The legendary soul and R&B group will perform musical hits that have kept them at the top of the industry for more than 50 years on Friday at Bell Auditorium.
People often use the word "living legend" loosely, but the O'Jays have earned the title with a career spanning more than five decades, 24 Top Ten hits and 59 charted songs, including international hits such as Back Stabbers, For The Love of Money, Darlin' Darlin' Baby, Love Train, I Love Music, Use Ta Be My Girl and Have You Had Your Love Today .
The O'Jays, which still have two original members -- Walter Williams Sr. and Eddie Levert Sr. -- have won numerous awards, including an American Music Award and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
Their music seems timeless as their songs remain a part of popular American culture. For the Love of Money is the theme song to Donald Trump's reality TV show The Apprentice , and Love Train is in commercials for Coors Light, Williams said during a phone interview from Las Vegas.
In an industry that has seen so many artists come and go, Williams said the key to the O'Jays' longevity has been their connection with fans, which now includes three generations.
"Being down to earth with the people. Having that kind of rapport. The way we perform has a lot to do with the energy that comes from the crowd. Our choreographer told us years ago, it's great to have a hit record, but to have a hit act is a lot better. You last a lot longer," Williams said.
He also credits the songs they've done over the years, such as For the Love of Money, Family Reunion and Back Stabbers , which are "relative to people's everyday lives." Fans can identify with their love songs and music with social commentary, he said.
"When you go out and perform them, I think you establish a friendship and a rapport with the people who come to see it and enjoy it," Williams said.
Williams and Levert are lifelong friends. They met when Williams was 6 and Levert was 7.
"He's like my brother. We get along. We don't get along. We have our differences of opinion, but that's a part of the glue that keeps us together. We were smart enough to get a mediator when we don't get along," Williams said.
The O'Jays have had several members over the years. Eric Nolan Grant, the newest addition, has been a member for 16 years.
"Eric is a hard worker. We all have a great love for the business, especially the entertaining part of the business. That's special. I think that's what drives us to entertain people, see them come to concerts and help them to forget their troubles for that 75 to 80 minutes that we're on stage," he said.
THE O'JAYS learned their greatest lessons in showmanship from the late Cholly Adkins, their choreographer for more than 30 years.
"He was very good at what he did. He was the best I've ever worked with," Williams said.
Because of their intense training, dancing is second nature to the O'Jays. It's sometimes easier to remember choreography than the lyrics to songs. Williams admits there are occasions when he has been on stage in mid-song and has forgotten the words.
"Use Ta Be My Girl is the biggest problem with any song I've ever had because there is no real pattern. It just starts up and goes straight ahead, and should I forget any part of that song, I am totally lost. It does happen, and I think it makes a better performer out of you when it does. You have to collect yourself and go ahead and do what you're supposed to do," Williams said.
His favorite songs remain Love Train and Stairway to Heaven . Love Train has brought the group phenomenal success, he said.
"That was a great song from the very beginning. It was released and sold 2 million in two weeks. We haven't had a song like that again," Williams said.
Williams said there are a handful of current acts that he considers to be sensational, such as Beyonce and Usher, but he doesn't think that most people "put a real value on performance these days."
He's also seen tremendous changes in the music business. Until the late 1970s and early 1980s, the faces of black artists were not printed on album covers. Companies would print artwork instead, which prevented consumers from associating a face with the music, he said.
"Thank God it changed because it opened up a whole new world," Williams said.
The O'Jays are working on a book and hope to see a television or feature film about their lives.
"The problem is, (our image) is kind of squeaky clean, and that was always one of our policies. If you get into any kind of trouble that brings negativity to the group, then you're out of here. We've always tried to maintain a great image. That doesn't sell, unfortunately. You need drama. So far, we haven't really been able to sell that clean story," he said.
The O'Jays are grateful for their loyal fans.
"We love them, and we appreciate that they have loved and supported us. It doesn't get any better than that," he said.