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An interview with


Written by Heikki Suosalo

Photos by Junco Fujita

Throughout their history the Temptations are known for their magnificent lead singers, and among their rasping baritones there are three above others  others – David Ruffin, Dennis Edwards and Ali Ollie Woodson. Now after singing over twelve years with the group and after doing numerous guest appearances on other artists' albums Ali Ollie has finally released his first solo CD, Right Here All Along (Expansion, XECD 33/Ollywood Records).

This 14-tracker (68 min!) took a long time to hit the market. ”I think it took five years, actually, in Ralph Tee (of Expansion Records) first searching for me. Then they found the gentleman that located me in twenty-four hours, Mr. Andreas Hellingh” (

Four production units have worked on the album with Sanchez Harley and Ali Ollie kicking off with a truly touching cover of a Jim Weatherly co-written beautiful ballad, Turn Out The Stars. ”Sanchez Harley is a gospel writer and producer. He's been in the gospel field for a lot of years. I first met him back in the early 80s in the ASCAP writers convention.”

Their second collaboration on producing is a beaty and hooky slowie called Whatever It Takes, which, however, is overshadowed by one of the highlights of the album, an over six-minute, dead-slow and utterly soulful cover of the '60 Shirelles hit, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. ”It was my idea to cover it. I initially did the arrangement a few years back and I was to record it along with Millie Jackson, but that didn't work out, so I just held on to it. I always had faith in it, and we put it on this album. People are loving it.” Indeed, on the cover of her '89 album, Back To The S--t!, Millie writes: ”Special Thanks to Ali Woodson. Dear Ali, I stole your idea, so what. F---it!” ”That's the same arrangement I did then and what you hear on the album today.” The above three songs with Sanchez were all recorded in '93 in Nashville, Tennessee, while all the other tracks were cut a little later in California.”

Of the three songs produced and partially written by Al McKay, Wyman Brown and Keith Rice, Angel and Down The Line are touching slowies, whereas Love's Not All invites you to dance. As a guitarist we know Al McKay from the Earth, Wind & Fire fame. ”Al produced the album Truly For You, which had a hit record, Treat Her Like A Lady, on it, and we've known each other ever since then. He has always wanted to do a couple of projects on me, and finally we had a chance to do now a couple of things, which we added to the album. Al McKay session come like '93 – '94.”

Philip French and Tim Carmon produced their self-written, atmospheric ballad titled Deeper Love. ”Philip is a saxophonist that I've known from Washington, D.C. He played a couple of gigs with me. He went to Los Angeles, where he had a recording session and he wanted me to cut demo on the song. He was planning to release it on his new album. We got together, did it and it turned out to be so great that I put it on my album.”

The other half of the repertoire include one catchy stepper (Believe That), two mid-paced floaters (Drama In The Bedroom, Power Of A Woman) and four soulful and vocally impressive ballads (Never Give Up, Love Is Slipping Away, Get Next To You and Right Here All Along). Two of them – Get Next To You and Never Give Up – were written by the man himself. ”On my American CD I put as the bonus track another song I've written, My Na Na. I have a lot of other own songs, but I have to save them for the next album.” You can find Ali's American CD on Ollywood Records on his web-site (, but please visit also the excellent Japanese web-site at Ali Ollie names those two songs of his along with Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and Drama In The Bedroom his favourites on the CD. ”Drama In The Bedroom seems to be the one that's making most of noise. Power Of A Woman would be a great follow-up single.”

The above seven songs were all produced and five of them written by Preston Glass. ”I was introduced to Preston by a former manager. We have a great relationship. He's a good guy, a good writer, a great producer and I trust him wholeheartedly. He's written some great things on the album and some of the stuff he's written will probably be out also on the next album. Now we're going to see what this one does first. Those Preston Glass songs were recorded in the latter part of the 90s. There really wasn't an outlet for the CD earlier, because the record companies were aiming more at hip-hop or rap and artists like myself got lost in the shuffle. But our music still lives. It still bites over here.”


Ollie Cregget was born on September 12, 1951, so he recently turned fifty. He then adopted his father's surname, Woodson, and at the age of nine he was named Ali due to his mother's Muslim belief. Ali Ollie was born in Detroit. ”My grandmother lived in Town Creek in Alabama, so we always spent every summer there.”

Growing up with church music, at the age of eight Ali Ollie moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he gradually got more and more interested in secular sounds, too, and grew to like such artists as David Ruffin, Paul Williams, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. ”While I was in Milwaukee I sang with Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds. I did a few things with them, when I was like eleven-twelve years old. At that time Harvey Scales had a song out called Glamour Girl (on Cuca Records). I wasn't on any of their recordings. I also entered talent shows and won the ones I entered. I just kept pursuing it. My dream was to be a recording artist, and I happened to be at the right place at the right time as I grew.” Ali Ollie's daughter, Lateasha, also became a prominent figure in business, starting out as a child model and dancer and then developing into a recording artist (on Rawsome and Motown).

