The Temptations

 The Temptations

 David Ruffin – circa 1967

 “It was hard times / I needed something to ease my troubled mind” – ’Cloud Nine’ (Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong)

The emergency room of a hospital is a busy place.  The emergency room of the Hospital at the University of Philadelphia, situated at 3400 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. is no exception to this rule.  The staff regularly deals with a parade of human misery.  This catalogue of woe includes drug overdoses.  So, in a way, the events that take place in the early hours of 1 June 1991 are a familiar story.  It’s one more drug overdose that has to be treated.  However, most such patients are not helped into the emergency room by the driver of their limousine.  David Ruffin, former lead singer of the African-American male vocal group The Temptations, is the newest patient at the Hospital of the University of Philadelphia.  Ruffin collapsed in a crack house.  His driver sped him to the hospital and brought him inside.  Despite the best efforts of the medical staff, Ruffin expires at 3.55 a.m.  He was 50 years old and had thirty thousand dollars in cash on his person.  David Ruffin’s death is later ruled to be due to an overdose of cocaine.

Although David Ruffin may be the best known member of The Temptations, he was not part of the group’s original line-up.  Perhaps the best place to start the story of The Temptations is with Otis Williams.

Otis Williams is born Otis Miles, Jr. on 30 October 1941 in Texarkana, Texas, U.S.A.  He will become known for his booming baritone voice, leading to him sometimes being called ‘Big Daddy’.  Otis is the child of an unmarried couple, Otis Miles and Hazel Louise Williams.  The couple separate shortly after the child is born.  Hazel Williams moves to Detroit, Michigan, leaving Otis to be raised in Texas by his grandmother.  “I had to listen to a lot of gospel singers,” he recalls.  When he is 10, Otis goes to live with his mother in Detroit.  Rock ‘n’ roll comes along in the mid-1950s and, as Otis puts it, “I was turned on to the secular music of the time – Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters, Billy Ward and his Dominoes.  Then I used to go and see the great rock ‘n’ roll shows at the Fox Theater [in Detroit].  The reaction to what The Cadillacs were doing – they were a vocal group – they had command of five thousand plus people at the Fox Theater.  And I said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ I was 14 or 15 years old at the time.  That was the start of it all.”

Otis Miles, Jr. adopts his mother’s surname for his stagename, becoming Otis Williams.  In 1958 he puts together his first vocal group, Otis Williams & The Siberians.  The line-up is: Otis Williams (vocals), Eldridge ‘Al’ Bryant (vocals), James ‘Pee-Wee’ Crawford (vocals), Vernon Plain (vocals) and Arthur Walton (vocals).  Only one of these boys is fated to join Otis Williams in The Temptations: Elbridge ‘Al’ Bryant (28 September 1939 – 26 October 1975).  Otis Williams & The Siberians record only one single, ‘Pecos Kid’, in 1958.

In 1959 Otis Williams & The Siberians transform into Otis Williams & The Distants.  In the process, only Otis Williams and Al Bryant are retained.  They are joined by Melvin Franklin (vocals), Richard Street (vocals) and Albert ‘Mooch’ Harrell.  Only Melvin Franklin will go forward with Otis Williams and Al Bryant into The Temptations – though Richard Street will join The Temptations in later years.

Melvin Franklin (12 October 1942 – 23 February 1995) is born David Melvin Franklin in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S.A.  His mother is Rose English.  His biological father is a preacher.  The child is the result of non-consensual sex.  Rose English goes on to marry Willard Franklin and move to Detroit.  In similar fashion to Otis Williams, Melvin stays with his grandmother until he is 10.  Melvin then goes to Detroit to live with his mother and stepfather.  Taking an interest in singing groups, Melvin Franklin becomes a bass vocalist.

Otis Williams & The Distants release two singles, both on Northern Records.  The songs are ‘Come On’ in 1959 and ‘Open Your Heart’ in 1960.  Neither of them is very successful.  They are credited to The Distants – without Otis Williams taking top billing.

Otis Williams checks out the competition around Detroit.  One act that impresses him is a vocal trio called The Primes.  The three members are Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams (no relation to Otis Williams) and Kell Osborne.  Two of them – Eddie Kendricks and Paul Wiliams – will become part of the founding line-up of The Temptations.

Eddie Kendricks (17 December 1939 – 5 October 1992) is born Edward James Kendrick (without the ‘s’) in Union Springs, Alabama, U.S.A.  He is the son of Johnny and Lee Bell Kendrick.  Eddie has a sister, Patricia, and three brothers: Charles, Robert and Clarence.  Eddie Kendricks – as he will become known – is nicknamed ‘Cornbread’ because of his fondness for this item of ‘soul food’ popular in the African-American community in the southern United States.  (Cornbread is made from cornmeal rather than the wheat flour used in more traditional bread.)  Eddie possesses a high, falsetto voice.  In the late 1940s, he and his family move to Birmingham, Alabama, and there he meets Paul Williams when they both sing in a church choir.

Paul Williams (2 July 1939 – 17 August 1973) is born in Birmingham, Alabama.  He is the son of Rufus and Sophia Williams.  Rufus Williams is a gospel singer, so Paul follows in his father’s footsteps.  As well as singing in the church choir with Eddie Kendricks, the two boys attend the same elementary school.  Paul Williams not only sings; he has a gift for dancing.  It is Paul Williams who choreographs the dance steps for which The Temptations will become justly renowned.

Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams move to Cleveland, Ohio, in search of fame and fortune as singers.  In 1955, they join forces with local singers as a vocal group called The Cavaliers.  The other members are Kell Osborne (12 March 1939 – 29 January 2012) and Wiley Waller.  In 1957 Wiley Waller drops out of the act, leaving The Cavaliers a trio.  Informed of the thriving music scene in Detroit, The Cavaliers decamp to that locale in 1959.

In Detroit, The Cavaliers change their name to The Primes.  The name is suggested by Milton Jenkins.  It is also Jenkins who suggests The Primes sponsor some ambitious local girls as a female spin-off of their act, The Primettes.  These girls are Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Betty McGlown.  After McGlown (and her replacement, Barbara Martin) exit, the trio goes on to greater notoriety as The Supremes.  Initially, Paul Williams acts as manager for the girls, but he soon cedes this responsibility to Milton Jenkins, who acts as the manager of both The Primes and The Primettes.  The Primes are a well-regarded live act but never make it into the recording studio.  In 1960 Kell Osborne moves to California and The Primes disband.  Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams go back to Alabama.

Otis Williams & The Distants also disband in 1960 – though it might be more accurate to say they go through a restructuring.  Otis Williams, Al Bryant and Melvin Franklin agree to keep working together, but they part company with Richard Street and Albert ‘Mooch’ Harrell.  ‘After learning that Otis Williams…has two openings in his group’s line-up’, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams return to Detroit to fill the vacancies.  This quintet is dubbed The Elgins.

In 1960 Otis Williams begins dating Josephine Rogers.  In 1961 the couple wed.  They have a son, Otis, Jr. (born 1961).  (Otis, Jr. grows up to be a construction worker in Detroit.  He dies in a workplace accident in 1983.)

The most notable record label in Detroit in the early 1960s is Motown Records.  The name is a contraction of ‘motor town’, a reference to Detroit’s automobile manufacturing industry.  Motown Records is lorded over by Berry Gordy, a former automobile assembly-line worker turned songwriter and record producer.  Motown is a label owned by an African-American (Gordy) and whose recording artists are also African-American.  Up to this point, black singers were all too often exploited by white record company owners.  Motown is different.  Yet the label’s slogan is ‘The Sound of Young America’, not ‘The Sound of Black America’.  Berry Gordy is not interested in his business being confined to the African-American community; he wants to sell as many records as possible and doesn’t care about the colour of the skin of the purchasers, only the colour of their money.

The Elgins audition for Motown and win a recording contract.  Berry Gordy decides he doesn’t like the act’s name though and christens them The Temptations instead.  The founder members are: Eddie Kendricks (high, falsetto vocals), Paul Williams (vocals), Al Bryant (vocals), Otis Williams (baritone vocals) and Melvin Franklin (bass vocals).

The music of The Temptations – and Motown in general – is derived from gospel (i.e. church music), rhythm and blues (i.e. dance music closely identified with the African-American community) and pop (i.e. popular and catchy songs with widespread appeal).  What distinguishes The Temptations from other Motown acts?  Two things: Their southern gospel roots and a more flexible approach than their peers.

Motown makes its home in Detroit, Michigan – a northern State.  The African-American population largely live in Detroit’s housing projects.  Most of those people work in the city’s main industry, automobile manufacture.  The members of The Temptations grew up in southern States where African-Americans were still largely working in rural, agricultural, positions.  Although gospel is enjoyed in both the north and south, in the south it tends to be even more conservative and fundamentalist.  Otis Williams recalls he “had to listen to a lot of gospel singers.”  ‘Of all the Motown acts…The Temptations were the closest to church and gospel roots.’

The flexibility of The Temptations is demonstrated in both their vocals and their musical style.  While other Motown vocal acts had a fixed lead singer (i.e. Diana Ross of The Supremes, Smokey Robinson of The Miracles and Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops), The Temptations could change their lead singer.  Granted, at first Eddie Kendricks probably has the lion’s share of the spotlight, but other members of the group sometimes step up or share the lead.  This trait only accelerates as the group’s career continues.  Secondly, when the basic Motown formula begins to wear thin, The Temptations prove capable of stepping outside their earlier preordained sound.  “Luckily for The Temptations, we’ve been able to adapt to whatever the musical trends called for at the time,” notes Otis Williams.

The Temptations are not really songwriters.  They are largely at the mercy of the Motown machinery.  During the group’s glory days, there are primarily two men charged with guiding them: Smokey Robinson and Norman Whitfield.  They do not work together.  Broadly, Robinson is in charge up to the mid-1960s, and then Whitfield pilots them from the late 1960s.  Robinson and Whitfield each pull double duty as songwriters and record producers.  Smokey Robinson also performs with his own group, The Miracles.  Otis Williams tries to define The Temptations’ philosophy: “It always revolves around great songs, great music, great lyrics, great melodies that stay in the subconscious after it’s off the radio.  Those are the hallmarks of…great songs that will stand the test of time.”

As a vocal group, The Temptations depend on others to provide musical backing.  As with songwriting and production, Motown assigns musicians to their recording sessions.  The same pack of players work with all Motown’s vocal groups and solo singers.  In later years, this fraternity comes to be known as The Funk Brothers.  Some of their more notable members are: Joe Messina (guitar), Robert White (guitar), Earl Van Dyke (keyboards), James Jamerson, Sr. (bass), Benny Benjamin (drums) and James Giddons (percussion).

