Motown songwriter, producer and arranger Deke Richards, who logged his biggest successes with the Jackson 5 and the Supremes in the ’60s and ’70s, died on March 24 in Bellingham, Wash., after suffering from esophageal cancer. He was 68.
A member of Motown hitmaker groups the Clan and the Corporation, Richards co-wrote the breakout Jackson 5 singles “I Want You Back,” “ABC” and “The Love You Save,” as well as hits for the Supremes, Diana Ross and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.
Born Dennis Lussier in Los Angeles, Richards was making a living as a session guitarist when he was spotted by Motown head Berry Gordy backing up Debbie Dean, and signed a producing contract with the label in 1966. He landed his first hit when he co-wrote the Supremes single “Love Child” in 1968 with songwriter-producer group the Clan, which arose to fill the void left by the departure of hitmaking triad Holland-Dozier-Holland.
The Clan was short-lived, but subsequent group the Corporation – featuring Richards, Gordy, Alphonso “Fonce” Mizell and Freddie Perren – proved a worthy follow-up. The group found its ideal artists in new signings the Jackson 5, and the kiddie group’s first three Corporation-produced singles all topped the charts in 1970.
Richards notched his first solo songwriting success that year via Diana Ross’ “I’m Still Waiting” – a modest hit Stateside but a chart-topper in the U.K. – and continued writing for the Jacksons with the Corporation, with “Mama’s Pearl,” “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Goin’ Back to Indiana” all enjoying various degrees of success. The group was also responsible for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ “Bless You” in 1971.
Later in the 1970s, Richards worked as a songwriting collaborator with Graham Parker and Black Oak Arkansas, and was purportedly initially hired to produce Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” album, but left before the start of production.
He is survived by wife Joan Lussier, a brother and two nephews.