One of this year’s highlights, for me anyway, was getting back to the cinema after all the lockdowns. I genuinely love going to the pictures and getting two hours or so away from the world.
Phone off and silence if you please.
One film in particular that was a joy to get back for was ‘Summer of Soul’ the documentary of the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969, which if you’ve not seen it on the big screen, I implore you to get to, wherever you can find it.
Among the amazing array of talent on view during the film, it was great to see David Ruffin doing his thing and looking good up there. Seeing him, reminded me of the group that he had left not that long before the festival, namely of course, the marvellous Temptations.
‘The Temps’ formed from a couple of vocal groups who were battling it out regularly in and around the area of Detroit, Michigan in the mid to late 1950s. Founder members Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams were raised in church together in Birmingham Alabama and were singing Doo Wop in a line up called The Cavaliers by their teenage years. Looking to break into the music business, they had left home and landed in Detroit, and were soon to become The Primes. A female version calling themselves The Primettes, would go on to do quite well. Step forward, The Supremes.
Also landing in the Detroit area around that time, was the Texan youngster Otis Williams who sang in a group called The Siberians, alongside Elbridge ‘Al’ Bryant, who were then joined by Melvin Franklin as they underwent another name change this time to The El Domingoes. At best, they achieved local fame with small time record releases, but nothing more.
Then a certain Berry Gordy came calling and offered Otis a deal , subject to an audition, with his fledgling Motown Records. After more musical chairs, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, ‘Al’ Bryant, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams joined forces and became The Elgins when they performed in front of Gordy in March 1961.
It was then that it came to everyone’s notice, The Elgins name was already in use, so they became The Temptations, releasing records on the Miracle label at first, before moving onto Gordy Records. With Eddie on lead vocals , they charted in 1962 with ‘(You’re My) Dream Come True’ but further success continued to evade them. Tensions began to rise within the group, partly due to the lack of success and Bryant left the group, after an altercation with Paul Williams.
As luck would have it, they had a ready-made replacement waiting in the wings, in David Ruffin, younger brother of Motown singer Jimmy. He was ready for the call, being already known to the group having sung with them previously. So, finally they now had the ‘classic five’ line up, complete with dance steps by Cholly Atkins, with assistance from Paul Williams. By April 1964 they also had a pop top 20 hit with ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do.’
Smokey Robinson admired the gruff vocal of Ruffin and delivered to the band ‘My Girl’ in the Autumn of the same year and that was a number one pop hit by March 1965. A string of great songs then followed, with the likes of ‘Its Growing’ ‘Get Ready’ ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Beg’ ‘ Beauty is Only Skin Deep ‘ I Know I’m Losing You ‘ ‘You’re my Everything’ and ‘I Wish it Would Rain.’
As many of you reading this now will know, there is some great footage of the band in their prime on YouTube, and it’s great reminding yourself from time to time, just how good they were. I also loved seeing, during the research for this, the ‘four headed microphone’ set up, designed I believe by Ruffin. You need to check that out if you’ve not seen it.
Off stage ego dramas were now becoming a regular thing, with the success having gone to Ruffin’s head. He now travelled separately from the rest of the group and it is said he wanted a name change to David Ruffin and the Temptations. His heavy use of drugs were seen as a contributing factor to all this and when he started to miss band appointments, meetings, rehearsals and even gigs, the other group members joined forces and fired him from the line-up.
Ex Contours member Dennis Edwards got the replacement call. After a faltering start, with Ruffin doing his best to get back in the line-up , Edwards eventually settled in nicely and soon a collaboration with The Supremes resulted in ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ becoming a huge hit.
Producer and writer Norman Whitfield gradually developed a new ‘heavier’ sound for the group around 1968/69 perhaps reflecting the era, with ‘Cloud Nine’ hitting big and picking up on the ‘psych-soul’ sound of the Sly and The Family Stone / Curtis Mayfield prevailing vibe. ‘Psychedelic Shack’ ‘Can’t Get Next to You’ and ‘Ball of Confusion’ are all fondly remembered from this period . The Temps also sung the original version of ‘War’ on their Psychedelic Shack’ album, which later of course, became a huge hit for Edwin Starr.
There then followed a darker period. Paul Williams descended into alcoholism through the combination of ill health – he suffered from sickle cell anaemia – and the bands constant work schedule, and he was gradually replaced by Richard Street. Eddie Kendrick was struggling with the new direction the group had taken and he had also raised financial concerns with the Motown management . This basically led to his leaving the line-up after Otis Williams and Melvyn Franklin took the side of Motown. He left on a high however, when his final single with the group, the string-laden ‘Just My Imagination’ became a massive hit.
Perhaps as a result, he moved on to a solo deal with the Tamla label. So, a much changed line up carried on, with Damon Harris taking the Kendricks spot and 1972 saw the mighty 12 minute ‘Papa Was a Rollin Stone’ drop onto turntables.
Sadly, Williams died aged 34 in 1973, from gunshot wounds, with his death deemed as suicide and, in truth, the glory years were over for the band in general. They left Motown for Atlantic and the resulting story, despite one or two bright spots, is one of failed reunions, sackings, new faces and ever more infighting.
As mentioned, they occasionally flickered brightly again, as with the Old Kent Road favourite of the 1980s, ‘Treat Her Like a Lady’ and Daryl Hall and John Oates inducting them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, with the various past and current members turning up and somehow getting on.
For the originals, the game was up however. David Ruffin died from a cocaine overdose in 1991 aged just 50. Eddie Kendricks died in 1992 from lung cancer aged just 52 and Melvyn Franklin died, also aged 52 in 1995.
Later, The Temptations received a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2013, with the children of Ruffin, Williams, Franklin and Kendricks joining Otis Williams and Dennis Edwards in picking up the six Grammy’s.
In 2018, Dennis passed on aged 74. On a brighter note, that year also saw the Broadway premiere of the jukebox musical ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Beg’ which highlighted the career of The Temptations in word and song.
The last man standing through it all is Otis Williams, now the owner of the Temptation name. He announced recently, that The Temptations will record once the pandemic is over.
‘I wouldn’t change anything. God put us here for a reason, and we’re still here years later. The only thing I’m saddened by is that the four brothers who started this with me are no longer here. The Temptations music is so lasting that even when we are no longer here, it’ll still be loved.’
Hard to argue with that.
The Mumper of SE5
THE SPEAKEASY VOLUME 1
THE SPEAKEASY Volume One by Mark Baxter (The Mumper)
Illustrations by Lewis Wharton
Foreword by Gary Crowley
We sold out of the 1st print in just 3 days however the 2nd print is in production.
Available to PRE ORDER here
ART GALLERY CLOTHING
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