Eddie Kendricks, one of the former lead singers of the legendary Temptations, carved quite a niche out for himself when he left the group in 1971. Many felt he made a huge mistake leaving the group, thinking he would not be successful as a solo singer and that he would just simply be viewed as a former singer with the Temptations trying to make it on his own. However, Kendricks would later prove the doubters wrong.
When Don Cornelius was putting together the pilot episode for the national version of Soul Train, he needed some real big names in order for it to get on the air. He booked Gladys Knight & the Pips, one of the most popular R&B groups of the time and who happened to be doing shows in Las Vegas during the weekend they taped the show; Honey Cone, a fairly new girl group who had been recording since the late sixties and at the time had a huge hit with “Want Ads;” and a local singer from Chicago named Bobby Hutton, who also appeared on Cornelius’ local version of Soul Train in Chicago. Kendricks, who had just released his first solo album entitled All By Myself on Motown’s Tamla label, was asked to appear on the pilot. This would be a chance for him to perform material from his solo album to a national audience, and would also actually be Kendricks’ first time performing solo on television.
Holding Kendricks’ current album from his platform, Cornelius said, “Let’s have a Soul Train welcome for the one and only Eddie Kendricks!” After applause, Kendricks performed a beautiful track called “I Did It All For You.” After his performance, Cornelius came on stage and told Kendricks that the song was too beautiful for words and the album is one of the most beautiful things he ever heard. Cornelius asked Kendricks how he came up with such a beautiful song to which Kendricks responded that the album’s producer, Frank Wilson, came up with all of the tunes. Cornelius then asked Kendricks how it felt to be “traveling alone” after having spent so many years with the Temptations. Kendricks answered, “It’s kind of lonesome. You don’t have as many fellas out there. That’s the only difference I can see.”
Kendricks closed the show with his current single “It’s So Hard For Me To Say Goodbye,” a poignant melancholy tune that reached number 37 on the soul charts and number 88 on the pop charts. The album did quite well on the soul charts, reaching number 6, but stalled at number 80 on the pop charts.
Cornelius was very appreciative of all of the artists that appeared on the program’s pilot episode. Kendricks went on to perform many more times on the show.
On Kendricks’ second Soul Train appearance, taped in August 1972, he performed material from People Hold On, his second solo album. He opened with the first single release from the album, entitled “Eddie’s Love.” Midway through the show, Kendricks participated in a Q&A session with the Soul Train Gang. One of the dancers, Sherry Newman, asked Kendricks why he left the Temptations. He answered, “There were a lot of reasons and I’d rather not even say unless I tell the gospel about it.”
Another dancer asked who gave Kendricks his start. Kendricks replied that it was Paul Williams of the Temptations, and added that he was a dishwasher before he was discovered. Susan Wilson asked Kendricks if he would reconsider going back to the Temptations. “You never go backwards,” Kendricks replied.
After the Q&A session, Cornelius asked Kendricks to perform his tune “I Can” from All By Myself a capella, which Cornelius had seen him perform at the Skyway Club in Chicago. Kendricks’ tender falsetto vibrated throughout the studio as he sang, enrapturing the female members of the Soul Train Gang in his performance. This was the only time that an artist performed a song a capella in its entirety in Soul Train history. When he finished, he received a thunderous ovation. Kendricks closed the show with his current single, the romantic “If You Let Me,” which went number 17 on the soul charts and 66 on the pop charts.
Kendricks’ music was making some headway in a new musical genre called disco. Two of the tracks from his People Hold On album, “Girl You Need a Change of Mind” and “Date With The Rain,” were played constantly in the underground disco clubs in 1972 and 1973, particularly in the New York City area. Later in 1973 and throughout the mid-seventies, Kendricks would become one of the most popular artists of the disco genre thanks to his amazing talent and producers Leonard Caston and Frank Wilson, as well as great musicians that included King Errison, James Carmichael, Dean Parks and James Jamerson of Motown’s Funk Brothers.
