A MOTOWN News Release, dated March 19, 1971, confirmed something that we had been hearing about for several weeks — namely that Eddie Kendricks, lead vocal tenor with the Temptations, was leaving the group to pursue a solo career. It went on to explain how the company was carrying out a search for a new Temptation but long before I got that far in the News-sheet, my mind was considering just how far the top R&B vocal group of all time could go without the man who has contributed more than anybody to its success.
It was a similar feeling to that which I encountered when David Ruffin left the group although, in truth, the group achieved even greater success without David. But, without Eddie? He has been the anchor for the group during its ten year existence; he has been the most successful lead singer over the whole decade and is the lead voice on the group's current million seller, "Just My Imagination".
The first question we posed to Eddie was just how and why the split occurred. "I'd rather make no statement if I can't tell the truth," was his canny reply. "All I can say is that it was through no fault of mine that I am now a solo artist and not with the group."
The fact that Eddie sings lead on the most recent single release suggests that it was a somewhat swift decision of his to leave the group.
When he recorded "Just My Imagination", he had no intention of leaving the group. He had heard rumours about leaving and had considered it but he always hoped that the situation would improve.
However, Eddie had only just previously recorded an album on his own. Was this an indication that he thought he would be leaving? "No", was the candid answer to that one. "I actually recorded the whole album before Christmas but I fully intended to remain with the group.
"I was dedicated to being a Temptation; I really lived the life of the group. But I was also aware of problems internally and I didn't want to have all of my eggs in one basket."
The album itself is preceeded by a single, "This Used To Be The Home Of Johnny Mae", which is now issued on Tamla in the States. "It was produced by Frank Wilson", Eddie informed us. "It's a concept album — you know, Blues, Rock, Standards, a little of everything. I'm not really satisfied with it because my mind was not really on what I was doing. The songs we cut were "Day One", "Johnny Mae" — which is the single — "Didn't We", "Can I", "I Did It All For You", "Something's Burning" and "It's So Hard For Me To Say Goodbye", which is the 'B' side to the single. The album is called "All By Myself" and it will be released next month, May."
So, the Temps will be seeking a replacement although the next album, due to be released quite soon and tentatively called either "All Directions" or "New Dimensions", will still feature Eddie as one of the lead voices. It will include "Just My Imagination", of course, along with "Gonna Keep On Tryin' Till I Win Your Love" and "Smilin' Faces". The album will be split between their psychesoul style and the smoothe style of "Imagination" and all of their pre- "Cloud Nine" hits.
[TOLD TO CUT DOWN]
The news came at a time when the world was speculating about the temporary replacement within the group of another founder member, Paul Williams. Paul has been told to cut down his road touring by his doctors because they cannot completely trace an illness that has plagued him for a year now. At this stage, it is uncertain as to when Paul will be back on the road with the group although he has permission to work in the studios with them.
Paul's place with the group has been taken by Richard Street, formerly lead voice with the Monitors and a cousin of Temptation Melvin Franklin. Short was with the Monitors between 1963 and 1968, when the group split up. Prior to becoming lead voice with the Monitors, he was a pianist whilst working at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. They enjoyed their main success with "Say You" on Motown's V.I.P. label in the mid-60's but were unable to really make it. The three male and one female members went their own way in 1969 and last year, Richard Street joined the Temps as first 'substitute'. Prior to being with the Monitors. Street also sang with Otis Miles/Williams before he joined the Temps.
As well as losing Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, the Temps will also be without the Posse, who have toured with the group for the past few months as support act. The Posse, who record in their own right for Janus Records, are managed by Eddie Kendricks. They have been replaced by the Swiss Movement, who are in turn managed by Melvin Franklin.
The whole situation seems strange to me and it is all clouded in dark smoke in rather the same way that the David Ruffin-Temptations split was. In that situation, nobody has actually got to the bottom of what happened and I feel that the same thing is happening here. Obviously the departure of Eddie is not under happy circumstances but one wonders why. On the face of things the Temps always seem to be a very tight group; but the departure of David Ruffin under very unhappy circumstances burst that bubble.
So, to the future. Eddie's first solo single is something of a disappointment. It's a ballad with a very good lyric line and would be a very good album track. However, bearing in mind that it was never intended to be a launch to his solo career, one cannot be too harsh. No doubt his next single and second album will be a tremendous improvement. Let's hope that Motown do not allow Eddie to sink into oblivion in the same way David Ruffin has done.
The Temptations now have Melvin Franklin as their backbone and he will be ably supported by Otis Miles, with Dennis Edwards presumably taking the lead even more frequently. They will obviously search for a replacement who is able to take over Eddie's role as first tenor since none of the remaining members of the group can even muster a semi-falsetto — especially Melvin! Hopefully, Paul Williams will return to the group in time but they cannot avoid changing to some degree.
In the meantime, "Just My Imagination" looks set to give the Temps their biggest selling single of all time. On reflection, maybe it's all just in my imagination, too.