From the age of thirteen till seventeen Ali Ollie mostly stayed in Alabama with his grandparents, then joined the army and returned to Alabama in the early 70s. ”In Alabama I hooked up with Jerry Weaver and we formed a group, Gravy Train Express, in '71. We did a lot of recordings, but nothing was ever released. We worked with people like Roscoe Robinson and Frederick Knight in Birmingham, Alabama. I played the drum part on Frederick's hit, I've Been Lonely For So Long” (in '72).

After one short-lived band Ali Ollie joined Bill Pinkney & the Drifters in '72, where besides singing he also played drums and piano. ”I was with them for five years, but we didn't record anything, although after I left the Drifters for a year I was in Augusta, Georgia, working at a recording studio and recording a lot of soundalikes of the hits of the day. I would do soundalikes of Al Green, the Chi-Lites and different people like that. I also worked with James Brown’s people in a band called the Swinging Dukes.”


Next Ali Ollie applied for the lead singer of the Temptations for the first time. ”It really wasn't an audition. I came out there to join the group, because I heard Dennis Edwards was leaving the group, but at the time they were going through a lot of problems with Motown Records. Dennis Edwards was leaving the group for a solo career, and it was a lot of chaos over there – and they were leaving Motown Records for Atlantic Records – so instead they hired Louis Price” (in '77).

In 1977 Ali Ollie joined The Blue Notes for two years. This wasn't Harold Melvin's group anymore and this happened after Teddy Pendergrass had left. ”The actual first recording my voice is on would be Disco Explosion (by the Blue Notes on Fantasy in '78 – ed.). Louis Price and I wrote it over the telephone at the time I recorded it. I also did the b-side, a disco version of the old Temptations song called All I Need” (from '67).

”As soon as I left the Blue Notes, I moved to New York City, was driving Limousines and getting my writing together. That's when I wrote the songs Treat Her Like A Lady, Touch Me and Magic. After that I felt the need to get back on the road, sing some more and that's when I left New York for Atlanta, Georgia. I put a band together and started back working, singing and writing more. That went on till '83, when the Tempts came into town and sought me up.”

Ali Ollie replaced Dennis Edwards in the Temptations and was leading on the last song that was cut for their '83 Back To Basics album, funky Stop The World Right Here (I Wanna Get Off). On the next album, Truly For You ('84), Ali Ollie handles lead on five songs and he co-wrote the biggest hit for the group in nine years, Treat Her Like A Lady. On Touch Me ('85) he has six leads and he wrote one (Magic) and co-wrote with Otis Williams three songs (Givehersomeattention, Touch Me and Oh Lover). ”I wrote but the music, both lyrics and the melody and did the arranging. To Be Continued was the last song I wrote for the Temptations.”


To Be Continued appeared on the next album by the same name in '86, and Ali also had a hand in writing the closing track, Love Me Right. He leads on six songs, including the ever-beautiful hit, Lady Soul, the spiritual Someone and the title tune to a movie called A Fine Mess.

Together with Ali Ollie the group appeared on other releases, too, including Budweiser Concert Hour ('85) together with the Four Tops, the 25th Anniversary compilation in '86 (Treat Her Like A Lady), a song called It’s Time To Stop Shoppin’ Around on Smokey Robinson's '87 album titled One Heartbeat and on The Return Of Bruno (in '87). ”That was when the Tempts got together with Bruce Willis to sing the song Under The Boardwalk.”

In 1987 Ali Ollie alone contributed to the Former Ladies Of Supremes song, We're Back, and co-wrote the title song for the Controllers album, For The Love Of My Woman. ”I put the melody together and Ron Tyson did the lyrics.”

In 1989 Ali Ollie for the second time replaced Dennis Edwards in the Temptations. ”They rehired Dennis Edwards. Then they had to get rid of Dennis again, and they called me back into the group, because they had to finish up their obligations in Las Vegas and because of Dennis not showing up the only way they could do the job was with me.”

On their '89 Special album Ali Ollie leads on every song and especially excels on the majestic gospelly slowie, Soul To Soul. On Milestone ('91) – the 50th album in the Temptations' career – Ali Ollie does lead on nine songs out of eleven, including the mini-hit, Hoops Of Fire. The '94 compilation called Emperors Of Soul features four fresh tracks – all led by Ali Ollie – with Error Of Our Ways being one of them.

Again the Temptations together with Ali Ollie participated in many outside projects. On a children compilation, Garfield / Am I Cool Or What ('91), they do Shake Your Paw, on Gerardo's Mo' Ritmo ('91) they sing The Groove Remains The Same and they earned a hit for Rod Stewart with The Motown Song in '91. ”I think Felix Cavaliere from the group Rascals was part of the production on that song. Rod did his part of the song over in Europe, they sent the tracks to us in America and we did our part. We got a lot of success out of that.” On Motown Comes Home ('94) they hit gospel with Broken Pieces and Come By Here (Kum Ba Ya), on A Tribute To Berry Gordy ('95) they revive Do You Love Me and Dream Come True and finally on a soundtrack for a comedy called Big Bully ('95) they do A Toast To My Friend (A Tribute To Melvin Franklin).

