Eddie Kendricks
Born: 12-17-1939 Died: 10-5-1992
(
lung cancer)
     Eddie was born in Union Springs, Alabama deep in the heart of the south. Growing up in nearby Birmingham, Eddie longed to leave the repressive south with its racism and bigotry.
With high school friend Paul Williams he moved to Cleveland, Ohio and there they formed their first group,
The Cavaliers. After that group disbanded Kendricks and Williams performed
as solo artists, appearing in concert with dancer Caledonia Young. Personal manager Milton Jenkins brought Eddie and Paul to Detroit, where they formed
The Primes and eventually
merged with another of Jenkins' groups,
The Distants, to form the unit that would evolve into The Temptations.
    By 1961 they were ready to audition for up & coming producer Berry Gordy. The group was offered a contract right on the spot, however they wouldn't have their first hit for a few
years. Meanwhile, the group worked hard on their singing, their moves, and their look. The group began recording on a regular basis with either Paul or Eddie leading on all the early
songs, but none of the 1962 singles did much, including the unique
"Dream Come True," and "Paradise."
    In early 1964 the group recorded a Smokey Robinson penned tune with Eddie on lead.
"The Way You Do The Things You Do" was perfect for Kendricks velvety voice, it shot to #-11
on the pop charts and became their first major hit. Over the next several years Eddie and David Ruffin would alternate lead vocals. David sang their first #-1 hit
"My Girl" in 1965, but it
was Eddie who turned in the memorable tracks like
"Get Ready" and "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)." And it was always Eddie's tender voice that stood out from such
hits as
"Cloud Nine," "I Can't Get Next To You" and "Ball Of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today)."
    Despite their success, tension was building within the group. Paul Williams was losing himself in alcohol, Ruffin sometimes in something worse. Ruffin was dismissed in the summer of 1968 and many say that Eddie was
never quite the same after that. Eddie changed, upset with the attitude of the group members, he formed an alliance with David outside the group. In the late 1960's, times were changing and so was producer Norman
Whitfield's material. Eddie still preferred the harmonious love songs and wanted to do some of his own material separate from the group. The group said no, and Eddie became even more dissatisfied. At an important
engagement at The Copa in 1970, Eddie, disgruntled, walked out after the first show, and it was decided, mutually, that it was time for him to leave the group. And so he did, leaving them with one of their all-time
biggest hits. In February of 1971, on the wings of his swan song, the gossamer ballad
"Just My Imagination," Eddie Kendricks officially quit The Temptations. The song hung at #-1 for two weeks, but by that time, Eddie
was already gone.
    Eddie had wasted no time in preparing for a solo career. Eddie moved to the Tamla Records label after already having hits on the Gordy label with
The Temptations and on Motown with Diana Ross & The Supremes
("I'm Gonna Make You Love Me.") His first release was the 1971 album "All By Myself" which featured testimonials from all The Temptations on the back cover to show that there was no hard feelings. The albums' singles,
the significantly titled
"It's So Hard For Me To Say Goodbye" and "This Used To Be The Home Of Johnnie Mae" failed to scorch the charts but were no less masterpieces.
    Eddie's sophomore release cemented his stature as a solo artist and made disco history. Eddie sitting on a African throne, draped in a tux, and holding a spear graces the cover of
"People... Hold On." The title track is
one of Motown's most adventurous recordings with Eddie; everything from African drums, a strong social message, and unorthodox backing chants make the track a winner. Eddie switches from his natural tenor to falsetto
as easily as shifting gears in a Corvette. The dreamy samba
"Date With The Rain" was a favorite at the blossoming club scenes in New York, L.A. and Chicago. But the real treat was the song that many cite as the first
"disco" track, "Girl You Need A Change Of Mind." Clocking in at over 7 and a half minutes it is without a doubt the earliest and longest record known to be a hit in the clubs. The break midway through the song was the
first of its kind giving dancers a real workout. Producer Frank Wilson set the stage for Eddie's sound and future hits with his studio entourage, The Young Senators and their bold instrumentation.
