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Tempin’ Temptations

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The group with “five lead singers” – David Ruffin (replaced by Dennis Edwards in 1968), Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin – the temptin’ Temptations was THE male vocal group of the ’60s and the early-’70s. Mellifluous harmonies, dynamic dance steps, and killer material provided primarily by Smokey Robinson and Norman Whitfield (with co-writers Eddie Holland and Barrett Strong) yielded 43 Top Ten hits over 25 years, 36 of which are included on the spectacular recent double-CD collection My Girl: The Very Best of the Temptations.

After recording a series of unsuccessful singles with Motown beginning in 1962, the Tempt’s hooked up with Smokey Robinson for their first smash “The Way You Do the Things You Do” in 1964.

Smokey and the group then cranked out hit after hit, including their signature tune, “My Girl.” The intro is instantly-recognizable genius: the three-note bass line repeated, the ascending guitar line that feels like home, the swanky finger snaps, the drum break. Then David Ruffin enters with his greatest vocal – a gospel-tinged reverie of private sunshine, warmth and honeyed music, hovering above a cushion of Temptin’ harmonies where “Under the Boardwalk” meets “I Only Have Eyes For You.”

Robinson ended his run with the Temptations with the aggressive, even menacing “Get Ready” in ’66: chattering sax, a charging beat and Eddie Kendricks’ falsetto soaring through a great chorus give his lover fair warning that wildness awaits her upon his arrival.

Then Norman Whitfield entered the picture. Whitfield stands as the most adventuresome and funky of the giant Motown songwriter/producers; his greatest work, including seven years of hits with the Temptations, ranks among the finest pop music of the last fifty years.

Whitfield was born in Harlem in 1943 where he developed twin interests in music and billiards. Whitfield’s family fortuitously ended up in Detroit when his father’s car broke down on the way back to New York from an aunt’s funeral in California.

By the age of 18, Whitfield had already written and produced local hits for the Distants and the Synetics. The persistent, observant youth could be found loitering about the Motown office, “always staring at something,” Berry Gordy told Nelson George in Where Did Our Love Go?

Tall, thin and quiet, Whitfield somewhat creepily watched for a year before he was hired in 1962 by Gordy at $15 per week to listen to demos and rate them for future release as part of Motown’s mysterious Quality Control department. Following two long years of rating and waiting, Whitfield finally wrote and produced his first songs for Motown: the Velvelettes’ “Needle In a Haystack,” and the Marvelettes’ “Too Many Fish In the Sea.”

The mild success of these songs led a call up to the majors: The Temptations. Whitfield came into his own with the classic “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Benny Benjamin’s crisp drum intro commands the listener’s attention as David Ruffin’s abject first line is wrenched from his soul: “I know you want to leave me, but I refuse to let you go.”

The songs bounces along jauntily behind the fabulous Funk Brothers, the Motown house band, with the Tempt’s twirling and gesturing as Ruffin pleads for his relationship, and perhaps, his life. His friends lend concerned support on the chorus, but Ruffin’s regret strained voice tells us that he is ultimately alone – so, so alone: the other side of the universe from the satisfied pop of “My Girl.”

“Beauty Is Only Skin Deep,” and the passionate “(I Know) I’m Losing You” and “I Wish It Would Rain” also featured Ruffin on lead as the hits continued.

In the mid-to-late-’60s Sly Stone psychedelicized black music by combining peace, love and social conscience with gospel melodies, funky beats and rock ‘n’ roll. Whitfield wanted to follow him onto the new vibe with the Temptations. When David Ruffin, always suspect as a team player, blew off a 1968 live performance, he was fired and replaced by ex-Contour Dennis Edwards, whose gutbucket shout was perfect for Whitfield’s trip into uncharted waters. Whitfield began to write and use the studio differently as his hair sprouted into a militant afro, and the old Funk Brothers house band began to break up.

Uriel Jones replaced the ailing Benny Benjamin on drums. Bob Babbitt replaced James Jamerson on bass, while Dennis Coffey and Wah-Wah Watson came in on guitar. Jones told Nelson George that “Cloud Nine”

    began as a beat on the cymbal…He’d have you sit and play that two or three minutes by itself, and he’d tell you to add a certain beat on the foot. Actually, what he’s doing is just listening to see what he wants to add to it…A lot of times we’d just sit and play and just rap on the tune until somebody just opens up and does something. We’d have as many as twelve or thirteen guys in there just grooving on the rhythm.

“Cloud Nine” experiments with structure, rough social commentary and vocal trade-offs in the context of a lyric that accepts, or at least sympathizes with drug use. Many were stunned. The adrenaline rush, the funk, the freaky instrumentation and the social realism that Whitfield and the Temptations strung out on “Cloud Nine,” “Psychedelic Shack,” “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today),” and especially “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” directly influenced Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Gamble and Huff, Barry White and many others, and eventually led to the extended grooves and shameless hedonism of disco.

