Eddie Kendricks has long been one of my favorite Motown era figures. He passed in 1992 before I was fully conscious of who all the individual Temptations were, there was a “Temptations” group I grew up with in the 1980s, that featured Ollie Woodson as lead, and the “deep voiced guy” (Melvin Franklin). However, video clips would reveal another Temptations group that lived in the world of black and white, and records would reveal yet another that was super funky and had a penchant for singing about the ghetto and social issues.
Of course these were all variations of the same group. The drama that existed within the smooth, hip well coordinated Princes of Motown was revealed in the late ’90s Temptations television biopic. For my generation, that film really made the Temptations real as individuals, with Leons potrayal of David Ruffin being a particular standout. Terron Brooks played Eddie Kendricks as a handsome, smooth, mild mannered man, but the script did not dig deeply into his particular story.
TVOne debuted an Unsung episode on Kendricks’ life story and it was an informative program. Kenricks was revealed to be a mild mannered, caring man who also had a bit of a rascalish streak. The program focused on his music and his story was absent some of the drama that has appeared in some of the lives of other UnSung artists. Of course, his story was very sad all the same because he died very young (52 years old) from lung cancer.
One element that was touched on briefly but not covered enough that I’d like to add to the discussion of Eddie Kendricks life was his pioneering role in the formation of the dance music that would later be referred to as “disco.” Of course “Keep on Truckin” is highly regarded by many as one of the funky records that laid the foundation for disco, but “Boogie Down”, “A Date with the Rain”, “Girl You Need to Change Your Mind”, “Goin Up in Smoke”, “He’s a Friend of Mine”, and several other records are highly regarded as being foundation records in disco music. This was one thing that surprised me greatly, how apart from his Temptations era success, his music had a huge impact on the formation of dance music. Books such as “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life”, and several other books that detail the early days of disco talk of how big Kendricks records were at places in NYC such as The Loft, The Paradise Garage, Better Days, The Gallery, and other underground places that defined the playing of records for dancing enjoyment before Studio 54 spun it’s first mirror ball. Eddie’s falsetto vocals over large orchestrated funky dance compositions seem to have predated and matched similar things done by MFSB and the Philadelphia crew.
All in all, major kudos goes to the UnSung production team for shedding more light on the life story of one of the more underrated great artists and voices of the 20th Century, Mr. Eddie Kendricks. I only hope the appreciation of him and his music will grow as the years go on. Also as a sad footnote, this episode aired near the passing of two other Temptations, Damon Harris, who was a falsetto high tenor who took Eddie’s spot in the group, and Richard Street, a reliable Temptation for almost the whole run of the group. Long live the Temptations in hearts and minds!