Eddie Kendricks (The Temptations) Birmingham, Alabama

I recently added some music from the 1975 The Temptations’ album, House Party. The personnel of this 1975 Temptations’ group, however, did not include Eddie Kendricks who left the group in 1971. Forever immortalized in Eddie Kendricks Memorial Park in Birmingham (4th Ave N & 18th St), I would be remiss if I did not highlight him for the month of February.

Edward James Kendrick was born in Union Springs, Alabama. His family later moved to Birmingham, where he met and began singing with his best friend Paul Williams in their church choir in the late 1940s. In 1955, Kendricks, Williams, and friends Kel Osbourne and Willie Waller formed a doo-wop group called The Cavaliers, and began performing around Birmingham. The group decided to move for better opportunities in their musical careers, and in 1957 Kendricks, Williams, and Osbourne moved to Cleveland, Ohio, with Waller staying in Alabama. In Cleveland, they met manager Milton Jenkins, and soon moved with Jenkins to Detroit, Michigan, where the Cavaliers renamed themselves The Primes. Under Jenkins’ management, the Primes did well for themselves in the Detroit area, eventually creating a female spin-off group called The Primettes (later The Supremes). In 1961, Osbourne moved to California, and the Primes disbanded. Kendricks and Paul Williams joined forces with members of The Distants to become The Elgins, who signed to Motown that same year as The Temptations.

The Temptations began singing background for Mary Wells. After an initial dry period, The Temptations quickly became Motown’s most successful male vocal group of the 1960s. Among the Temptations songs Kendricks sang lead on (usually in a falsetto voice, but he was also capable of singing in a tenor voice) were “The Way You Do the Things You Do” (the group’s first US Top 20 hit), “I’ll Be in Trouble”, “Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)”, “Get Ready“, “Just My Imagination“, and “Please Return Your Love to Me”. He shares lead vocal duty on other records, including “You’re My Everything” (shared with David Ruffin), and a long string of Norman Whitfieldproduced psychedelic soul records where all five Temptations sang lead, such as the Grammy winner Cloud Nine and I Can’t Get Next to You.
In the Temptations, Kendricks was responsible for creating most of the group’s vocal arrangements, and also served as wardrobe manager, including the now famous purple suits the group wore for one performance. His favorite food was cornbread, and as a result he was nicknamed “Cornbread” (or “Corn” for short) by his bandmates. According to Otis Williams, Kendricks romantically pursued Diana Ross, lead singer of the Supremes, and he was said to have been close with Martha Reeves of the Vandellas.
Kendricks remained in the group through the rest of the decade, but a number of issues began to push him away from it in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was uncomfortable with singing the psychedelic style that Whitfield was now crafting for the group as opposed to the romantic ballads they’d sung under the direction of Smokey Robinson, his friend Paul Williams was often too ill to perform with the group, and Kendricks often found himself at odds with bandmates Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin. As he grew away from the Temps, Kendricks began to rekindle his friendship with ex-Temptation David Ruffin, who convinced him to leave the group. Kendricks recorded one last hit single with the Temptations, 1971‘s “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)“; by the time the record reached #1 on the US pop charts in April 1971, Eddie Kendricks had quit The Temptations and signed a solo deal with Motown’s Tamla imprint. He was successful with his solo career, but it was short lived.[citation needed]

Eddie Kendricks’ solo career began slowly; he endured two years of singles that missed the Top 40, while The Temptations continued with their string of Norman Whitfield-helmed hits (one of which, “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)“, was written as a jab towards Kendricks and Ruffin). When Kendricks finally scored a hit in 1973, it resulted in his first and only solo #1 hit, the Frank Wilson-produced “Keep on Truckin’“, which is often cited as a contender for “first disco song”. Future hits included “Boogie Down,” “Shoeshine Boy,” and “He’s a Friend.”
Kendricks left Motown, forced to sign away the rights to his royalties to do so, in 1978, moving first to Arista Records, and later to Atlantic Records. By this time, his popularity had waned, and he was also gradually losing his voice as a result of chain smoking. He and David Ruffin briefly re-joined the Temptations for a 1982 reunion tour. Ruffin and Kendrick (Kendricks dropped the “s” from his stage name during the 1980s) reportedly met up one night when Ruffin went to watch Kendrick perform in a nightclub; Kendrick spotted Ruffin in the crowd, pointed him out, and invited him to come up on stage and perform with him. Afterward they talked about touring on their own and recorded an album as a duo for RCA in 1988.
Earlier, in 1985, they participated in the Hall & Oates live album Live at The Apollo recorded at a benefit at New York City’s Apollo Theater; and sang with the duo at Live Aid in Philadelphia and the MTV Video Music Awards in New York. Hall and Oates have cited Kendrick, Ruffin and the rest of the Tempts as a major influence.
In 1989, Kendrick, Ruffin, and their old Temptations bandmates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There, Kendrick and Ruffin made plans with former Temptation Dennis Edwards to tour and record as “Ruffin/Kendrick/Edwards, Former Leads of The Temptations.” The Ruffin/Kendrick/Edwards project was cut short in 1991, when Kendrick was diagnosed with lung cancer and David Ruffin died of a drug overdose.
In late 1991, Kendrick, by now living in his native Birmingham, underwent surgery to have one of his lungs removed in hopes of preventing the spread of the cancer. He continued to tour through the summer of 1992, when he fell ill again and was hospitalized. Eddie Kendrick died on October 5, 1992 of lung cancer in Birmingham at the age of 52.

Eddie Kendricks – Intimate Friends

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