Kendricks’ third solo album, simply self-titled, featured a long funky track entitled “Keep On Truckin’.” This exciting cut was played heavily not only in discos, but on both soul and pop radio stations across the country. Kendricks appeared on all of the major television programs to promote the single. In fact, Kendricks was so popular in 1973 and 1974, he performed three times on Soul Train during the 1973-1974 season.
Kendricks promoted three tracks from his third solo album on the September 8, 1973 taping of Soul Train– the Carribean-flavored “Darling Come Back Home,” the thought provoking “Can’t Help What I Am” and of course, his current hit smash single “Keep On Truckin’.” Before Cornelius turned over the Q&A session to the Soul Train Gang, he jokingly mentioned how “Dr.” Eddie Kendricks expounded on the different zodiac signs during a tour stop in Greensboro, NC. (Kendricks, along with The Sylvers, The Moments, The Whispers and the Soul Train Gang, traveled across the country as part of the Soul Train road tours from the summer of 1973 to the spring of 1974.)
Soul Train dancer Vicki Abercrombie asked Kendricks what the advantages were to singing solo. Kendricks simply stated, “Individual freedom.” Dancer Bobby Washington asked if Kendricks would someday want to be a vice president of Motown. Kendricks laughed and said, “That’s a hot potato! I hope to someday be in the position I want to be.” After several more questions, Kendricks performed his hot single “Keep On Truckin’” to an excited Soul Train Gang. This track was played on Soul Train several times from August to October 1973 and had the Soul Train Gang locking, roboting, splitting and blowing party whistles. This performance, aired September 29, 1973 in most areas, propelled “Keep On Truckin” to the number one spot for two weeks on both the soul and pop charts in October 1973 and helped Kendricks break out into the mainstream as a star solo artist. It also helped his third solo album become a huge hit on the charts, reaching number five and 16 on the soul and pop charts.
Kendricks returned to Soul Train for its December 2, 1973 taping (he also taped American Bandstand the same weekend). He reprised “Keep On Truckin’” for a hyped up Soul Train Gang. Later, during an interview with Kendricks, Cornelius talked about how they both had fun traveling across the country as part of the Soul Train road tour but then he added, “I’m tired!” Kendricks chimed in, “I am too!” After the interview Kendricks performed his brand new single, the organ and horn-driven dance track “Boogie Down,” which had the Soul Train Gang screaming and blowing whistles. It didn’t take long for Kendricks to have another solid hit on his hands. After this episode aired on January 12, 1974, “Boogie Down” shot up to number one on the soul charts for three weeks beginning the week of February 9, becoming a number two pop hit the same month and Kendricks’ second million seller as a solo artist. Kendricks closed this episode with his single from the previous year, “Darling Come Back Home” (before this segment of the show aired, the current Temptations’ hit “Let Your Hair Down” was played for the Soul Train Gang. In fact, “Boogie Down” knocked “Let Your Hair Down” out of the number one on the soul charts).
During a Los Angeles concert stop, in which Kendricks performed as the opening act on a Gladys Knight & The Pips tour, he made his fifth Soul Train appearance on the March 10, 1974 taping, which aired May 18, 1974 in most areas. He performed three tracks from his new album Boogie Down, including the title track, his new single “Son of Sagittarius,” and the tender heartfelt ballad “Tell Her Love Has Felt the Need,” which would be released as a single during the summer. His new album shot to number one on the soul charts and number 30 on the pop charts.
Kendricks would go on to appear several more times on Soul Train, his last appearance being in April 1988 with fellow Temptations lead singer David Ruffin with whom he’d recorded a duet album in 1987 simply titled Ruffin & Kendricks. The two performed their singles “One More for the Lonely Hearts Club” and “I Couldn’t Believe It.”
Sadly, Kendricks died from cancer in 1992, one year after Ruffin died. However, Kendricks’ music as part of the Temptations as well as his solo work will continue to “keep on truckin’” in the annals of music history.
Stephen McMillian is a journalist, writer, actor, filmmaker, dancer, Soul Train historian and soul music historian. He will be appearing in the play “My First Experience at the Garage,” based on the popular eighties club, on October 19 and 20 in New York City at Symphony Space. For more information visit, www.symphonyspace.org.