Bruce Williamson: With the Temptations, Las Vegas entertainer finds a home in music history
by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud
As a child in Compton, Calif. — who relocated to Las Vegas at age 17 — Bruce Williamson Jr. had always known that his mother was grooming him for a life in the ministry, with an eye on the gospel stardom his inimitable voice would surely bring.
Although he never completely abandoned those roots in the church, Williamson’s trajectory was altered by a life-changing encounter with a late music industry insider — who set him on a path to become part of a soul music legacy, with a history stretching back more than a half-century.
“The incomparable Dave Wallace was my manager, mentor and dearest friend,” Williamson said. “He first introduced me to Ron Tyson of the Temptations, and described me as ‘the greatest singer he has ever heard.’ Ron took the time to hear me sing, started to groom me and tried for a decade to get me into the Temptations. [Founding member] Otis Williams was initially against me joining the group, because he thought I was too big and too young.”
Eventually, Williams accepted Williamson into the legendary group and, as Williamson sees it, joining the Temptations was more than a mere career boost; it was, he said, no less than a moment that made him a part of music history.
“After seven years as a Temptation I am still in awe, and I can remember the first time I performed with the group: at a millionaire’s private birthday party, on a small stage that was erected on his tennis courts,” Williamson recalled. “It was a beautiful house; Stevie Wonder’s house was right next door. There was a limited amount of room on the stage, and I could not play to the crowd as Otis wanted me to. So when we got off the stage, Otis was saying, ‘You have to work the crowd,’ and I tried to interrupt to tell him why I was having difficulties on the small stage. But soon I got the hint to just listen to his criticism. The next time we performed on stage together, I had enough room to work the crowd and the audience went crazy. When we went off stage Otis said, ‘That’s what I am talking about!’ and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.”
Life as a Temptation has taken Williamson around the world, but one momentous occasion stands out in his mind. “My favorite Temptation moment has to be when we visited the original Motown Record Corporation building in Detroit, which is now a museum. Otis Williams personally escorted me around the building, and told me personal stories of his time at Motown with the original members of the group. He recalled the time he and the group members had to stand outside the Motown building to come up with a name for the group. I will always treasure that time.”
Another top-of-mind memory arrived when Williamson was asked by the Temptations’ manager to sing a birthday song with the group, to be recorded on a CD for Motown founder Berry Gordy. That led to a face-to-face encounter with the legendary mogul that Williamson will never forget.
“When we were performing in Los Angeles at the Universal Amphitheatre, Berry Gordy came backstage after the show and our manager introduced me as the voice that sang him his happy birthday song,” Williamson recalled. “Mr. Gordy said, ‘Oh my God, that voice — that voice. You are so angelic.’ I went into shock, and immediately started acting like a big fan. I was already a fan, but the impact of having the man who changed musical history, Berry Gordy, give me such a compliment was more than I could take. It was fabulous.”
One of the realities of being a Temptation is the hectic touring schedule, but the occasional time off has afforded Williamson the opportunity to sing as one of the Las Vegas Ten Tenors in Aaron Arrington’s popular local production.
“It was wonderful singing with the Ten Tenors, and it was Aaron Arrington’s vision to bring all of our voices together,” he said. “The show sold out within just 12 days, and drew standing ovations. I sang gospel music and hope to keep in touch with all the Ten Tenors, including Ken Young and Earl Turner, who contributed to making the show such a fabulous success for Las Vegas.”
As for the possibility of new music from the Temptations, Williamson would only say, “Otis always has something up his sleeve — and there is no telling. So, until it comes to fruition, I will ride this train.”