Ali Ollie did projects for other companies on his own, too. On March On, a tribute compilation to Martin Luther King ('93), he joins Patti Austin and other singers on a song simply called Martin. Ali Ollie had worked with Patti already in the early 80s during her Razzamatazz days. The Martin song was produced by Sanchez Harley, with whom Ali Ollie did his first eight-song demo cassette already in '93 and whose production work can now be enjoyed on the new CD.

Ali Ollie is featured on two albums by a critically acclaimed session guitarist, Paul Jackson, Jr. – River In The Desert ('93) and Never Alone: Duets ('96). ”Paul Jackson is a good friend of mine. Ollie E. Brown is the producer. When Paul was doing his latter album, People Get Ready required lead vocals. On the first album I recorded the original demo to Heaven Must Be Like This. They ended up having Glenn Jones on the song and me on the background.”

On a compilation called Spirit Traveler by David T. Walker, James Gadson etc. ('94) Ali Ollie appears on four songs – I Love You (which he also wrote), Ain't That Peculiar, Ooo Baby Baby and Merry Christmas Baby.


On his final album with the Temptations, For Lovers Only ('95), Ali Ollie takes lead on five standards – Some Enchanted Evening, At Last, Life Is But A Dream, I'm Glad There Is You and That's Why (I Love You So). By this time there were two new members in the group, Theo Peoples and Ray Davies. ”Richard Street left, and that's when Theo Peoples came in – a great singer, a great writer, a good kid. I really love him. Ray Davies is a great friend of mine. Then Ray Davies got sick. He was diagnosed of cancer in his lungs. Later on Ray had a surgery and he recovered from that and now he's doing fine.”

As a solo artist again Ali Ollie first visited on the 5th Dimension come-back album, In The House ('95). ”They did a special rendition of a song by Stevie Wonder, All In Love Is Fair, and they had a lot of people singing on the background and they brought me in as one of the background singers.”

On Bill Pinkney & The Original Drifters' '95 album, Peace In The Valley, Ali Ollie sings True Love (Ali is Pinkney's godson), and on the Nuflavor '97 album he does an ad-lib part on Soul To Soul.

On Juanita Dailey's album Free ('98) Ali Ollie duets on the familiar song called Your Precious Love. ”That was through Norman Connors. At the time I was working with his band doing some solo stuff, and he brought her in with the idea of us recording that song.”

A jazz guitarist and composer called Doc Powell released an album titled I Claim The Victory in '99 with three songs delivered by Ali Ollie – I Just Wanna Know You, I Claim The Victory and Victory Praise Dance. ”He was doing that album for our church, to finance the building of our new church, and he called me to do a couple of songs on that. I also recorded on Doc Powell's latest album called Life Changes ('01). I recorded an old Eddie Kendricks song, Tell Her Love Has Felt The Need (from '74), and For The Soul In You.”

Although uncredited, Ali Ollie worked also on Bobby Womack's '99 album, Back To My Roots. ”I did all the music for two songs on it. I cut the tracks for those songs, Nearer My God To Thee and Ease My Troubled Mind.”

Ali's next stop is by an album titled B2K: Prophetic Songs Of Promise by William Becton (in 2000). ”William did a remake of a sequel to a song he had recorded seven years prior called Be Encouraged – now called Still Encouraged. While we were there we did a couple of other songs, Bigger and In Him.”

On a soundtrack called Down 'N Dirty (in 2000) Ali Ollie leads on two cuts, My Best Friend and Vow.Preston Glass and Fred Pittman were the writers and producers on that.” Also through Preston and Fred, Ali Ollie did a duet on a (Rhapsody) movie song called Just Like That with Freda Payne on her recent Come See About Me album ('01). Finally there's a fresh Al McKay album, Al Dente ('01), on which Ali Ollie is involved in as many as five songs (September, Evil, It's Only Love, Love's Holiday and You Owe It All To Love).

Besides Japan, where Ali Ollie is hugely popular, he has in recent years toured many other countries – at times even with some ex-Tempts members. ”We went to South Africa with Dennis Edwards along with the Manhattans. That was in March 1998. Also Richard Street was touring with me. I was asked by a promoter in Germany by the name of George Leitner to put a group together and come over there, because they were needing to hear the Temptations, and he couldn't track the other Temptations. At the time he owned the right to the name 'The Temptations Review'. Dennis Edwards was going to do the gig, but his manager was kinda hard to deal with and George didn't want to deal with him any more. By me being one of the lead singers for thirteen years he asked me to put the group together and come over. I called Richard and got him out of the retirement, added some more guys (Willie Green, Perry Moore, Chris Arnold – ed.) and put the group together. It turned out to be great, and we're still doing it today. We're now talking about me coming to London and I should be coming to Germany in March.”

Ali Ollie, who today resides in Woodland Hills, California, has during his career played lead on such plays as Sugar Daddy, Love The One You're With, Fake Friends and Sneaky, and he has been instrumental in creating musical scores for such films as A Fine Mess and The Last Dragon. ”Now my plans are to promote the album, to do whatever movies come up. Right now I'm doing a gospel musical and I'm working with my group, The Emperors Of Soul a.k.a. The Temptations Review, and I'm doing solo shows.”

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