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TheRootDC
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Posted at 11:36 AM ET, 10/20/2011

Hanging with The Temptations at the 50-year mark

Brian Summers was always handy with the needle.

He’d carefully take the arm, settle it softly into the groove of the vinyl and wait for the sweet Motown sound to emerge from the speakers.

As a high school freshman, with his first paycheck from flipping burgers at Hardee’s in Statesville, N.C., Summers purchased the 25th anniversary commemorative album of the Temptations.


Brian Summers, a Motown historian, poses for a photo outside Ben's Chili Bowl on October 18, 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post) (Ricky Carioti - WASHINGTON POST)
In college, Summers hosted a radio show called The Overnight Express with Mr. Motown. Along the way, he practiced Temptations steps, poring over liner notes and learning the history behind the music. His hobby was turning into something more.

He became a Motown ambassador, and travels to schools talking about literacy and teaching dance steps to kids. In 2007, he became the assistant road manger for the Temptations, who still perform 200 to 300 times a year. Most recently, Summers researched and co-wrote the liner notes for the 79-song compilation that will be released next week to commemorate the group’s first 50 years.

“From the time I was eight or nine, I learned to operate the stereo and be careful with the needle,” said Summers, now 40, and a Republican political consultant by trade. “My passion for history drove me to want to know more and more about the Temptations.”

Otis Williams is the only remaining original member of the group that formed in initially in 1961. Summers beams when he talks about the group and pulls from their sleeves the 45s and albums that are special to him. He carefully holds the edges to avoid smudges and new scratches. He loves talking about his time on the road.

He has his Temptations uniform, complete with the group’s trademark zip boots. On tour, he has been known to get carried away during a show.

“Brian gets in the wings and does all the steps through all the show while we are on stage,” said Joe Herndon, 62, who has been the Temptations bass singer for nine years. A native Washingtonian, Herndon has been singing since he was 13. Being a member of the famed group, he said, can be grueling because they travel so much. He has been around the world with the group a few times already.

The audience, Herndon said, makes it worthwhile.

“Anywhere we go, something happens in the audience that is remarkable,” Herndon said. “My Girl,” is a must at every performance. It’s typically the second to last song of the evening.

“Everyone is on their feet, young and old, black and white,” Herndon said. Once the show is over, it’s on to the next venue.

It’s during that travel time that Summers gets razzed for being the only Republican on the bus. He attended Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, founding a College Republicans chapter.

After college, he moved to the District and worked on the Hill, including a stint working for former North Carolina senator Jesse Helms, a fierce foe of affirmative action and a federal holiday for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He may not vote the way we like but he’s alright,” Herndon said.

The razzing stopped temporarily, Summers said, when President George W. Bush invited them to the White House in February 2008.

Politics goes out the window when they are talking about the music, and that’s why Summers loves being on the road with the group.

“It’s gets me away from politics,” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”

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