Four Tops' Fakir salutes Levi Stubbs

DETROIT (Billboard) - Four Tops leader Abdul “Duke” Fakir called the late Levi Stubbs “one of the best singers in the world, period, of all time” and “a great man” in the first comments from the group’s camp since Stubbs died last Friday.

Fakir -- who started the Four Tops with Stubbs after the two met as high school students at a party on Detroit’s north side in 1954 -- told on Monday that the loss is “a big hurt” and was compounded by the Tops being out of town, performing in Jackpot, Nev., during the weekend.

“It was a fun engagement, but I didn’t really want to be there,” acknowledged Fakir, the sole surviving original member of the legendary Motown group. “I was hurting the whole time. I really wanted to just come back home, but we do not disappoint the fans. That was one of the hard weekends for me, though.”

Stubbs, who had been in poor health for some years due to cancer and strokes, died during his sleep at his Detroit home.

“I saw him about a week ago and he looked healthier. His face was fatter and he was smiling and he was in good spirits. I really thought he’d pull through longer than he did,” Fakir said.

Stubbs, who was the godfather to Fakir’s oldest child, will always be remembered for the voice that powered the Four Tops’ hits.

“He had such power,” Fakir said. “He had a baritone voice and a tenor range. He could do anything with his voice. He could take you anywhere with it. He could take you to a love scene. He could take you dancing. He could take a great old standard and make you feel like you’re right there in that song. Just an amazing voice, an amazing interpreter, an amazing man.”

Even more importantly, Fakir noted, Stubbs “was dedicated to us. He had many chances and many offers to be lured away into his own solo world, but he never wanted that. He said, ‘Man, all I really want to do is sing and take care of my family, and that’s what I’m doing, so all is well. Everything else that doesn’t include you guys, it doesn’t mean a thing to me.’ That kind of character and commitment is really hard to find these days.”

Fakir said that he and the current Tops -- Roquel Payton (son of original Top Laurence Payton, who died in 1997), former Temptations member Theo Peoples and Motown veteran Ronnie McNeir -- intend to continue performing to honor the Tops’ legacy.

“As long as people accept us delivering those songs as close to the original Four Tops as we can, we’ll do it,” he said. “There’ll never be another Levi. We don’t expect to replace a voice like that, or a personality like that. But we can keep singing his songs, ‘cause the world should always hear them.”