The Temptations get off to a slow start.  Their first seven singles meet with minimal success on pop charts.  Some of them do quite well on the rhythm and blues charts, but that is not enough for the populist agenda of Motown boss Berry Gordy.  In 1961 The Temptations release ‘Oh Mother Of Mine’ and ‘Check Yourself’; in 1962 there is ‘Dream Come True’, ‘Mind Over Matter (I’m Gonna Make You Mine)’ [this song is actually credited to The Pirates, an alias for The Temptations] and ‘Paradise’ (US no. 122); while 1963 brings ‘I Want A Love I Can See’ and ‘Farewell My Love’.  Eddie Kendricks shares vocals with Paul Williams on ‘Oh Mother Of Mine’; ‘Check Yourself’ spreads the vocals between Paul Williams, Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin; Eddie Kendricks sings lead on the all the 1962 singles and Paul Williams takes the lead on the 1963 singles.

In 1963 Al Bryant ‘resigns or is fired after physically attacking Paul Williams.’

In 1964 the open slot in The Temptations is first offered to Jimmy Ruffin but winds up going to his younger brother, David Ruffin, instead.

Davis Eli ‘David’ Ruffin (18 January 1941 – 1 June 1991) is born in Whynot, Mississippi, U.S.A.  He is the son of Elias ‘Eli’ Ruffin and Ophelia Ruffin (nee Davis).  David has three siblings: Quincy, Rita and Jimmy (born 7 May 1939).  Their father, Eli Ruffin, is a Baptist minister who also works as a truck driver at a lumber mill.  Eli Ruffin is characterised as ‘strict and abusive.’  Ophelia Ruffin dies just months after David’s birth.  Eli Ruffin remarries in 1942.  David’s stepmother, Earline, is a schoolteacher.  David Ruffin begins singing and touring ‘at a very young age’, appearing with his father and siblings in a gospel group.  “I knew I always wanted to sing,” claims David.  At 13, David Ruffin leaves home to study for the ministry in Memphis, Tennessee.  David appears with his brother, Jimmy, at some talent shows in Arkansas.  In the meantime, David Ruffin does some construction work.  One of the buildings on which he labours is ‘Hitsville, U.S.A.’, the home of Motown Records in Detroit.  David Ruffin begins recording in 1958.  Under the name of Little David Bush, he releases ‘Believe Me’ on the Vega label.  As David Ruffin he puts out ‘I’m In Love’ in 1960 on the Anna label, a subsidiary of Motown.  This is followed by two singles on the Checkmate label: ‘Actions Speak Louder Than Words’ in 1961 and ‘Knock You Out’ in 1962.  None of these four singles has much impact.  In 1960 David Ruffin begins dating a girl named Sandra, who becomes his wife in 1961.  David and Sandra go on to have three daughters: Cheryl, Nedra and Kimberley (also known as Mone).  When David Ruffin joins The Temptations in 1964, it brings him into closer contact with Melvin Franklin who is actually a distant cousin of Ruffin.  A ‘whimsical, charismatic man’, David Ruffin is perhaps the most visually distinctive member of The Temptations.  He wears thick-framed spectacles and, at six feet, 3 inches, in height, is ‘tall [and] slender.’  (At six feet, and one-and-a-half inches, Eddie Kendricks is not much shorter.)  Otis Williams describes David Ruffin as “very funny, colourful, good-natured and hard-working.”

The addition of David Ruffin creates probably the most famous incarnation of The Temptations: David Ruffin (vocals), Eddie Kendricks (high, falsetto vocals), Paul Williams (vocals), Otis Williams (baritone vocals) and Melvin Franklin (bass vocals).

Things begin to fall into place for The Temptations with the release on 8 February 1964 of the single, The Way You Do The Things You Do’ (US no. 11).  This is the group’s first real hit and the beginning of a series of successful hit singles.  Although David Ruffin has been added to the line-up, it is Eddie Kendricks who handles the lead vocals on this track.  “You’ve got a smile so bright, you know you could’ve been a candle / I’m holding you so tight, you know you could’ve been a handle,” begins the lyrics, eventually observing, “Well, you could have been anything that you wanted to and I can tell / The way you do the things you do.”  This song is written by Smokey Robinson and his Miracles colleague, Bobby Rogers.  It’s difficult not to see Eddie Kendricks as a surrogate for Smokey here; both have similarly high voices.  Kendricks has a ‘wispy falsetto’ that is ‘high, sweet and soft.’  Despite being centre-stage on The Temptations’ breakthrough, Kendricks says, “I don’t really know what a superstar is…I don’t think I want to get that big.”

The debut album, ‘Meet The Temptations’ (1964) (US no. 45), is released in March.  It includes ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’.  Like most of The Temptations’ albums of the 1960s, multiple producers are credited for the disc (in this case including Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy).  In this era, neither Motown nor The Temptations are emphasising albums; the hit single is the main focus.  This means that the albums are usually a hodgepodge of a hit single or two and some other bits and pieces.  Note: The Temptations’ discs are actually on the Gordy label, a subsidiary of the Motown organisation.

Eddie Kendricks provides lead vocals on the following 1964 Temptations singles: May’s ‘I’ll Be In Trouble’ (US no. 33) backed with ‘The Girl’s Alright With Me’ (US no. 102), and September’s ‘Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)’ (US no. 26).  The last-named is crafted under the supervision of producer Norman Whitfield.

Otis Williams divorces his wife, Josephine, in 1964.  He dates Florence Ballard of The Supremes for a while, but his next major relationship is with another singer, Patti Labelle.  Otis Williams actually begins seeing Patti Labelle in 1963 and the relationship continues until 1965, including an engagement, before concluding.  Otis Williams’ flirtation with Florence Ballard is not the only liaison between The Temptations and The Supremes; Melvin Franklin reportedly chases after Mary Wilson for a while.

