Sunday, October 7, 2007
HONORING A TALENTED AND SWEET TEMPTATION
BY Ra SHAWN CHISOLM
Eddie Kendricks won the hearts of millions with his school boy charm, pretty boy looks, and sweet and smooth tenor voice that helped him become a legend. As a member of The Temptations, his falsetto helped the group score classic hits with “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” “Get Ready” and “Just My Imagination,” but he fared better as a solo artist conquering the Disco scene and earning more fans, and recognition. Sadly lung cancer robbed the world of this talented man, and this article highlights his career and contribution to music history. Kendricks was born on December 17, 1939 in Union Alabama to John and Lee Belle Kendrick as one of five children, and like many Blacks living in the south, he grew up singing Gospel music in church, and eating southern cuisine, including corn bread, which was his favorite food, and would later become his nickname. A few years after moving to Birmingham, he became friends with his next door neighbor Paul Williams, a talented singer and dancer who would encourage Kendricks to pursue a career in music, and seeing that the south didn’t have many opportunities for aspiring singers at that time, he decided to move with Paul to Cleveland, Ohio, where they formed their first group The Calaivers. A few years later, they moved to Detroit Michigan and met with Kell Osborne, and formed The Primes who would perform at record hops and talent shows with a sister group The Primates (later to become The Supremes), often sharing the bill with Otis Williams & The Distants, who admired them for their singing and chorography. In 1961, Kendricks and Paul joined forces with Otis, Melvin Franklin and Eldrige Bryant and became The Elgins and signed with songwriter Berry Gordy’s fledging label Motown Records, but after learning there was another group using the name, they became The Temptations and released their first singles “Dream Come True." before embarking on their first tour, with Kendricks coordinating their wardrobe. “Eddie always dressed beautifully” Otis wrote in his autobiography “Temptations” “He had a knack for picking out sharp colors and cuts that looked hip yet classy, so he began putting together our stage uniforms.” In 1963, the group was still struggling to get a hit record, which made Bryant drink heavily and cause problems with in the group, and he was replaced by David Ruffin, whose raspy vocals and stage performances gave the group an edge. In January 1964, the group teamed with Smokey Robinson who co-wrote their breakthrough hit “The Way You Do The Things You Do” which peaked at # 11 on the Pop charts and became one of many classics to feature Eddie’s trademark tenor vocals. The following year, the group scored their first # 1 hit with the classic “My Girl,” which featured Ruffin’s powerful and dramatic vocals, which would be featured on the follow up singles “My Baby” and “It’s Growing.” but wanting to balance the group’s lead vocal performances, Robinson wrote and produced the Eddie led hit “Get Ready” while the group recorded “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” with Norman Whitfield. To satisfy both producers, Gordy decided to release “Get Ready” but told him if the single didn’t reach the top ten, Whitfield would have the next release. “Get Ready” only reached # 29, while the latter peaked at # 13, allowing Whitfield to have a long run of hits with the group, including “You’re My Everything” co-written with their guitarist Cornelius Grant and Roger Penzabenze. “I had just come off the road” Grant said in the liner notes of The Temptations Get Ready: The Definitive Collection” And I was telling Roger, ’Man you need to write a song for Eddie because those girls really flip over this guy when he’s singing. We need to write a love song, something that he can directly to those girls that would just make them wet in their pants.’ By 1968, the group would undergo some personal and musical changes; Ruffin’s ego and drug use forced him to be replaced by Dennis Edwards of the Contours, who Eddie recommended after seeing him perform at the Howard Theatre. They also began performing Psychedelic Soul music, which consisted of the group sharing lead vocals, and singing social conscious lyrics about the ghetto, Vietnam War, and politics, staring with “Cloud Nine” which earned them Motown’s first Grammy award, “Runaway Child, Running Wild, “Pscydelic Shack,” and “Ball of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)” They also scored their second top charter with the love song “I Can’t Get Next To You” which featured a stiff legged dance routine inspired by Kendricks’ kids as well as recorded two hit television shows and albums with The Supremes with the single “I’m Going to Make You Love Me” with Eddie sharing lead vocals with Diana Ross, hitting number two. Though Eddie was living his childhood dreams, he was growing unhappy with his professional career and his personal life. He grew tired of seeing Psychedelic Soul. He was also trying to deal with Paul’s heavy drinking and failing health, and he felt that Motown was cheating the group out of money. He also wanted to record a solo album while remaining with the group, but after his request was denied, he decided