TIR 54: Thomas McClary Zooms In for Commodores Close-Up

Thomas McClary is pictured far right.


Brought to you by FUNKNSTUFF.NET and hosted by Scott Goldfine — musicologist and author of “Everything Is on THE ONE: The First Guide of Funk” ― “TRUTH IN RHYTHM” is the interview show that gets DEEP into the pocket with contemporary music’s foremost masters of the groove.

Featured in TIR Episode 54 (three segments): Guitarist-singer-composer-producer Thomas McClary, a founder and leading creative force behind the Commodores, which was not just one of the best and most successful funk-R&B bands of the 1970s but by the end of that decade one of the biggest pop groups in the world. While it was lead singer Lionel Richie who would become the best known Commodore and a solo superstar, it was McClary who first recruited Richie during their college days at Alabama’s Tuskegee University and helped transform him into a frontman.

The pair joined with the other four principal members and signed to Motown Records in 1972, the self-contained band marking a departure for the Berry Gordy-founded Detroit label so famous for its assembly line-like factory approach of using lots of specialists to generate hits songs. Although it would not be until two years later when their debut album Machine Gun would drop, under the guidance of producer James Carmichael they hit the ground running as the album contained a pair of R&B hits in “I Feel Sanctified” and the title instrumental that continued to be in demand for television and film soundtracks.

The album was the first of five in a row that saw the Commodores progressing higher up the quality and stardom ladder with each successive release. Those next four LPs were 1975’s Caught in the Act, Movin’ On, Hot on the Tracks and the Commodores or Blue Album as many called it. Hits and timeless classics on those works included “Slippery When Wet,” “This Is Your Life,” “Sweet Love,” “Gimme My Mule,” “Fancy Dancer,” “Just to Be Close to You,” “High on Sunshine,” “Brick House,” “Easy,” “Zoom” and “Funky Situation.”

At this point the Commodores were a superstar act and they continued to score on the singles charts with songs like “Too Hot to Trot,” “Three Times a Lady,” “Just to Be Close to You,” “Sail On,” “Still,” “Old-Fashion Love,” “Lady (You Bring Me Up” and “Oh No.” By the time internal friction splintered the group in the early 1980s causing first Richie to go his separate way and shortly followed by McClary, the Commodores had amassed 16 top 40 pop hits, six top 20 pop albums and during one stretch notched four straight No. 1 R&B albums.

The Commodores created some of the 20th Century’s greatest and most enduring funk, soul and pop. McClary, who has billed himself as “The First Commodore” and released his autobiography called “Rock and Soul,” lays claim to being the architect of what he calls the group’s “signature sound.” Here, in an in depth and candid discussion, he talks about that sound as well as how the group was formed, rose to the height of fame, how the wheels came off and how despite some bitter infighting he continues to hold out hope of a reunion.

Plus, aside from the music, McClary is a fascinating figure and family man who recounts his experiences as a child being one of the first African-American students to integrate the Florida school system. He’s a smart, funny and highly engaging gentleman loaded with incredible stories. You have tuned in for an exceptional TRUTH IN RHYTHM.

Recorded April 2018