A guitarist, singer, songwriter, and record producer best known as the co-founder and lead-guitarist of The Commodores.
On October 6, 1949, was born Thomas McClary; guitarist, singer, songwriter, and record producer best known as the co-founder and lead-guitarist of The Commodores.
As a student at Tuskegee, McClary met Lionel Richie in the registration line. The two became friends and in 1968 they began to put together a band which they called The Mystics. McClary played the lead guitar and, early on, shared in the lead vocals. The group played local gigs then added more members and changed their name to the Commodores. In 1972, McClary and the Commodores signed with Berry Gordy and Motown Records.
McClary spent 15 years as the lead guitarist for the Commodores while also participating in songwriting, producing, and lead-vocal duties. His guitar solo in the Commodores song "Easy" has been hailed as one of the best solo guitar performances of all time. While with the Commodores, McClary wrote two songs by himself, including "Cebu" and "Sexy Lady" (the latter he sings lead vocals on) and collaborated with Lionel Richie to write many more, including "Flying High", "Come Inside", "High On Sunshine", "Girl, I Think the World About You", "Midnight Magic", "12:01 A.M.", "Got To Be Together", "Wake Up Children", "Funny Feelings", "Heaven Knows", "Won't You Come Dance With Me", "Visions", "Hold On", and "Free".
Among the many songs McClary co-wrote with the Commodores as a group are, "Brick House", "Slippery When Wet", "I Feel Sanctified", "Too Hot ta Trot", "Ooo Woman You" (with Melissa Manchester, in which he also sang lead vocal)", "Welcome Home (with Bill Champlin), "You Don't Know That I Know", "Let's Get Started", "Time", "Captured", "Celebrate" (with Larry Davis and Harold Hudson), "Saturday Night" and "Keep On Taking Me Higher" (with Harold Hudson).
McClary's musical influence then moved outside of just The Commodores. From the "Endless Love" soundtrack, he co-wrote (with Lionel Richie) "Dreaming of You" which was performed by Richie and Diana Ross as well as Kenny Rogers' "Without You In My Life". Another was the track "Steam Room" off of "Jayne Kennedy's" "Complete Exercise Program". McClary co-wrote and produced multiple songs for the 1980s pop group "Klique's" album "Try It Out" (one of which was "Stop Dogging Me Around" which became the #1 song on the Black Contemporary Charts") and "Love Circles". McClary also co-wrote and produced four songs for bassist "Michael Henderson's" popular "Fickel" album.
After leaving the Commodores in 1984, McClary signed a solo contract with Motown and the following year released a solo album titled, Thomas McClary, which featured the popular single "Thin Walls" that climbed to #57 on the "Billboard R&B chart".
In 1986 McClary returned to Florida and turned to his Christian roots by becoming the music director of his church and forming a gospel music record label under which he released the 2008 album titled A Revolution Not a Revival. In 2014 McClary began recording and performing with the newly structured band called The Commodores featuring Thomas McClary.
Renowned for the R&B hits "Just to Be Close to You," "Easy," and "Brickhouse," to name but a few,Commodores were one of the top bands during their long tenure at Motown. The group is credited with seven number one songs and a host of other Top Ten hits on the Billboard charts, and their vast catalog includes more than 50 albums.
The members of Commodores, all of whom attended Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, came together as a result of two groups disbanding: the Mystics and the Jays. Initially formed to simply play music as a pastime and to meet girls, the lineup consisted of William King (trumpet), Thomas McClary (guitar), Ronald LaPread (bass), Walter "Clyde" Orange (drums), Lionel Richie (saxophone), and Milan Williams (keyboards). The members nearly went stir-crazy trying to pick a name for the group, but with no success. As a last resort, Orange gave King a dictionary and told him to pick a name -- that name was the Commodores. With Clyde Orange the only learned musician in the group, Commodores began spreading their music throughout their base, which included Tuskegee, Montgomery, and Birmingham, AL.
After success securing dates in their own backyard, the band ventured to New York City for a gig at Smalls Paradise. Told, in so many words by the club owner, that their sound was not happening, the self-contained band was nevertheless called back to the club to fill in for a last-minute cancellation. That night the Tuskegee alumni performed before a standing-room-only crowd -- most of which were friends and family of the band. Unaware of the planned crowd, the owner booked the band for two more weeks.
Commodores' long association with Motown began as a result of a tour opening for the Jackson 5. That opportunity occurred in 1971, when the group auditioned in New York City for an unknown yet high-profile gig. Two weeks later, they made their first appearance in the prized support slot, and didn't give it up for more than two years. Their excellent shows naturally led to a deal with Motown, and they debuted with the up-tempo instrumental dance cut "Machine Gun." Written by Milan Williams, its Top Ten outing gave the group immediate attention. It was followed by the Top 20 single "I Feel Sanctified," which led to their third single -- and first number one record -- in "Slippery When Wet." Inside of 17 weeks, the septet was rocking the airwaves with their brand of Southern funk, spiced with an animated vocal delivery courtesy of Lionel Richie and Clyde Orange.
In September of 1976, they released "Just to Be Close to You," their second number one single and a number seven pop hit. The Top Ten hit "Fancy Dancer" followed, and then came "Easy." Different from their other tunes, "Easy" was very serene and not nearly as soulful or funky as the band's other tunes. Nonetheless, it claimed the number one spot on the charts, and it paved the way for the style of ballads the group became known for. One exception to the ballad-heavy approach was "Brickhouse," the song that soon became the group's anthem. The arrangement and candid vocal lead by Clyde Orange was complemented by the evenly saturated percussive and rhythmic attack, and it cracked the Top Ten at number four. Two consecutive number one singles would follow: the dance cut "Too Hot ta Trot" and the placid number "Three Times a Lady." And then there was "Still," the last number one for the group with Richie as a member. In 1981, Richie recorded "Endless Love" with Diana Ross. The song peaked at number one for seven and nine weeks, respectively, on the Billboard R&B and pop charts. Its success was a prelude to what Richie enjoyed upon his 1982 exit from the group.
In the absence of Richie, the group promptly courted tenor J.D. Nicholas (formerly of Heatwave) and ended up recording their biggest hit. Penned by Clyde Orange, "Nightshift" paid tribute to the late soul singers Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. For four consecutive weeks it topped the charts, and it also won the group their only Grammy.
Commodores finally left Motown in 1985. Consequently, the group signed with Polydor the same year and had another swing at the Top Ten with "Goin' to the Bank." During the '90s, the band was reduced to a core of three: Orange, King, and Nicholas. The threesome were nearly as active as they'd ever been, performing around the world and managing their own label, Commodore Records.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
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