    By 1973 and his third solo album,
"Eddie Kendricks," he had changed managers and suddenly found his career in high gear. Eddie and producer Frank Wilson saw his club potential and focused on what made it work. The
next release was another nearly eight minute masterpiece.
"Keep On Truckin' " was one of those songs that struck a nerve across the board, it had dancers bumping and yet was well crafted enough to withstand heavy
radio rotation. The 7" 45 had the song split into two parts and it still stood up. Entering the charts it took an eleven week climb to hit #-1 on Billboard's Top 40 where it stayed for 2 weeks.
    1974's
"Boogie Down" is his fourth solo album and shows that Kendricks had attained a mature and tasteful musical niche independent of his former group. Despite the title, "Boogie Down" is an equal mix of dance and
ballad material. Following the lead of Kendricks' #-1 single,
"Keep On Truckin'," producers Frank Wilson and Leonard Caston again found more like-minded tracks for Kendricks to do his trademark dance steps to. The title
track soared to #-2 on Billboard's Top 40 and was yet another early club favorite. Songs like
"The Thin Man" and "Son Of A Sagittarius" are no doubt aimed at early discos and aren't exactly poetry. Kendricks' treatment on
the ballads makes this a well rounded effort though. The poignant
"Honey Brown" and the affecting "You Are The Melody Of My Life" display his skill at simply living the lyrics. "Girl Of My Dreams" succeeds despite the
shamefully overwrought '50s-style pop arrangement.
"Boogie Down" cut for cut stands as one of Kendricks' strongest albums.
    His next album,
"For You" seemed more of a let down after the highly successful previous releases. Once again his main attention came from the late night party people who quickly adapted his version of "Shoeshine
Boy."
While for some odd reason he chose to cover "If"  and "Time In A Bottle" which were better left to the originals. The album pretty much lacks any heart and soul and perhaps mirrors the turmoil and changes
Kendricks was experiencing in his personal life.  
    1975's
"Hit Man" didn't live up to its title; in fact, it sold so poorly that Motown shipped Eddie to Philadelphia to record his next two albums under the auspices of Norman Harris and his Harris Machine. Kathy Wakefield
co-wrote most of the tracks with either Leonard Caston or Frank Wilson. One she didn't write,
"Skipping Work Today," is the best song on the album; Eddie croons the daydream about calling off from work in a soft airy
falsetto that's simply delicious.
"Get The Cream Off The Top" is veiled eroticism, written by Eddie and Brian Holland; it's not one of their best, but managed to climb onto the R&B charts. Wakefield's best song, "Happy,"
also charted, but would have been a B-side or remained an album cut on Eddie's earlier and stronger albums. The rest of the songs are C-minuses. Motown's idea to ship Kendricks to Philadelphia paid off with his 1976
release
"He's A Friend." The first of two singles was the title track. An inspirational number with a disco flair showing praise to the Almighty without ever mentioning the word God. It scooted its was to #-2 on the
Billboard R&B charts; holding that position for three consecutive weeks. The second release was the Caribbean flavored
"Get It While It's Hot." This joyous, bouncy number features some passionate female background
vocals. It slipped into the top 30 at #-24. No album fillers here. The production, arranging and the savvy vocals of Eddie make this one marvelous album and a great rebound.
     Eddie's second stint with Norman Harris and the Harris Machine builds on the excitement created by
"He's A Friend." 1976's "Goin' Up In Smoke" was a terrific club hit that brought him back to the floors of the now
worldly disco set. The second single
"Born Again" was not as lucky and never even hit the charts. "Thanks For The Memories," with its enthusiastic male chorus and clavinet ending, sounds like a hit and should have been
the follow-up. The mid tempo shuffler
"To You From Me" deserves recognition as does the albums only ballad "The Newness Is Gone." This was obviously Eddie's last album of original recordings for Motown. 1977's "Slick"
...wasn't. All but two of the compositions are by Leonard Caston, who's also credited as producer; Eddie ceased working with Caston two years prior to the release of
"Slick." Norman Harris produced his two previous
albums in Philadelphia; these tracks are obvious rejects from earlier sessions with Caston.
