When I first got the call to start working on Ain’t Too Proud - The Life And Times Of The Temptations, I was curious about which era the show was going to focus on. Their career began in the early 1960’s and they’re still releasing albums today. I first heard of The Temptations when I was younger through their big hits, but was never the kind of fan I turned out to be after digging deep into their catalogue as an adult.
"I dug deep into their catalogue to listen to the drumming of three of Motown’s most used drummers of the period and immersed myself into the drumming style of the era."
I was a child of the mid-1970’s and early 80’s and really became interested in the group again through Rick James. Rick was a huge fan of The Temptations and I was a big fan of Rick’s. I enjoyed almost everything Rick James put his hands on during this period in his career. Rick would often feature the group on several songs he wrote and produced in the early 80’s. On several occasions, Rick would shout, “TEMPTATIONS SING!” At that point in the song, I would know The Temptations’ unique harmonies would be part of the chorus, or at least be the best part of his latest hit production.
Photo by Geoff Tischman
Many people might not know that it was The Temptations singing background on his massive hit, “Super Freak.” “Standing On The Top,” another Rick James tune, went on to peak at number six on the R&B charts in 1982. It was during this time in the 80’s when the existing Temptations reunited with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks for a short lived reunion tour. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long and signaled the end of an era, as well as David Ruffin’s life a few years later. Their songs lived on and their legacy remains intact.
Some of that story is recounted in my show Ain’t Too Proud. The musical explores the period of their musical journey from the early 1960’s until the reunion tour in the 80’s. The show is quite an emotional roller coaster and often a tear jerker, but it’s one show that will have you tapping your toes, snapping your fingers, singing along and might even get you out of your seat to dance during the finale.
"I feel it’s important to not only understand the music I’m playing in my show, but truly grasp the impact of The Temptations. They were not only Motown’s number one group, their worldwide impact was felt on multiple levels."
Out of the five musicals I’ve held the drum chair on, I’ve seen three of them from the audience. The two I didn’t were Tick, Tick... BOOM! and Altar Boyz. I was still somewhat new to the show scene and didn’t think twice about seeing things from the audience’s perspective back then. As the years went on, I learned that viewing the productions I was a part of from a different point of view helped me understand how the music worked in the context of the overall production.
Clayton's pit setup for the Broadway production of Ain't Too Proud.
When I watched my show in the audience a few months ago, I was almost in tears at the end. It was powerful. Even though I’ve played the show well over a thousand times over the past three years, and have been part of each rehearsal, it moved me in such a way that brought out all kinds of emotion.
I mention this because understanding the history, the back story and putting things in context helped me create parts for the show that were authentic and worked for each scene or musical number. I feel it’s important to not only understand the music I’m playing in my show, but truly grasp the impact of The Temptations. They were not only Motown’s number one group, their worldwide impact was felt on multiple levels. The way The Temptations dressed, danced and harmonized brought the classic doo-wop sound of the fifties into the sixties - and made it cool for their generation. When you look back at all of the R&B groups after 1964, you’ll see The Temptations were the template for most of the male vocal groups that came after. The Spinners, Tavares, The Chi-Lites, the Stylistics, The Dells and even groups like the Jackson 5 were all heavily influenced by the Temptations. They went on to achieve a staggering level of success; 16 number one albums, 14 number one singles and 43 top ten hits that spanned four decades.
"One of the simplest tunes to play, but one of the most satisfying ones is 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone.' ...Sometimes simplicity is the secret to success."
I dug deep into their catalogue to listen to the drumming of three of Motown’s most used drummers of the period and immersed myself into the drumming style of the era. Benny Benjamin, Pistol Pete Allen, and Uriel Jones were the three Funk Brothers who played on all of the tracks that are featured in my show. Most of the musical consists of songs Benny Benjamin played on. I feel like I play the Benny Benjamin intro drum fill on almost every song in the first act. If you are a fan of Motown, it’s the six stroke roll that you hear on songs like “My Girl,” “Get Ready” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg.” The swing Benny had on songs like “The Way You Do The Things You Do” and The Supremes songs we do are fantastic. It’s a swing that is signature Motown and instantly identifiable.
Since I’m a product of a different era, the funk songs came naturally to me. When we play “I Can’t Get Next To You,” I bring my funk chops to the table and love digging in with our bass player George Farmer and our first of two guitarists, Keith Robinson; especially when we play "Ball of Confusion.” My all time favorite song to play is “Just My Imagination.” Why? Simplicity. I love playing the side stick and sitting in the pocket. In fact, that’s what Keith calls me as a nick name, “Mr. Pocket.” That’s cool with me because all of the drummers I loved trying to emulate were pocket players. Drummers like Ed Greene (Barry White), Jonathan Moffett (The Jacksons), Harvey Mason and Larry Blackmon (Cameo) were just a few of the drummers I loved listening to in my formative years. I still feel Tony Williams is the greatest human being to ever pick up a pair of sticks, but that is a whole other column I’ll write about one day.
"...Choreographer, Sergio Trujillo pushed me to create some drum patterns to inspire him. It was one of those times during the creation of a new show where I had the chance to stretch out a little..."
I have fun with the Uriel Jones tracks because he was one of the favorite drummers of the producer Norman Whitfield at Motown. “Cloud Nine” is probably the most difficult song in the show, simply because it has a dance break in the middle that requires a lot of playing. During our out of town tryout in Berkeley, our Tony winning choreographer, Sergio Trujillo pushed me to create some drum patterns to inspire him. It was one of those times during the creation of a new show where I had the chance to stretch out a little and play off of the energy he and the other dancers were giving me. It was a pretty exciting time, and it shows during the dance break.
Clayton's on-stage setup for the Broadway production of Ain't Too Proud.
One of the simplest tunes to play, but one of the most satisfying ones is “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” It’s 99% hi-hat and lasts for quite some time near the end of Act II. It’s so simple yet so satisfying. Sometimes simplicity is the secret to success.
Paying attention to detail and trying to be authentic pays off. I made sure I did my best to emulate what I heard on the original recordings and apply as much of what I heard to the context of the show. There are times when you have to compromise some of the original material and adapt to the setting of a Broadway musical. I was fortunate to not have to water down the source material. One afternoon, I received a direct message in my inbox on Instagram from one of the greatest drummers of our time, Aaron Spears. He and his wife saw a matinee performance a few months ago and sent me a message. I was surprised because I never expected to hear from him. He said, “Both you and your drums sounded so freaking authentic man!! I really enjoyed everything!!” That meant a lot to me.
Hard work pays off. Paying attention to detail is part of the process. It all comes from putting in the work to study and learning from the past. I feel fortunate to be a part of this show and I truly enjoy playing this music. It’s timeless, just like the story of the Temptations.
Photo by Steve Singer
Clayton Craddock is an independent thinker, father of two beautiful children in New York City. He is the drummer of the hit Broadway musical Ain’t Too Proud.
He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from Howard University’s School of Business and is a 25 year veteran of the fast paced New York City music scene.
He has played drums in a number of hit Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals including Tick, Tick… BOOM!, Altar Boyz, Memphis The Musical, and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.
In addition, Clayton has worked on: Footloose, Motown The Musical, The Color Purple, Rent, Little Shop of Horrors, Evita, Cats, and Avenue Q.