Rodney Lynn "Rod" Temperton (9 October 1949 – September/October 2016) was an English songwriter, record producer and musician. He initially made his mark as the keyboardist and main songwriter for the 1970s R&B, funk and disco band Heatwave, whose hit songs included "Boogie Nights" and "Always and Forever".
After being recruited by producer Quincy Jones, he wrote several internationally known songs performed by Michael Jackson, including "Thriller", "Off the Wall" and "Rock with You". He also wrote George Benson's hits "Give Me the Night" and "Love X Love", and Patti Austin and James Ingram's US number one duet "Baby, Come to Me", among many others.
Temperton wrote the soundtrack for Running Scared (1986 film).
Temperton won a Grammy Award in 1991 for his work on "Birdland", from Quincy Jones's album Back on the Block.
Temperton was born in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, on 9 October 1949. Interviewed for the BBC Radio 2 documentary "The Invisible Man: the Rod Temperton Story", Temperton said that he was a musician from an early age: "My father wasn't the kind of person who'd read you a story before you went off to sleep – he used to put a transistor radio in the crib, right on the pillow, and I'd go to sleep listening to Radio Luxembourg and I think that had an influence". Temperton attended De Aston Grammar School, Market Rasen and he formed a group for the school's music competitions. He was a drummer at this time. "I'd get in the living room with my snare drum and my cymbal and play along to the BBC test card, which was all kinds of music they'd be playing continuously." On leaving school he started working for Ross Frozen Foods in Grimsby, Lincolnshire.
He soon became a full-time musician as a keyboard player, and played in several dance bands. This took him to Worms in Germany. In 1974 he answered an advert in Melody Maker placed by Johnnie Wilder Jr. and as a result became a member of the funk and disco band, Heatwave, which Wilder was putting together at the time. "He was the first British guy that I had ever met personally. He spoke kind of funny but he had a good sense of humour and he was a very friendly guy. After meeting him and then seeing him play I kind of determined he was a good enough player and entertainer and I just knew he would fit in the group", said Wilder. Temperton played Wilder tunes he had been composing: "I was very interested because we were doing a lot of cover tunes – we weren't doing a lot of original material – I was really interested." The songs provided material for 1976's Too Hot to Handle including "Boogie Nights", which broke the band in Britain and the United States, and the ballad, "Always and Forever" – both tracks were million-sellers in the US.
Despite the slick American sound, Temperton's working surroundings were still far from glamorous. Alan Kirk, a Yorkshire musician with Jimmy James and the Vagabonds who toured with Heatwave in the mid 1970s remembered: "The Always and Forever track was written on a Wurlitzer piano at the side of a pile of pungent washing – sorry to disappoint all the romantics." And producer Barry Blue recalled: "He had a very small flat, so everything had to be done within one room and he had piles of washing, and had the T.V. on top of the organ. It was a nightmare (...) he had trams running outside (...) but he made it, he just absorbed himself in the music and Rod seemed to come up with these amazing songs". In 1977 Heatwave followed up the success of their first album with their second, Central Heating, Barry Blue again producing, and Temperton behind the majority of the songs. It included "The Groove Line", another international hit single. In 1978 Temperton decided to concentrate on writing and left Heatwave, though he continued to write for the band.
Songs written for Michael Jackson
Temperton's work attracted the attention of Quincy Jones, and he asked his engineer Bruce Swedien to check out the Heatwave album. "Holy cow! I simply loved Rod's musical feeling – everything about it – Rod's arrangements, his tunes, his songs – was exceedingly hip," recalled Swedien, also calling Temperton: "the most disciplined pop music composer I've ever met. When he comes to the studio, every musical detail is written down or accounted for in Rod's mind. He never stops until he feels confident that the music we're working on is able to stand on its own". In 1979, Temperton was recruited by Quincy Jones to write for what became Michael Jackson's first solo album in four years, and his first full-fledged solo release for Epic Records, entitled Off the Wall. Temperton wrote three songs for the album, including "Rock with You" which became the second US No. 1 single from the album.
In the early 1980s Temperton left Germany and moved to Beverly Hills, California. In 1982 Temperton wrote three songs, including the title track, for Jackson's next LP, Thriller, which became the biggest-selling album of all time. Temperton also wrote the spoken word section of the song for the actor Vincent Price. On coming up with the title Thriller, Temperton once said:
I went back to the hotel, wrote two or three hundred titles and came up with Midnight Man. The next morning I woke up and I just said this word. Something in my head just said, 'This is the title'. You could visualise it at the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as 'Thriller'.
Other songwriting successes
Temperton wrote successfully for other musicians, his hits including "Stomp!" for The Brothers Johnson, George Benson's "Give Me the Night", "Baby, Come to Me" for Patti Austin and James Ingram, "Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)" for Donna Summer, and "Yah Mo B There" for Ingram and Michael McDonald. He also wrote for Herbie Hancock, The Manhattan Transfer, Mica Paris, and many others.
In 1986 Temperton was nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar for "Miss Celie's Blues (Sister)," which he wrote with Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie for The Color Purple (1985). (Richie won the award for "Say You, Say Me", from White Nights.) He was also nominated for Best Original Score along with the 11 other composers, including Jones, who worked on The Color Purple's score.
Later in 1986 the buddy-cop action-comedy Running Scared was released, featuring five new songs written by Temperton, including "Sweet Freedom", performed by Michael McDonald, and "Man Size Love", performed by Klymaxx. Temperton also composed the film's score.
Personal life and death
On 5 October 2016, Temperton's death was announced after what was described by his music publisher as "a brief aggressive battle with cancer". Temperton had died at the age of 66 in London the previous week and his funeral had already taken place. The exact date of his death was not announced.
Temperton is survived by his wife Kathy. They had homes in Los Angeles, the south of France, Fiji, Switzerland and Kent in south east England.
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