The Temptations release one more single in 1964, though it doesn’t chart until January 1965.  It is The Temptations’ finest moment.  The single is ‘My Girl’ (US no. 1, UK no. 43), a track written by Smokey Robinson and another one of his group The Miracles, Ronnie White.  The genius of this song is in its counter-intuitive approach.  While Eddie Kendricks’ vocal style is an easy fit with Robinson’s own – and Kendricks would have been the obvious choice for this song – it is instead handed to David Ruffin.  Where Kendricks’ voice is high and silky smooth, Ruffin has a ‘raspy voice’ that is ‘gritty and emotion laden.’  “I don’t know what I kind of voice I have.  I really don’t.  It’s just about the feeling I get for a song,” says Ruffin.  He also proves to be a dynamic frontman, employing ‘dramatic hand gestures’ and even ‘falling to his knees.’  ‘My Girl’ is positively beatific.  “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day,” beams Ruffin, “When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May / I guess you’d say, what can make me feel this way? / My girl.”  “I would have to say that, first and foremost, ‘My Girl’ is my favourite and then everything else falls in line after that,” admits Otis Williams.

David Ruffin’s marriage to his wife, Sandra, breaks down in 1964 and he begins a ‘well publicised relationship’ with Tammi Terrell, another Motown recording artist, from 1965 to 1967.

‘The Temptations Sing Smokey’ (1965) (US no. 35) in March is, as the name suggests, an album of the quintet performing Smokey Robinson’s compositions – but they are not new songs.  In addition to ‘My Girl’ and (again) ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’, the disc consists of songs recorded previously by Robinson’s group The Miracles or other Motown acts to whom he had provided material.  Naturally, Smokey Robinson produces this album.  The success of ‘My Girl’ with David Ruffin as lead vocalist results in Ruffin singing lead on The Temptations’ three other 1965 singles: April’s ‘It’s Growing’ (US no. 18, UK no. 45), July’s ‘Since I Lost My Baby’ (US no. 17) and October’s ‘My Baby’ (US no. 13).  The group’s third album, ‘The Temptin’ Temptations’ (1965) (US no. 11), is issued in November.

In 1965 Paul Williams has an affair with Winnie Brown, the hairstylist for The Supremes.

1966 is a transitional year for The Temptations.  The March single, ‘Get Ready’ (US no. 24, UK no. 10), is the last of their hits penned by Smokey Robinson.  This track places Eddie Kendricks back in the role of lead vocalist.  However, just as the harsh tones of David Ruffin formed a counterpoint to the creamy music of ‘My Girl’, here Kendricks’ light voice overlays a hard-charging arrangement, making a virtue of the unexpected contrast.  “I’m bringing you a love that’s true / So get ready,” urges Kendricks in this hot – but precise – number.  Norman Whitfield takes the baton from Smokey Robinson at this point, becoming the driving force behind The Temptations’ output.  Under Whitfield, ‘their records become ever rougher and more muscular.’  This is first demonstrated with ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ (US no. 13, UK no. 21) in May, a song Whitfield co-writes with Eddie Holland.  David Ruffin handles the lead vocals.  Otis Williams recalls the spectacles slipping off Ruffin’s face repeatedly during the recording session due to the amount of sweat Ruffin is putting out.  “Ain’t too proud to beg / Sweet darlin’, please don’t leave me,” petitions Ruffin over a hard-edged marching rhythm.  The album, ‘Gettin’ Ready’ (1966) (US no. 12, UK no. 40), comes out in June.  As previously mentioned, albums are not really The Temptations’ forte, but this is as good a candidate as any to be called their best album.  With both Robinson’s ‘Get Ready’ and Whitfield’s ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’, it has high quality representations from both of the act’s main producer/songwriters.  As a bonus, there is also ‘Too Busy Thinking ‘Bout My Baby’, a song Whitfield co-writes with Barrett Strong and Janie Bradford.  It goes unheralded in 1966 but becomes a hit for another Motown singer, Marvin Gaye, in 1969.  David Ruffin holds forth as lead singer on The Temptations’ other two hits for 1966.  August’s ‘Beauty Is Only Skin Deep’ (US no. 3, UK no. 18) has him advising, “A pretty face you may not possess / But what I like about you is your tenderness.”  This horn-buttressed, strong and forceful number is co-written by Norman Whitfield and Eddie Holland.  This duo is joined by Cornelius Grant to write ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ (US no. 8, UK no. 19), released in November.  In this twangy, rough-edged song, David Ruffin sings, “I fooled myself as long as I can / I feel the presence of another man.”

In 1966 Otis Williams begins dating Ann Cain, who becomes his second wife in 1967.

The Temptations start 1967 with the album ‘The Temptations Live’ (1967) (US no. 10, UK no. 20) in March.  This concert recording is followed by the David Ruffin led ‘All I Need’ (US no. 8), a single released in May.  The previous year’s ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ is included on ‘The Temptations With A Lot O’ Soul’ (1967) (US no. 7, UK no. 19) in July.  Perhaps the best 1967 single by The Temptations is ‘You’re My Everything’ (US no. 6, UK no. 26), released in August.  David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks share the lead vocals.  “I was blessed the day I found you / Gonna build my whole world around you / You’re everything good, girl / And you’re all that matters to me,” runs the lyric of this optimistic, strings-enhanced, composition from Norman Whitfield, Roger Penzabene and Cornelius Grant.  October’s ‘(Loneliness Made Me Realize) It’s You That I Need’ (US no. 14) boasts a vocal shared amongst all The Temptations.  The year is closed out with the album ‘The Temptations In A Mellow Mood’ (1967) (US no. 13) in November, a Frank Wilson – Jeff Bowen co-production.