to leave. “I’ve never, ever wanted to leave the group,” Kendricks said in the Billboard Book of Number One Hits. “I never thought about leaving. The only reason I left because I wasn’t allowed to record on my own. His mother agrees. “When I talked to him about it, he ‘Momma, let me handle it’ she said in the liner notes of the group’s boxed set “Emperors of Soul” “He hated having to choose.” Eddie didn’t leave his group hanging; he left them with “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” which has been dubbed as one of Motown’s prettiest ballads, and captures Kendricks’ best vocal performance to date, topping both the Pop and R&B charts and selling over two million copies. The group recruited Damon Harris to fill his spot while Kendricks began his solo career recording two albums that didn’t produce any hits, but his single “Girl You Need a Chance of Mind” became a hit with the Women’s liberation movement and in New York Discos, but his career came to a temporary halt after learning that his childhood friend and band mate Paul (who was suffering from sickle cell anemia, alcoholism and depression from being forced to retire from performing) had committed suicide in Detroit. After taking time off to mourn, Eddie linked up with producer Frank Wilson who co-wrote and produced his classic hit “Keep On Truckin’” which ignited his career. Not only did it top the Pop & R&B charts, it was also named the first disco recording and did well with in the Country market as well. He also scored with “Boogie Down,” and “My Friend.” After leaving Motown, he recorded for Arista and Atlantic Records, but didn‘t have any further hits due to the demise of Disco, and Kendricks' voice becoming weak due to his chain smoking cigarettes. In 1982, both Eddie and David rejoined the Temptations for a reunion album and tour, and scored a top ten hit with “Standing On The Top” written and produced by Rick James who had Kendricks sing in a lower range. The sold out tour had gotten off to a good start with hopes of both rejoining the group on a permeate basis, which unfortunately didn’t happen due to Ruffin’s behavior and Kendricks‘ mistrust of Motown. In 1985, Kendricks and Ruffin performed with singing duo Daryl Hall & John Oates at Live Aid, and at the reopening of The Apollo Theatre, where their live recording of “They Way You Do The Things You Do” and “My Girl” hit # 20 and earned them a deal with RCA Records where they scored a top twenty R&B hit. On January, 18, 1989, The Temptations were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where Eddie accepted both his and Paul’s awards, and while the guests were happy to see the group onstage accepting that honor, no one would have guest that it would be the last time they would share the stage. Eddie and David did some tours with former label mates Mary Wells and Martha Reeves before joining Edwards and performing as the Former Leads of The Temptations which came to a halt in June 1991 after Ruffin died from a drug overdose. Five months later, Kendricks was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent surgery to have his infected lung removed, and gave up smoking. “I’ll never smoke another cigarette as long as I live” he told reporters shortly after his surgery. He visited high schools to encourage kids from smoking and continued touring, playing the US, Europe and Japan before entering the hospital for the final time, where he made peace with God and Otis, who wrote about how they cracked jokes with each other. “I love you Eddie, but you are one crazy one boy!” Otis wrote. “Well it takes one to know one!” he shot back and we both laughed. Then he explained to me that he had made his peace and that he felt ready to make the transition.” On Monday, October 5, 1992, Eddie died, and his funeral was held in a Baptist church in Ensley, Alabama attended by his parents, siblings, children and the Temptations who celebrated his life. Shortly after his death, singer Bobby Womack coordinated two benefit concerts to raise money for Eddie’s family and three children Aika, Paul and Parris while Jimi Dougans, the music director of his touring band the Young Senators formed the Eddie Kendricks memorial foundation in Washington DC, which tells youth the dangers of smoking cigarettes as well as provide inner city youth with opportunities to develop their music talents. In 1998, actor/singer Terron Brooks won wave reviews portraying Eddie in the award winning mini-series “The Temptations” while rappers and singer Lil’Kim, Mr. Cheeks and Jennifer Lopez each sampled “Keep On Truckin’” for their singles “Who’s Number One,” “Lights, Camera Action” and “Do It Well” while Talib Kweli and singer Bilal sampled “Can I’ for their single “Talk To You (Lil’ Darlin’).” In 2006, The Temptations platinum selling DVD “Get Ready” was released, giving fans a chance to see Kendricks‘ classic performances with the group, including “Just My Imagination“ on the Ed Sullivan show, (which was the only time he performed the classic on television before leaving two months later). Eddie Kendricks left an impressive mark on the music industry, paving the way for many singers who pattern themselves after him, and, though he’s been gone, his music continues to have fans trucking to the dance floor and the bedroom.