, said Duke. “People enjoy different types of music but there’s some music that stand out in the forefront and that’s Motown.”
And it’s also keeping the name of the Four Tops alive which keeps Duke going as a performer. “The legacy that my brothers worked so hard and for so many years to establish. I just feel we should keep the name going for as long as people want to see the Four Tops. That’s what I’m here to do and I love every minute of it.”
Duke will be joined for the Australian tour by current Four Tops singers Ronnie McNeir, Lawrence Payton Jr. (son of original member Lawrence Payton) and Harold "Spike" Bonhart.
As an octogenarian, seeing his musical peers passing away is par for the course but that doesn’t make it any easier for Duke.
“It’s absolutely horrible. It hurts so much. It’s getting that I have very few close friends around. That’s why I feel so extremely blessed that I’m still around to carry on and I don’t feel my age and I don’t think I look my age and I certainly don’t sing my age.
“I miss so many of my friends, they’re gone but I have my music and I love what I’m doing and that’s the best friend I have right now.”
One of Duke’s great friends to recently die was the iconic Aretha Franklin.
“It’s left a real hole in my heart,” he said. I was in mourning because she was like a sister to me. In fact I called her baby sister. We were very close. We spent a lot of time together. Yes it hurt, it really hurt.”
The Four Tops’ Cabaret Dinner and Show will take place at the Sofitel Melbourne from December 6 - 8 (inclusive) and the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth, December 17-20 (inclusive). Tickets: www. ticketek.com.au