Sometime around here, Eddie Kendricks marries Patricia ‘Pat’ Stokes.  They have three children: a daughter named Aikia (born 1971) and two sons, Parris (born 1973) and Paul (born 1977).

In January 1968 The Temptations have a hit with ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ (US no. 4, UK no. 45).  Accompanied by the mournful cries of seagulls, an anguished David Ruffin pleads, “Sunshine, blue skies / Please go away / My girl has found another / And gone away.”  Broken-hearted, he concludes, “I know it might sound strange / But I wish it would rain,” and hide his tears.  Norman Whitfield collaborates with Barrett Strong and Roger Penzabene on this sad, but classy, ballad.  David Ruffin is credited with ‘creating the four-headed microphone’ and this device can be seen during The Temptations’ performance of this song.  While Ruffin holds centre-stage, the other Temps cluster about a microphone that almost resembles a tree – a single stand (trunk) with branching microphones for each individual singer.  This song appears on the next album for the group and is adapted into its name: ‘The Temptations Wish It Would Rain’ (1968) (US no. 13) – released in April.  May’s ‘I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)’ (US no. 13, UK no. 47) is fated to be Ruffin’s last lead vocal for The Temptations.  Eddie Kendricks takes the lead for August’s ‘Please Return Your Love To Me’ (US no. 26).

Trouble is brewing for The Temptations.  David Ruffin is ‘one of the first Motown artists who demands regular accounting of the group’s financial status.’  Although this may be admirably prudent, it causes friction with label boss Berry Gordy as it suggests Gordy is untrustworthy.  Ruffin is also getting on the nerves of the other Temptations.  ‘He starts missing rehearsals and shows and is addicted to cocaine.’  Ruffin believes the name of the act should be changed to David Ruffin And The Temptations.  Though this may appear to reek of egotism, in context it is not that strange.  The Miracles became Smokey Robinson And The Miracles in March 1967 and The Supremes became Diana Ross And The Supremes in August 1967.  Otis Williams is of the opinion that fame gives Ruffin ego problems and drug addiction makes him erratic.  It all comes to a head when David Ruffin fails to show up for a 1968 Temptations concert in Cleveland, Ohio.  Consequently, Ruffin is fired.

David Ruffin’s place in The Temptations’ line-up is filled by Dennis Edwards.  Formerly with fellow Motown act The Contours, Dennis Edwards is born 3 February 1943 in Fairfield, Alabama, U.S.A. to Reverend and Mrs Dennis Edwards, Senior.

In a bizarre twist, David Ruffin does not go quietly.  He follows The Temptations around on tour and crashes their performances.  When a song on which he sang lead, such as ‘My Girl’ or ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’, begins, Ruffin ‘walks on stage, grabs the microphone from [Dennis] Edwards and steals the show.’  Ruffin pleads for another chance with the group.  When he is cautiously given this opportunity, Ruffin continues to miss shows.  His dismissal is then confirmed.  Duelling lawsuits between Ruffin and The Temptations follow.

David Ruffin goes on to a solo career.  His most successful solo singles are his first, ‘My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)’ (US no. 9) in February 1969 and ‘I’ve Lost Everything I Ever Truly Loved’ (a hit on the rhythm and blues charts only) in July 1969.  The former was originally intended for The Temptations.  David Ruffin releases the following albums: ‘My Whole World Ended’ (1969) (US no. 31) in May; ‘Feelin’ Good’ (1969) (US no. 148) in November; ‘I Am My Brother’s Keeper’ (1970) (US no. 178), a disc co-credited to his brother, Jimmy Ruffin; ‘David Ruffin’ (1973) (US no. 160); ‘Me And Rock ‘N’ Roll Are Here To Stay’ (1974); ‘Who I Am’ (1975) (US no. 31) ; ‘Everything’s Coming Up Love’ (1976) (US no. 51); and ‘In My Stride’ (1977).  In 1977 he leaves Motown for Warner Bros., blaming Motown for not promoting his music properly.  For Warners, David Ruffin creates two more albums: ‘So Soon We Change’ (1979) and ‘Gentleman Ruffin’ (1980).  In 1975 David Ruffin marries his second wife, Joy Hamilton, but they divorce in 1976.  Ruffin has a relationship with Genna Sapia from 1977 to 1979 and she gives birth to his fourth child and only son, David, Jr.  (After David Ruffin’s death, Genna Sapia takes to calling herself Genna Sapia-Ruffin, but the couple never officially wed.)

The Temptations begin a new phase of their career with the single ‘Cloud Nine’ (US no. 6, UK no. 15), released in November 1968.  Influenced by Sly And The Family Stone, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, producer Norman Whitfield introduces The Temptations to ‘psychedelic soul.’  This style has ‘dramatic use of recording effects and rock-influenced arrangements’ as well as ‘didactic social commentary.’  ‘Cloud Nine’, ‘its title a thinly veiled drug allegory’, is co-written by producer Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.  “Depressed and downhearted, I took to cloud nine,” states the lyric, observing that now, “You’re a million miles away from reality.”  It seems The Temptations are becoming ‘not only the globe’s biggest selling soul group, but its most musically exciting.’  Dennis Edwards makes his recording debut here with The Temptations but the vocal is shared amongst the whole group.  Ominously, amidst all the fanfare, Eddie Kendricks dislikes the new psychedelic soul sound.  A concert recording, ‘Live At The Copa’ (1968) (US no. 15) is released in December.  The album, ‘Cloud Nine’ (1969) (US no. 4, UK no. 32), in February consolidates the new psychedelic soul sound.

