Deke Richards, Motown Songwriter and Producer, Dies at 68

Photo courtesy of Universal Music Enterprises
Deke Richards flanked by fellow Corporation songwriters Alphonzo Mizell, left, and Freddie Perren.

As part of "The Corporation," he wrote hits for The Jackson 5, Diana Ross & The Supremes and Martha Reeves & The Vandellas.

Deke Richards, a member of famed Motown songwriting, arranging and producing teams behind such hits as The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and Diana Ross & The Supremes' “Love Child,” has died. He was 68.

Richards, whose real name was Dennis Lussier, died Sunday at a hospice in Bellingham, Wash., after a battle with esophageal cancer, Universal Music Enterprises reported.

As leader of “The Corporation,” which also included Berry Gordy, Alphonzo Mizell and Freddie Perren, Richards wrote and produced many hits for The Jackson 5, including their first three singles, all of which hit No. 1 in 1970: “I Want You Back,” from the album Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5; “ABC,” which knocked The Beatles’ “Let It Be” out of the top spot; and “The Love You Save."

Earlier, as a member of “The Clan,” another hitmaking arm at Motown, Richards (with R. Dean Taylor, Frank Wilson and Pam Sawyer) wrote as their first song “Love Child” for Diana Ross & The Supremes. Released in September 1968, the song -- which tackled the controversial topic of illegitimate children -- eventually replaced The Beatles’ long-reigning “Hey Jude” at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

Richards’ résumé also includes “Mama’s Pearl,” “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Goin’ Back to Indiana” from The Jackson 5; Ross’ solo single “I’m Still Waiting”; and songs for Bobby Darin, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, Bonnie Bramlett and Ginette Reno.

Richards’ love of music kept him involved with a variety of projects throughout his life, including the production of The Jackson 5’s Come and Get It: The Rare Pearls, a 2012 release that featured rare and unreleased tracks.

His final project was the mixing of eight unreleased tracks by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas for the box set 50th Anniversary: The Singles 1962-1972, to be released April 5.

A Los Angeles native, Richards played in a band that backed singer Debbie Dean, one of only a few white artists at Motown. He wrote a song for Dean, and the two met with Motown founder Gordy when The Supremes came to play the Hollywood Palace in 1966. Richards landed a producer-writer contract on the spot.

When Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland -- the writer-producers of dozens of Top 10 hits for The Supremes, The Four Tops and many others -- exited Motown in a dispute over royalties, Richards and rest of The Clan stepped in to produce "Love Child."

Richards’ father Dane Lussier was a Hollywood screenwriter (Dick Tracy vs. Cueball, The Pilgrim Lady, The Lady Wants Mink) who instilled a love of movies that inspired him to collect film memorabilia. He created, a vintage movie poster business.

Survivors include his wife of 26 years, Joan; his brother Dane; and nephews Chris and Cory.

A private family celebration is planned. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that people visit the HAL Awards site and help to sponsor a musical education.