Keeper of The Castle- A tribute to Levi Stubbs

root - Posted on 08 March 2009

by Tony Robles/PNN

Live it down

There’s a lot of us been pushed around

Red, yellow, black, white and brown

With a tear of their own

Can’t you see
While you’re pickin’ on society

That the leaves on your family tree

Are calling you to come home

"Keeper of the Castle"--The Four Tops

I remember sitting in my father’s chocolate colored Cutlass in 1972. Dad was a young father—handsome, a sharp dresser and a guy that didn’t take any crap—especially from his son. He owned what seemed to be 10 thousand record albums. We drove to my aunt’s house on 12th Ave when I heard the Four Tops’ “Keeper of the Castle” on the car radio (KDIA, "Lucky 13"). The song was about fatherhood: You’re the keeper of the Castle/So be a father to your children/The provider of all their daily needs/Like a sovereign lord protector/Be their destiny’s director/and they’ll do well to follow where you lead. I can't forget the powerful voice of Levi Stubbs on that record--a voice that told fathers to handle their business. My father had that album. The song meant something to him.

Program Director “JJ” of San Francisco’s KPOO (89.5 fm/www.Kpoo.Com) announced the death of Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs at age 72 during his afternoon show on October 17th . I was in my girlfriend’s beat up Volvo station wagon affectionately known as the “Hooptie Volvo” heading down Divisadero Street with a couple of Filipino poets when the news hit me. JJ dedicated his show to the memory of Levi Stubbs by playing “Baby I need your loving”. The poets were silent.

Levi Stubbs possessed one of the greatest voices of all time. When I reflect back on growing up, I always think of the music of the time. The music was truly the soundtrack of the poverty and indigenous scholarship I was blessed to have as a child. I would come home from school and my father would be listening to his record albums. Black music—jazz, rhythm and blues—was what he listened to. Without it I don’t know if my uncles or aunts—Filipinos with black/brown hearts, bellies, minds—would have survived.

Levi Stubbs was born Levi Stubbles in Detroit in 1936—the cousin of legendary R&B singer Jackie Wilson ( He and a group of friends formed The Four Aims in 1954—changing their name to the Four Tops in 1956. In 1963 the group signed with Motown Records. Levi Stubbs’ rich baritone was the lynchpin in a succession of hits that included, “Baby I need your lovin’”, “I can’t help myself”, “It’s the same old song”, “Reach out I’ll be there”, “Standing in the Shadows of love”, “Bernadette” and “Ain’t no woman like the one I’ve got”. The group’s longevity was amazing--performing 4 decades with all original members. The group was inducted into the Rock n Roll hall of fame in 1990.

Levi Stubbs and his wife Clineice were married in 1960 and stayed married until his death. He was the father of 5 children and grandfather of 11. His unforgettable voice was in demand and in 1986 he was the voice of Audrey II the carnivorous plant in the movie version of “Little Shop of Horrors” and the voice of “Mother Brain” in the animated TV series “Captain N: The Game Master in 1989. In 1995 Levi Stubbs was diagnosed with cancer, followed by a stroke. He stopped touring and performing, making occasional appearances at special events.

As I drove down Divisadero in the Volvo, the voice of Levi Stubbs took me back to another place. I was no longer in a Volvo but in a Chocolate colored Cutlass with my father and, this time, driving him around. I’m asking him to talk story with me about being a Filipino boy in the Fillmore and to sing me his favorite songs. I can hear his voice and the voices of my aunts and uncles and the spirits of my elders as I listen to Levi Stubbs' incredible and beautiful voice. He’s the keeper of the castle.


Sign-up for POOR email!