By this time – and possibly earlier – Shelly Berger is acting as the manager of The Temptations.  His association with the group continues for decades, up to at least 2010.

The Temptations record two albums of duets with their former sidekicks, the erstwhile Primettes, ‘Diana Ross & The Supremes Join The Temptations’ (1968) (US no. 2, UK no. 1) and ‘Together With Diana Ross And The Supremes’ (1969) (US no. 28, UK no. 28).  A volley of duet singles from the two vocal groups is issued: ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ (US no. 2, UK no. 3), ‘I’ll Try Something New’ (US no. 25), ‘I Second That Emotion’ (UK no. 18), ‘The Weight’ (US no. 46) and ‘Why Must We Fall In Love’ (UK no. 31).  Eddie Kendricks, on behalf of The Temptations, provides the male lead vocal for most of these songs since his high voice is the best match for Diana Ross.

On their own, in 1969 The Temptations issue the singles ‘Runaway Child, Running Wild’ (US no. 6) in March, and ‘Don’t Let The Jones’ Get You Down’ (US no. 20) in May, but the best is August’s ‘I Can’t Get Next To You’ (US no. 1, UK no. 13).  The group vocal alternates amongst the members as they chant such sentiments as, “I can turn the grey skies blue / I can make it rain whenever I want it to…But I can’t get next to you, babe.”  ‘I Can’t Get Next To You’ is composed by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong and features on the album ‘Puzzle People’ (1969) (US no. 5, UK no. 20), released in September.

‘Psychedelic Shack’ (US no. 7, UK no. 33), released in January 1970, is a far-out groovy song penned by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.  “Right around the corner / Just across the tracks / People, I’m talking about the psychedelic shack,” runs the group vocal that stresses, “That’s where it’s at.”  The album, ‘Psychedelic Shack’ (1970) (US no. 9) arrives in February.  Whitfield and Strong also write ‘Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)’ (US no. 3, UK no. 7), the May single with another group vocal.  “The only person talking about love and mercy is the preacher / And it seems nobody is interested in learning but the teacher,” notes ‘Ball Of Confusion’, its punishing beats underscoring the mantra, “Segregation, demonstration, integration, determination, aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation.”  A concert album, ‘Live At London’s Talk Of The Town’ (1970) (US no. 21) is released in July.  Dennis Edwards takes the lead vocal for October’s ‘Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)’ (US no. 33).  ‘The Temptations’ Christmas Card’ (1970) (US no. 4), an October album of holiday tunes, closes out the year.

Eddie Kendricks (with an assist from Paul Williams) takes the lead vocal for ‘Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)’ (US no. 1, UK no. 8), the February 1971 single.  Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, this is a lovely old school ballad, a break from psychedelic soul.  In his feathery, light voice, Kendricks gently pronounces, “To have a girl like her / Is truly a dream come true / Out of all the boys in the world / She belongs to you / But it was just my imagination / Running away with me.”  This song is featured on the April album, ‘Sky’s The Limit’ (1971) (US no. 16).  Tired of the psychedelic soul, Eddie Kendricks leaves The Temptations in 1971, bound for a solo career.  Paul Williams also departs in 1971, but his exit is due to poor health.  Paul Williams is having problems with sickle cell anaemia.

In his solo career, Eddie Kendricks records the albums ‘All By Myself’ (1971), ‘People…Hold On’ (1972), ‘Eddie Kendricks’ (1973), ‘Boogie Down’ (1974), ‘For You’ (1974), ‘The Hit Man’ (1975), ‘Goin’ Up In Smoke’ (1976) and ‘Slick’ (1977).  He then departs Motown, cutting two albums for Arista – ‘Vintage ‘78’ (1978) and ‘Something More’ (1979) – and one for Atlantic, ‘Love Keys’ (1981).  His most successful solo singles are 1971’s ‘Keep On Truckin’ (US no. 1, UK no. 18), 1974’s ‘Boogie Down’ (US no. 2, UK no. 39) and 1975’s ‘Shoeshine Boy’ (US no. 18).  Eddie Kendricks divorces his wife, Pat Stokes, in 1976.

Ricky Owens (24 April 1939 – 6 December 1996) has a brief stint with The Temptations in 1971.

Replacing Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams in The Temptations are Damon Harris (17 July 1950 – 18 February 2003) and Richard Street (5 October 1942 – 27 February 2013).  Both are tenors.  It may be remembered that Richard Street was a member of Otis Williams & The Distants back before The Temptations officially came into being.  Street shares the vocal spotlight on the July 1971 single ‘It’s Summer’ (US no. 51) with Dennis Edwards and Melvin Franklin.  The entire group shares the vocals for November’s cautionary tale, ‘Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)’ (US no. 18, UK no. 32).  Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, the lyrics urge, “But remember how you got where you are / Oh ho ho, ‘cause the same folks that made you / Uh hum, you better believe they can break you.”

Motown relocates its head office from Detroit, Michigan, to Los Angles, California, in 1971 and there is a feeling that it is the end of an era.

‘Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)’ is included on the album ‘Solid Rock’ (1972) (US no. 24, UK no. 34) in January.  The same disc also boasts the heavily orchestrated and socially conscious ‘Take A Look Around’ (US no. 30, UK no. 13), sung by the group as a whole.  The song is written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.  Dennis Edwards takes the lead for ‘Mother Nature’ (US no. 92), but a group vocal adorns the year’s best single for The Temptations, ‘Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone’ (US no. 1, UK no. 14) (another Whitfield – Strong composition).  Hushed, pulsing and ominous, this is deep, hard soul.  “’Momma, I’m depending on you to tell me the truth’ / Momma just hung her head and said, ‘Son / Papa was a rollin’ stone / Wherever he laid his hat was his home / And when he died, all he left us was alone’,” runs an excerpt from the dramatic lyrics.  The song is included on the July album, ‘All Directions’ (1972) (US no. 2, UK no. 19).

