You Say It's Your Birthday: The Commodores' Ronald LaPread

Today is the birthday of Commodores bassist and trumpeter Ronald

LaPread, who was born in Alabama 48 years ago. Although the Commodores

began as a band interested in funky party sounds, they won the hearts of

fans with their R&B classics, led by vocalist Lionel Richie. The original

members of the Commodores -- LaPread, Richie, keyboardist Milan Williams,

drummer Walter "Clyde" Orange, horn player William King Jr. and guitarist

Thomas McClary -- met as freshman at the Tuskegee Institute. Although

almost none of them had any professional experience, they dubbed themselves

the Mystics and started singing wherever they could. Soon they changed

names to the Commodores, picking the word at random from a dictionary.

The band packed up and moved to Harlem, New York, where their gear

was promptly stolen. Unshaken, the sextet found a manager and a record

deal, releasing their debut, Caught in the Act in 1975. It, like

its two successors, was driven by a hard, funky sound -- once described as

"black music's answer to heavy metal." Early hits included "Slippery When

Wet," "Fancy Dancer" and "Machine Gun." The band appeared in Thank God

It's Friday in 1978, just as their sound was slipping toward an R&B

groove. Richie-penned songs like "Three Times a Lady" were the order of

the day, but already Richie was beginning to pursue outside interests,

including some solo work. He left the group in 1982.

Not long after, LaPread followed; in 1986 he followed Richie and

McClary, leaving Orange, King and latecomer James Dean Nicholas behind.

The band has continued to release albums, mostly greatest-hits packages

with Orange and Nicholas on all vocals.

Other birthdays: Kurtis Kahleel (Mantronix), 32; Gene Parsons (Byrds), 55;

Merald Knight (Gladys Knight & The Pips), 55; Martin Chambers

(Pretenders), 46 and Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), 37.