Gradually Whitfield’s experimentation with the Tempt’s yielded diminishing returns and he turned his attention elsewhere. The Temptations hooked up with various other writer/producers and scored several more hits including “Shakey Ground,” “Power” and “Treat Her Like a Lady.” They continue to this day as a viable unit: the final song on My Girl, “Lady,” was released just last year. My Girl is an astonishing testament to the Temptations’ unprecedented run.

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About Eric Olsen

  • latoshia williams

    i love the temptations old songs they are great i wanted to know more about lamont williams i guess thats his name otis williams’s son

  • Lynn

    How old was he when he died and what did he die from?

  • arlene davis

    whereis dennis edwards living at and does he still perform and does he have a web sit and does otis william have a web site

  • Corinne Nurse

    I want Otis Williams to know what a good book he has written. I enjoyed reading it so much. I am tempting to collect music with David and Eddie also pictures and any books that were written about them. I am ever so crazy about David’s voice it is so amazing. He was something, I mean a character out of this world. I have an appreciation for the original temptations I can hardly wait to begin my collection. I only wish I was living in the USA in the days of David Ruffin; I am sure I would have been David’s Groupie and probably would of enjoyed it all. I just thought he was an interesting and sexy person. Oh boy I would of been going to go out of my mind. I was just coming into this world when David was 18 years of age. anyway, if there is any information that you could share about my interest for collecting their music in the biginning I mean the 1960 to when David and Eddie left the tempts, Please send me an e-mail with any information.

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Corinne, perhaps the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would have some cool information or artifacts you could check out. Have you tried Motown? Best of luck with your search – there’s nothing like the original Temps!

  • JEAN L. AIKEN

    I CAN AGREE WITH CORINNE,DAVID RUFFIN WAS VERY HANSOME.HE SANG VERY WELL,AND I GUESS I COULD HAVE BEEN A GROUPY BEING THAT HE IS ONLY 6 YRS OLDER THAN I AM AND WE BOTH ARE CAPRICORNS MY BIRTHDAY IS JANUARY 11 AND HIS IS JANUARY 18 EXACTLY ONE WEEK APART.THE MAN WAS SPECIAL AND HE WAS INDEED HANDSOME.

  • JOYCE

    I WANT TO KNOW HOW MANY TIMES EDDIE KENDRICKS WAS MARRIEDAND HOW MANY CHILDREN DID HE HAVE?

  • Maria Love

    I two would like to know more about Eddie Kendricks personal life. Such as marriages, children and his life style around the people he held close to him.

  • julito

    want to know the causes of the death of otis lamont williams the son of otis williams and want to know if mama rose maother of melvin franklin is still alive

  • http://http Marsha

    Besides his wife Patricia, how many other wives did Eddie have and how many children?

  • FPRESSINGON

    would like to know more about David Ruffin life as a boy where was his father

    why did he go live with another minister

    also are there any video/dvd of David performing? where can I find them

  • Gina Moore

    Noticed the comments on David Ruffin. He is my uncle and I may write a book about him. What aspects of his life would be of interest to you?

  • kim

    what ever happen to mama rose franklin english

  • http://www dante h. plata

    Would like to know what was/is Otis Williams last wife’s name? I think it starts with Goldie.
    Thank you.

  • Karey

    Goldie Shortridge

  • Audrey

    I want to know if Eddie Kendricks had any children, he was a very talented person, his singing voice is one in a million ,as well as his beautiful smile,His songs are also top on my list

  • Vicki

    I have searched all over the internet to find articles about Eddie Kenricks personal life. Such as where are his children. What are their names and ages. How many times was he married and for how long. Was he married when he died?
    I just can’t seem to find anything but the sam old information about him.

  • http://groups.msn.com/MotownTheTemptingTemptations Chris Chiles

    I must disagree with the beginning of your article. Being the moitors Elgens (yes like the watch and then

    BUT BASICLY EVERY THING BEGAN IN 1961 WITH ELBRIDGE AL BRYANT & RICHARD IN THE GROUP.RENT TEMPTATIONS THE MOVIE.

  • http://memphis Ida Walker

    I have purchased the dvd “Get Ready”, it is a must see for all the Temptation fans out there. This dvd goes all the way back to when the Tempts first started singing. At the end of the dvd, there is a list of people who had anything to do with putting this dvd together and one of the people was a Paul Kendicks,I wonder if this was Eddie’s son. Did he name his son after his best friend Paul Williams?

  • cherquala cole

    i loved reading the book and watching the movie very much. that is my all time favorite book movie and the musical group. i just hate that paul got on to drinking and shoot himself, david got on drugs, blue had a big heart, and he seemed like a very nice guy from what i had read and saw.that eddie had gotten cancer and i thank god that otis is still alive to tell their story. and that he had started the group and did every thing that he did

  • Corinne Nurse

    Ida Walker,
    Please share with me where you bought the DVD of Eddie, David and the original Temptations? Thank you much.

