The Commodores originally came together from two former groups, the Mystics and the Jays, but wanted to change the name. Together, a six-man band was created from which the notable individuals were Lionel Richie, Thomas McClary, and William "WAK" King from the Mystics; Andre Callahan, Michael Gilbert, and Milan Williams were from the Jays.
To choose a new name, William "WAK" King opened a dictionary and randomly picked a word. "We lucked out", he remarked with a laugh when telling this story to People magazine. "We almost became 'The Commodes!'"
The band originated while its members attended Tuskegee University in Alabama. After winning the university's annual freshman talent contest, they played at fraternity parties as well as a weekend gig at the Black Forest Inn, one of a few clubs in Tuskegee that catered to college students. They performed mostly cover tunes and some original songs with their first singer, James Ingram (not the famous solo artist). Ingram, older than the rest of the band, left to serve active duty in Vietnam, and was later replaced by Walter "Clyde" Orange, who would write or co-write many of their hit tunes. Lionel Richie and Orange alternated as lead singers. (Orange was the lead singer on the Top 10 hits "Brick House" and "Nightshift".)
In 1982, Lionel Richie left to pursue a solo career. A transition that was smooth but slow, Richie's departure was evident after it was mentioned to the band why his distinct sound would ever be a part of The Commodores; Skyler Jett replaced Richie as co-lead singer.
Over time, several founding members left. McClary left in 1983 (shortly after Richie) 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 Auckland, New Zealand, and Reynolds departed for Earth, Wind & Fire in 1987, which prompted trumpeter William "WAK" King to take over primary guitar duties for live performances.
Keyboardist Milan Williams exited the band in 1989.
The group also gradually abandoned its funk roots and moved into the more commercial pop arena.
In 1984 former Heatwave singer James Dean "J.D." Nicholas assumed co-lead vocal duties with drummer Walter Orange.
The band remained hitless until 1985 when their final Motown album, Nightshift, produced by Dennis Lambert—all prior albums were produced by James Anthony Carmichael)—delivered the Grammy Award-winning title track "Nightshift" (No. 3 in the U.S.). It was a tribute to Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. In 2010 a new version was recorded, dedicated to Michael Jackson.
The Commodores now consist of Walter "Clyde" Orange, James Dean "J.D." Nicholas, and William "WAK" King, along with their five-piece band, known as the "Mean Machine". The group continues to perform, playing at arenas, theaters, and festivals around the world.
Commodores - Nightshift (original version)
The Commodores - Nightshift 2010 A Tribute To Michael Jackson
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