Richard was an original member and lead singer of the group the Distants. Other members included Elbridge Bryant, James "Pete" Crawford, Melvin Franklin, and Otis Williams. Johnnie Mae remembered their first meeting as if was yesterday.
"I was in the kitchen cooking and they just stopped at the window (singing). They came in and I started playing the piano - they sang harmony. I said, I'm going to record you guys."
Richard sang lead on the rocker "Come On". It was a local hit at the beginning of 1960 due to copious amounts of airplay from WJLB jock "Frantic Ernie" Durham. It was soon picked up by Warwick records, which also released a follow-up disc that has Albert Harrell replacing James Crawford.
On "Come On" you can also hear Albert Williams and the female voices of The Andantes, a trio that became Motown's key background singers and who sang on literally thousands of Detroit records. There's also the legendary Funk Brother James Jamerson playing bass and future Temptation's producer Norman Whitfield shaking his tambourine - which all contributes to a full sound that impressed Berry Gordy at Motown.
After the modest success of "Come On", the Distants followed up with Alright, backed with Open Your Heart, both led by Richard. It was this group that initially auditioned with Motown.
Around this time, Richard reached a crossroads in his musical career. Unsure of the group's fate with Berry Gordy and Motown, Richard's girlfriend informed him that she was pregnant. Feeling a sense of responsibility for his actions, Richard made the difficult decision to leave the group and get a full-time job to prepare for life as a father.
Over the next year, Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks joined Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin and Elbridge Bryant for a follow-up audition with Motown. The group was signed and went on to change their name to the Temptations.
Richard did not remain out of music for long. He subsequently learned that his girlfriend was in fact not pregnant. Many performers would have been devastated by the unfortunate circumstances of leaving his group only to watch them go on to be signed to a major recording contract. This was not in Richard's nature. He formed another set of Distants with Alphonso Galloway, James Weaver, Albert Harrell and a singer simply remembered as Johnny; cutting a song titled "Answer Me" (credited to future Temptations' producer Norman Whitfield) for a new label called Thelma.