     In 1978 Eddie signed with Clive Davis' Arista Records. The contract brought two albums and a handful of disco tracks.
"Vintage '78" contained the double-sided 12" hit "Ain't No Smoke Without Fire" and "Whip." It also
contained
"How's Your Love Life Baby" a track that would be a big club hit the following year for Jackie Moore. 1979's "Something More" was totally out of step with pop and disco music in 1979. Most of the songs are
bland and unmemorable. A decent cut, a remake of
"I Just Want To Be The One In Your Life," wouldn't have made the cut on previous Kendricks albums. The up-tempo, disco oriented "I Never Used To Dance," lacks the
beat and rhythms that enhanced his Motown recordings. A big problem here is that the producers don't require Kendricks to reach for notes like Motown did, and his vocals sound lazy and uninspiring.
"Pleasure Man" is
simply dull, as is the title cut. As the decade ended, so too did his tenure with Arista.
    He signed to Atlantic Records in 1981 for
"Love Keys" and the label didn't exactly roll out the red carpet for him. Unfortunately by the time this was recorded, Kendricks was well on the way to losing his voice. Although
he still had his warm phrasing and tone, the vocals often became shaky — a fact made even more clear on his less than stellar efforts. The album comprised of ballads and R&B downers came and went without much
fanfare. His last album was 1983's
"I've Got My Eyes On You" for his own Ms. Dixie label. With the S.O.S. Band supplying the music, it ranks better than his last two LPs at Motown, and tops anything he waxed for Arista. Still
a commercial failure, the producers have no reason to hang their heads — this is good Kendricks material. Following this album, things dropped off quite a bit and the 1980's wouldn't be very kind to Eddie. Following the
1982 reunion tour with
The Temptations, he would find himself ignored by the record industry because it was rumored that he'd lost his voice. Adding to his problems, he would be in and out of court with ex-wife
Patricia. At the time, Kendricks was living between Atlanta, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama. In Atlanta, he had his own record label, Ms. Dixie Records, a small independent company, but it would fold within a short
time.
    In the early 1980's, Eddie would do mostly benefits and some free concerts, with Mary Wells and Martha Reeves, and play clubs and nostalgia shows. In 1985, Kendricks was on stage at the Premier Center, sharing the bill
with Mary Wilson, who was then fronting a group of Supremes. David Ruffin had come to see the performance, and Eddie invited him on stage. Less than a year later there would be a hot Kendrick-Ruffin tour. The duo
would appear at The Apollo Theater with Hall & Oates, then at the biggest international music event in history, Live-Aid, and would be featured vocalists in the anti-apartheid
"Sun City" record and video. The two would
do an album together for RCA in 1987, called
"Ruffin and Kendrick." (Sometime in the early 1980's Eddie had dropped the "s" from his last name). The duo of Ruffin and Kendrick would tour for the next couple of years,
until their 1989
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction along with four other Temptations. It was there that they got to talking with Dennis Edwards and the duo became a trio. The three would form a tight bond and would
tour and record together. In early October of 1989, the trio, calling themselves Ruffin, Kendrick, Edwards, Former Leads of The Temptations, appeared on the Regis & Kathy Lee show to promote their latest album and
tour,
"Get It While It's Hot." (David was somehow absent from this album, but not the promotional tour that followed).
    In 1991, Ruffin, Kendrick, and Edwards would produce a video, a real treasure for their fans, in association with Street Gold Productions. The video would become a tribute to David Ruffin when he died unexpectedly,
and later, Dennis Edwards would be left to wrap things up, when Eddie would succumb to the cancer that had ravaged him for over a year. Eddie Kendrick, the tender falsetto, the sweetest and silkiest of tenors, who had
given us so much enjoyment, was gone at 52.