  • charles

    Iloved the temps, I use to sing their songs to my daughters when they were only three and four years old.

  • gloria monroe

    I like to known their real names and their middle name. what is Paul middle name,what is Parris middle names. i would like to see a pictuer of them and their father.

  • gloria monroe

    Do you have a picture of Paul & Paul together. do they have a middle names.

  • G Smith

    Hi folks,
    lets me just start this off like this it’s been rumored that i am the first born child of the one eddie kendricks, let me stress “rumored”
    you see the story i got from my aunt on her death bed was that my mother and he dated briefly
    while my mother was still in high school in detroit Mi. apon hearing of my mothers pregnacy she was ship off to live with my aunt and uncle my grandmothers middle brother. Eddie tried from what im told tried to find my mother but the rest of her sibling were banned from telling him of her where abouts by my grandmother.Now like i said earlier this was told to me by my aunt because she said she couldn’t take this to her grave she said to me the man whom i thought was my farther was not truly my farther and my biological farther was eddie kendricks She past in 1995 just months before eddie past.so i was unable to seek him out to try and put closer to this “rumor” so if anyone out there can give me some advice as to how i can proceed with this matter.

  • Gloria monroe

    Do you have a webb page. go to myspace.com and type in a Aika Kendricks. that how i got most of my informations.

  • Kelly Ann

    Eddie Kendricks got married around 1967. He has 3 children Aika,Paul and Parris. He divorced around the late 1980’s. His wife name Is Patricia but her nick name was “Pat”.

  • Chris

    David Ruffin’s father’s name was Eli Ruffin. He was a minister who sang with his three sons (David, who was born Davis Eli, Quincy and the later-famous singer, Jimmy Ruffin) in a traveling Gospel act. Eli was an abusive man who used to beat his sons with a leather whip. Not much is known of David’s childhood other than the fact that he left home at the age of 14. There is a groupie named Genna Sapia claiming to have been his common-law wife, and she has written a book which basically trashes him. It used to be sold on a website that no longer exists. (I guess his brothers were successful in getting it shut down).

  • barry nelson

    i like so many other brothers back in the days of singing groups and high school talent shows every group had to have a 1st tenor and ever 1st tenor in my day had one to pattren himself after and you know who that person was Eddie K.

  • Gloria monroe

    which one of Eddie Kendrick Children play in the movie.

  • Francine E. Brown

    I love the Temp’s !!!there is no other male group in the world like them.I love all the guys the same.I want to visit where it all were it started from.

  • Francine E. Brown

    4/22/09 I LOVE THE TEMP’S!!!there are the best male group of all times,the dance moves,it was everything.I can see the movie over and over.I

  • carolyn jones

    i grow up with the temptation.they were special.they had style grace.as of today i still listern to their music.one of the best group of all times.

    carolyn jones

  • Doris Moore

    At the age of 52,I finally purchased Eddie Kendricks CD,The Essential Collection, and I’m here to shout to the world that Eddie Kendricks was the greatest male R&B singer this world will ever know. I wish I wouldn’t have waited to find this CD. Without Eddie’s voice, there wouldn’t have been any Temptations, at least not the group we all got to know and love. I was a fan of his back in the 60’s and 70’s and will remain until I pass on into the next world.

  • Patricia Reel

    Even though I wasn’t born at the time the group made it big in the music industry I would just like to add my comment if there career was anything like the tape I watched I respectfully applaud there fantastic work on there songs and god bless each and everyone of them their in my prayers.

  • Patricia Reel

    I was reading the biography on the temptations and I noticed today is Eddie Kendricks B-day happy B-day whereever your listening. Miz P.Re3l 4lIfE!

  • t washington

    i would like to know where could i get the dvd from and did david have any kids how many times marries

  • bebe

    I,also would like to know the middle name of paul williams. When we were together middle names never came up. I truly loved him and miss him terribly. We have the same birthday.

  • lynettedavis

    where do you go to find out personal information about eddie kendricks family life. pictures of kids and family for eddie,david melvin paul.

  • sally

    Is otis williams first wife alive and is paUL WILLIAMS 1st wife alive?

  • angela

    my favorite song is “my girl “. i was 14 when i first saw that song on tv with motown . i still remember.

  • Shelly

    First of the all die eddie kendrck die in ?Otober of 1992.So your dates are stil;l wrong. Now all I want know is the whereabouts of the temptations. and what they are doing now. nothing speical.

  • Shortie Gee

    I do believed that eddie kendrick die in october of 1992,not 1995. No disrespect to nobody but their only (3)children that eddie kendrick cliam and die with in his heart. And I don’t have tell y’all their because everyone know whom they are.