‘Masterpiece’ (1973) (US no. 7, UK no. 28) is released in February and its title track, ‘Masterpiece’ (US no. 7), is the next single for The Temptations.  It features a group vocal, as does their next single, ‘Plastic Man’ (US no. 40).  Other 1973 singles highlight individual performances.  Richard Street takes centre stage for ‘Hey Girl (I Like Your Style)’ (US no. 35).  The neo-Native American groove of ‘Law Of The Land’ (UK no. 41) shares the vocals between Street, Dennis Edwards and Damon Harris.  Written by Norman Whitfield alone, the anti-poverty ‘Law Of The Land’ is perhaps the best Temptations song for 1973.

On 17 August 1973 former member of The Temptations, Paul Williams, is found dead.  He is discovered in an alley, slumped over the wheel of his car, clad only in swimming trunks.  The gun in his hand is responsible for the bullet through his forehead.  His death is ruled a suicide.  Paul Williams not only sang with The Temptations, he was also their choreographer, though over the years, that task increasingly went to Cholly Atkins, Motown’s in-house choreographer.  Paul Williams’ health had been declining due to sickle cell anaemia, but he was also ‘long plagued by alcoholism and other personal demons.’  He was 34 when he took his own life.

‘1990’ (1973) (US no. 19), released in December, is the last Temptations album overseen by Norman Whitfield, as their lengthy association with the producer/songwriter comes to an end.

The Temptations issue ‘A Song For You’ (1975) (US no. 13) in January.  This is followed in November by ‘House Party’ (1975) (US no. 40), an album of songs that had been set aside previously.  Damon Harris leaves The Temptations in 1975.  His replacement is another tenor, Glenn Leonard (born 11 June 1947).  ‘Wings Of Love’ (1976) (US no. 29) and then ‘The Temptations Do The Temptations’ (1976) (US no. 53) are The Temptations’ last albums for Motown – at least for a while.

Dennis Edwards exits The Temptations in 1977 and Louis Price (born 29 March 1953) takes over his role.  The group records two disco-influenced albums for Atlantic Records – ‘Hear To Tempt You’ (1977) (US no. 113) and ‘Bare Back’ (1978) – before returning to Motown.

Former Temptation Dennis Edwards is ‘briefly married’ to Ruth Pointer in 1977.  Ruth Pointer comes from the vocal group The Pointer Sisters.  Dennis and Ruth have a daughter together, Issa Pointer.

Dennis Edwards returns to The Temptations in 1980, displacing Louis Price.  Once more on Motown, The Temptations release the albums ‘Power’ (1980) (US no. 45), ‘Give Love At Christmas’ (1980) (US no. 6), and ‘The Temptations’ (1981) (US no. 119).

By this time, the solo careers of David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks are on the decline, as are The Temptations’ fortunes.  Ruffin and Kendricks are enticed to work with the five current Temptations (Dennis Edwards, Richard Street, Glenn Leonard, Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin) as a seven-piece act.  The resultant album is the appropriately titled ‘Reunion’ (1982) (US no. 37).  It includes ‘Standing On The Top’ (US no. 66, UK no. 93), a track written and produced by Rick James, a well-known identity in the funk rock field at the time.  The seven-piece Temptations undertake a tour as well, but it is not long before David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks leave again.

Eddie Kendricks goes back to using the surname from his birth, Kendrick (without the ‘s’) in the early 1980s.  He releases ‘I’ve Got Eyes On You’ (1983) on the Ms. Dixie label.

David Ruffin suffers from ‘substance abuse and depression’.  He spends eighteen months in prison for tax evasion.

Eddie Kendrick stays in touch with David Ruffin and both of them guest-star on ‘Live At The Apollo’ (1985) (US no. 21), an album by white ‘blue-eyed soul’ act Daryl Hall And John Oates.

A 1987 cocaine arrest puts David Ruffin back behind bars.

David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick work together again on ‘1988’ (1988) or ‘Ruffin & Kendrick’ (1988), and album of duets by the former Temptations frontmen.

Otis Williams marries his third wife, Arleata ‘Goldie’ Carter, in 1983.  They have a daughter named Elan.

The Temptations continue to record and tour, but the line-up is increasingly subject to change.  ‘Surface Thrills’ (1983) (US no. 159) in February is followed by Glenn Leonard’s departure.  Ron Tyson (born 8 February 1948) joins in time for ‘Back To Basics’ (1983) (US no. 152).  Dennis Edwards leaves (for the second time) in 1984 and Ali-Ollie Woodson (12 September 1951 – 30 May 2010) joins The Temptations.  ‘Truly For You’ (1984) (US no. 55) in October includes ‘Treat Her Like A Lady’ (US no. 48, UK no. 12), an upmarket dance song Woodson co-writes with Otis Williams, and for which Woodson is the lead vocalist.  ‘Touch Me’ (1985) (US no. 146) is followed by ‘To Be Continued’ (1986) (US no. 74), the last Temptations album issued under the Gordy imprint as the subsidiary is then absorbed into Motown Records’ main label.  Ali-Ollie Woodson leaves the group in 1987 and Dennis Edwards returns for a third tour of duty beginning with ‘Together Again’ (1987) (US no. 112) in September.

