American songwriter and producer Deke Richards died last week, aged 68. He had been suffering with oesophageal cancer.
Born Dennis Lussier in LA in 1944, Richards was the son of screenwriter Dane Lussier. In the 60s he performed as a guitarist with various bands before, in 1966, signing a deal with Motown as a songwriter and producer. Two years later he was teamed up with fellow songwriters R Dean Taylor, Frank Wilson and Pam Sawyer to write a song for The Supremes.
At the time The Supremes had been struggling, but the song Richards, Taylor, Wilson and Sawyer came up with, ‘Love Child’, became their first number one. The songwriting partnership was formalised and the team were given the name The Clan.
However, disputes over royalties brought The Clan to an abrupt end. Instead, Richards formed a new writing and production team in 1969 with Freddie Perren and Fonze Mizell, and later Motown boss Berry Gordy, going by the name The Corporation.
The Corporation’s breakthrough was ‘I Want You Back’, originally titled ‘I Wanna Be Free’, which had been intended for Gladys Knight And The Pips. However, when Richards saw the Jackson 5 perform live he decided he wanted to give it to them instead. He called Gordy to plead his case, but found Gordy had already had the same idea. The track became the Jacksons’ first number one hit, and their next two number ones – ‘ABC’ and ‘The Love You Save’ – also came from the Corporation team.
Richards also wrote on his own, his biggest success being another with Diana Ross, as post-Supremes solo singer, with ‘I’m Still Waiting’, a number one for her in 1970.
Richards left Motown in 1975, and in recent years had concentrated on a business selling vintage movie posters, though he had been involved with a number of Motown reissue and compilation projects.
Richards died at the Whatcom Hospice House in Bellingham, Washington on 24 Mar. He is survived by his wife, Joan Lussier, and brother, Dane Lussier Jr.