Although Temperton made his name in American R&B, he was born in Lincolnshire in England. His father didn’t read him bedtime stories. Instead he stuck a transistor radio in his crib. As a result, Pemberton’s interest in music began at a early age. Temperton played drums in his early bands, but after high school he went to work in a frozen food factory and played music on a part-time basis.
That didn’t last long. Temperton was born to be a musician, and before long he was playing full-time in a series of bands. In 1974 he responded to an ad placed by Johnnie Wilder in Melody Maker, and that led to him becoming a member of Heatwave. At the time the band was playing cover songs, but Temperton was writing his own songs, and wanted to play them. Among the songs were two that turned into smash hits for Heatwave in 1977. “Boogie Nights” soared all the way to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the gentle ballad “Always and Forever” reached #18. Both songs were included on Heatwave’s debut album, Too Hot To Handle.
“Always and Forever” stood out because it didn’t fit into to Heatwave’s predominantly disco repertoire. Wilder handled the lead vocal on the single, which was released on Epic Records in the U.S. and GTO in the U.K., where the band remained based. The record was a platinum hit, and became the standard slow dance song at many a high school prom. Heatwave followed up their success with a second album, Central Heating, 1977. Once again Temperton contributed most of the material.
He was a songwriter at heart though, and Temperton wanted to focus on that, so in 1978 he left Heatwave. In the meantime, Temperton’s work in Heatwave had some to the attention of Quincy Jones, and his engineer Bruce Swedien.
“Holy cow! I simply loved Rod’s musical feeling – everything about it – Rod’s arrangements, his tunes, his songs – was exceedingly hip,” Swedien recalled.
When Quincy Jones calls, you answer, and that’s how Temperton got the job of writing songs for Michael Jackson’s upcoming album. Temperton contributed three songs to Off the Wall, including “Rock With You,” which was the first #1 single from the album. Thriller was up next, and once again, Temperton contributed three songs, including the title track, which was an international smash.
Jackson wasn’t Temperton’s only client. He wrote hits like “Stomp” for the Brothers Johnson, “Give Me the Night” for George Benson, and “Baby Come to Me” for Patti Austin and James Ingram. Donna Summer and Herbie Hancock were among the other artists who recorded Pemberton songs.
In 1986 Temperton received an Academy Award nomination for the song “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister)” from The Color Purple, which he wrote with Jones and Lionel Richie. That seem year Pemberton wrote the score, and five songs, for the film Running Scared. Two of those songs, “Sweet Freedom” (Michael McDonald), and “Man Size Love” (Klymaxx) were hits.
Rod Temperton died at the end of September after a battle with cancer. He was 66 years-old at the time of his death.