‘The Temptations’ (1988) is Otis Williams’ autobiography of the group, co-written with journalist Patricia Romanowski.  It is made into an NBC television mini-series in 1998.

Dennis Edwards leaves The Temptations (for the third and final time) in 1989 but, comically, his replacement is Ali-Ollie Woodson – the man Edwards replaced.  ‘Special’ (1989) and ‘Milestone’ (1991) are the next albums the group releases, the latter celebrating The Temptations’ thirtieth anniversary.

On 1 June 1991 David Ruffin dies due to ‘an adverse reaction to drugs.’  Despite the official cause of death being confirmed as a cocaine overdose, Ruffin’s family believe that ‘foul play is involved’ in his demise.  David Ruffin was 50 years old.

Eddie Kendrick dies of lung cancer on 5 October 1992.  He was 52 years old.

The Temptations carry on, but members come and go.  Richard Street exits in 1992, with Theo Peoples (born 24 January 1961) taking his place.

On 17 February 1995 Melvin Franklin suffers a brain seizure and slips into a coma.  He never wakes, passing away on 23 February 1995.  He was 52.  Since the late 1960s Melvin Franklin had battled rheumatoid arthritis.  He developed diabetes in the 1980s.  With his passing, Otis Williams becomes the only surviving member of the original Temptations line-up.

Melvin Franklin’s place in The Temptations is taken by Ray Davis (29 March 1940 – 5 July 2005) in 1995.  ‘For Lovers Only’ (1995) is Ray Davis’ only album with The Temptations.  He departs in 1996, to be replaced by Harry McGillberry (19 January 1950 – 3 April 2006).  Ali-Ollie Woodson quits The Temptations (for the second time) in 1997 and his position is filled by Terry Weeks (born 23 December 1963).  Otis Williams and his third wife, Arleata ‘Goldie’ Carter, divorce in 1997.

Theo Peoples departs The Temptations in 1988 and Barrington ‘Bo’ Henderson (born 10 June 1956) joins.  ‘Phoenix Rising’ (1998) (US no. 44) marks a new era and is followed by ‘Ear-Resistable’ (2000) (US no. 54) and ‘Awesome’ (2001) (US no. 140).  Harry McGillberry and Barrington ‘Bo’ Henderson both leave The Temptations in 2003.

George Curtis ‘G.C.’ Cameron (born 21 September 1945) becomes the twentieth member of The Temptations when he joins the group in 2003.  Also signing up in 2003 is Joe Herndon (born 5 January 1949).  ‘Legacy’ (2004) (US no. 163) is The Temptations’ final album for Motown.  They move to the New Door label for ‘Reflections’ (2006) (US no. 80) and ‘Back To Front’ (2007) (US no. 108).  G.C. Cameron leaves The Temptations in 2007, making way for Bruce Williamson (born 28 September 1970).  On the 10/30 International label, The Temptations release ‘Still Here’ (2010).

The death of David Ruffin in 1991 meant the loss of the most identifiable member of The Temptations.  Although he had not been part of the group since 1968 – aside from the 1982 ‘Reunion’ album and tour – his influence on their history was deep.  Eddie Kendricks, who died soon after in 1992, was the next best known member of the act and, like Ruffin, his days as a regular part of the act were decades in the past.  David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Al Bryant and Dennis Edwards are the men most identified with The Temptations.  The other singers with the group had less impact.  Of course, The Temptations recorded history was also shaped by the likes of Motown boss Berry Gordy and producer/songwriters Smokey Robinson and Norman Whitfield.  ‘My Girl’, ‘Just My Imagination’, ‘Ball of Confusion’, etc. live on long after the men who made them.  The Temptations were ‘the finest vocal group in 1960s soul.  They could outdress, outdance and outsing any competitors in sight.’  ‘One of Motown’s most elastic acts, they tackled both lush pop and politically charged funk with equal flair.’

Sources:

  1. ‘The Temptations: Motown’s Greatest Hits’ – Sleeve notes by Chris Wells (Motown Record Company, L.P., 1992) p. 2, 3, 7
  2. Complex City Guide by Ross Scarano (1 June 2011) (complex.com)
  3. famously.dead.com – David Ruffin – no author credited, as at 25 June 2011
  4. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 25 June 2014
  5. wikipedia.org as at 5 May 2014
  6. ‘Behind the Scenes’ (U.S. radio program, WCRN – Worcester, Massachusetts) – Otis Williams interview at the Hanover Theater conducted by Lisa Condett (?) (7 February 2013?)
  7. allmusic.com, ‘The Temptations’ by Jason Ankeny as at 16 June 2014
  8. wikianswers.com as at 27 June 2014
  9. allmusic.com, ‘The Primes’ – no author credited – as at 27 June 2014
  10. bhamwiki.com/w/Paul.Williams as at 27 June 2014
  11. whosdatedwho.com as at 25 June 2014
  12. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Motown’ by Joe McEwen, Jim Miller (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 278, 282, 286, 290, 291, 292
  13. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p.76
  14. brainyquote.com as at 25 June 2014
  15. democraticunderground.com – information on David Ruffin’s children by Catherine Vincent (5 November 2009)
  16. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 85, 217
  17. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 210
  18. ‘The Best Of Marvin Gaye’ – Sleeve notes by David Ritz (Motown Record Company, 1994) p. 6
  19. soulwalking.co.uk/Michael%Stokes.html – no author credited, as at 27 June 2014
  20. You Tube, video for ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ (1968)
  21. lyricsfreak.com as at 23 June 2014
  22. metrolyrics.com.au as at 23 June 2014

Song lyrics copyright EMI Songs Aust. P/L

Last revised 15 July 2014

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