Lamont Dozier Remembers Recording (And Going to Middle School) With Aretha Franklin

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Lamont Dozier attends the BMI Songwriters Showcase at the Smithsonian National Museum Of American History on Oct. 27, 2009 in Washington, DC.  

As part of Motown's most prolific hitmaking team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Lamont Dozier was certainly well aware of what Aretha Franklin was also doing out of Detroit. But it goes deeper than that for Dozier. The two attended middle school together and remained friendly, and Franklin recruited Dozier to co-produce and write three songs for her 1977 album Sweet Passion. Calling her death last week at the age of 76 "a blow," Dozier recalls his times with the Queen of Soul.

Aretha and I went to school together in Detroit, Hutchins Junior High. She had a friend named Patricia, and we had a crush on each other. And (Franklin) was always telling Patricia, "Lamont was this, Lamont was that, you should do it this way...." You know, the way girls give each other love advice. It was funny to me. They were in this little club of girls that never did anything bad; They were just always going to 25-cent dances, things like that, just being teenagers. Sometimes people would look at it as getting a little bit out of hand, but it was just friendly fun.

(Franklin) was just a regular girl, really, feet flat on the ground. She didn't act like she was somebody special or carry herself like that. You wouldn't know she was so talented. Some of the kids said, "Did you ever go to Aretha's church on Sunday? Why don't we go over there?" So we got some of the guys together, and the girls, and went over on a Sunday and caught Aretha's act and, oh man, she just blew me away 'cause I didn't know she had that in her. It was something special to see. She was just extraordinary. I couldn't believe it...but, of course, we saw what she went on to be.

Aretha never (recorded for) Motown. She already had contracts before Berry (Gordy) could get to her. She was already tied up. It was just one we missed, but there was no rivalry or anything. It was friendly. All the artists in Detroit, like Aretha and the (Four) Tops, I know it sounds corny but we were like a family. We were all part of that Detroit, Motown sound; Although Aretha was with Atlantic or Columbia, she was part of Motown. All the artists from Detroit would come over to Hitsville and we'd sit around and talk shop and have a few drinks. It was like a big, crazy kind of weird family, and we didn't get in each other's way. We weren't in competition with anybody, but we all got little hints and things from each other as far as making the product better.

She asked me to produce on her album, Sweet Passion, and we had a ball. It was just the kind of R&B/pop thing that I usually do. Unfortunately the company (Atlantic) didn't really get behind it for whatever the reasons, but some of the songs on there -- like "Sunshine Will Never Be the Same," "No One Could Ever Love You More," "Touch Me Up" -- I thought were pretty good, and she sang so great, like she always did. She was, as usual, something spectacular. So it was a good album, I thought. And we had fun doing it in L.A. We were just sitting there eating Pink's hot dogs throughout the night and drinking root beer and stuff. She loved those hot dogs.

I remember being in the studio with her the first time and she would turn off all the lights and turn her back towards the control room glass, so you couldn’t see her. And she turned the lights off and she sang towards the wall in front of it. She didn't want anybody to really look at her singing, I guess. I still don't know what she looks like singing in the studio, 'cause it was in the dark. (laughs) But it was quite interesting the way she did it.

She was probably the easiest act I ever had in the studio as far as directing, easy as pie. She made my job easy. She just had a natural talent, and you didn't have to direct her; She directed herself, mostly, and if there was something you wanted to hear she'd do it automatically and then had her own interpretation or her riff on whatever you wanted her to do, as far as the feeling was concerned.

She was just natural, man. You don't get that type of thing very often. There weren't many people like her that could give you what you wanted every time -- most times in just one take. She was just that good. She was the Queen, man. They didn't call her that for nothing.