Deke Richards, the songwriter who led the Motown writing and production team The Corporation, died on Sunday from esophageal cancer. He was 68.
Richards was planning on following the the footsteps of his screenwriter father when, at the age of 12, he heard Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel. That was the end of film and the beginning of a music career.
Late in his teen years, Richards began playing in a series of L.A. based bands and, through his association with singer Debbie Dean, had the chance to sing one of his songs for Motown head Berry Gordy. Gordy was impressed and signed him immediately to a producer/writer spot at the label.
Richards’ first major success came in mid-1968 when the Motown team of Holland-Dozier-Holland quit in a contract dispute. With the major songwriting team for the label gone, Gordy quickly brought together Deke, Frank Wilson, R. Dean Taylor and Pam Sawyer to fill the gap. The writers produced Love Child which went to number 1 for Diana Ross and the Supremes along with the followup single I’m Living in Shame.
The new team, buoyed by their new success, followed in the Holland-Dozier-Holland footsteps and began negotiating for better money. Gordy broke the group up and Richards went on to team with college friends Freddie Perren and Fonce Mizell who, along with Gordy himself, would become The Corporation.
The four-person team turned out hit-after-hit for the newly found Jackson 5 including I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save. Mama’s Pearl, Sugar Daddy and Maybe Tomorrow. Gordy kept a very tight reign on the songwriters, always billing them as The Corporation to avoid their breaking out into household names the way his previous duo did (that policy was reversed years later).
The Corporation broke up in 1972 and Richards went on to work with other artists and ran the companies west coast office. He left Motown in 1973 and eventually went back to his family “business”, becoming a seller of movie posters and memorabilia. Still, he occasionally returned to music including his final project, producing eight archive tracks for the Hip-O release 50th Anniversary: The Singles 1962-1972 by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.
He is survived by his wife, Joan.