Commodores still command the stage | VailDaily.com
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Commodores still command the stage

The Commodores are, from left, William King, Walter Orange and J.D. Nicholas. They're performing Friday night at the Vilar Center.
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BEAVER CREEK – The Commodores are a party going somewhere to happen, and Friday night they’re coming to Beaver Creek.

“We play all the songs people remember. For any recording group, that’s the key. People come out to hear the music they’ve heard through the years. We try to give it to them exactly like they heard it on the record,” said William King, who helped found the group as a college freshman in February 1968 at the Tuskegee Institute.

Although they hardly ever are, people let them know if they’re disappointed.



Like the time two ladies came backstage in a hostile mood because they’d driven two hours and the band didn’t play their favorite song, “Zoom,” from 1973.

“I heard the ruckus, so I stuck my head out of the dressing room to see what was going on,” King said.



The women made their position clear, so King got Walter “Clyde” Orange and J.D. Nicholas, some guys from the band, and they went back on stage and did a rendition of “Zoom.”

“We hadn’t done the song in a while and some of the guys were searching around the lyrics,” King said. “Those ladies were as happy as they could be.”

Or the time J.D. sang the second verse of “Easy” first.



“People came back stage and told us about it,” King said. “People are paying attention. They’re not just jumping around.”

The show opens with a heartbeat, an instrumental and “Too Hot ta Trot.”

By the time they charge the stage and jump into singing, the crowd is cranked up and ready for a good time.

The Commodores are a far-flung enterprise these days.

“We’re all over the place. I’m in L.A. and Atlanta, Clyde lives outside Fort Lauderdale,” King said.

J.D.’s somewhere in between. The band, The Mean Machine, is in four or five cities.

The music brings them, and us, together.

“We all meet at the first date, stay together, we play, then we go home for a couple days,” King said. “We used to go out for six months at a time. Now we do four or five dates in a row. The show isn’t the thing that tires you out. It’s the traveling.”

Here’s why. They leave the hotel at 3:30 a.m. to catch a 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. flight.

“If your show’s at 8 o’clock you can’t fly in at 4 in the afternoon,” King said. “We always show up the day before. If things go wrong, I can fix them.”

Like the time they had two gigs in one day, Florida and Atlantic City. They hired a private plane, but a storm rolled in and no one could get out.”

They arrived at the time they were supposed to be on stage.

One tour took them to 32 countries in two years.

Bands are like life; friends come and go.

Original singer James Ingram left to serve active duty in Vietnam and was replaced by Walter “Clyde” Orange, who wrote or co-wrote many of their hits.

Lionel Richie joined, and he and Orange alternated as lead singers. Richie left in 1983 and former Heatwave singer J.D. Nicholas stepped in.

“You can tell something was gong to happen by the way people act,” King said. “You can prepare for it, but it’s still hard when it happens. We thought we would be together forever.”

The hangers on stopped hanging, King said.

“The people who are around when you’re hot, they just bailed. They thought the ship was sinking. Even the rats were jumping off.”

But then “Nightshift” was released and they earned their first Grammy nomination, ironically without Richie. The Commodores were hot.

“When we had the hit with ‘Nightshift’ and the rats were trying to swim back. We just hit the gas and sailed that ship away. We didn’t need them anymore,” King said.

They stopped, took some time and planned their future, King said. Motown refused to give up their original recordings, so in 1991-92 they re-recorded everything, using the latest digital technology of that time.

“The idea was to make them as close to the original as possible,” King said

They had to borrow and rent some instruments to match that sound.

“We actually had to go on Ebay a few times to find those instruments,” King said.

Commodores music is selling almost as well as when it was first released.

“Brickhouse” was in four movies last year and five the year before. That song came out in 1977. Other Commodores songs enjoy similar success.

“Those songs make almost as much money now as they did back then. Brickhouse made more,” King said.

Today, the Commodores are Orange, Nicholas and King, along with The Mean Machine.

The party is Friday night. Wear your boogie shoes.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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