Timeless. Crossover Appeal. Legendary.
Those are just some of the words that can be used to describe music from the chart-topping group The Main Ingredient. The trio is responsible for 70s hits such as “Everybody Plays the Fool,” “Spinning Around (I Must Be Falling in Love),” and “I’m so Proud,” to name a few.
With over 40 years music industry experience under his belt, the front man of the group, Cuba Gooding, Sr. shows no signs of slowing down. He just released a new single called “Begin with the Family.” Gooding says, “It’s simple. It’s a song that’s about family values.”
Aside from being the proud father of Oscar winning actor Cuba Gooding, Jr. and NAACP Image Award nominated actor Omar Gooding, he is also casting a net further as he was most recently named as the spokesperson for the REACH Foundation of Connecticut. The organization helps children in need physically, socially, and financially. Gooding says it’s an opportunity to use music to help get their message across: “We’ll be promoting and co-sponsoring eight major concerts to support this cause, so I’m really excited about and I’m heading up the music division for the foundation.”
Soultrain.com: How did The Main Ingredient come up with its name?
Cuba Gooding, Sr.: The Main Ingredient featured the late Tony Silvester, Luther Simmons, and the late Donald McPherson. Tony started the group while I was on the road selling encyclopedias and magazines; see, we all grew up in Harlem, NY. Because he stayed in New York longer than I did, he got into a creative group called The Poets. They became The Main Ingredient on a whim, once they made the deal to record songs like “Spinning Around,” “Black Seed,” and “I’m so Proud.” Someone else already owned the name The Poets. So one day they were all sitting around drinking Cokes in a rehearsal room and Tony looked at the ingredient section of a Coke bottle and said, “Why don’t we call ourselves ‘The Main Ingredient?’” So that’s how we got the name. Now that name was the opposite of the other groups of that era, from the Four Tops to the Temptations, so the feeling was that it had crossover appeal. They felt it was unique and I agreed when I finally joined the group.
Soultrain.com: When did you join the group?
Cuba Gooding, Sr.: I joined the group officially in 1969, but I was also was a 4th member of the Main Ingredient. There were three guys and I did some background work with them on “Black Seed Keep on Growing” and a few other songs. Don passed away in 1970 and I officially took his place. I sang “Everybody Plays the Fool,” so that was my humble beginning for the trio known as The Main Ingredient.
Soultrain.com: That is an amazing story. “Everybody Plays the Fool”–the phrase alone could mean a lot of things. Is that how the group intended it to be?
Cuba Gooding, Sr.: You are absolutely right; it does mean a lot of different things. Everybody does play the fool–we can apply that to relationships, childhood relationships, personal ones, politics, and several other things, particularly this year, especially for one of the campaigns but we won’t get into that (laughs)!
Soultrain.com: What would you say is the key to longevity in this business?
Cuba Gooding,Sr.: The key to staying in this business is having the melody and the lyrics. The melody endures through time. “Everybody Plays the Fool” will probably exist as long as there is music, just like the Temptations’ “My Girl” or the Delfonics’ “La La La Means I Love You,” and on and on with 70s music. Having the music pleasing to the ear–no matter what the beat was, the groove was, the musical direction–having music that is pleasing to the ear demonstrated by a horn or a flute or even a human voice has all the longevity in the world. I grew up in an era where the melody and the lyric were the first hints to the fact that the radio was always on. Now we have a situation where the internet has in most instances replaced the radio, so shows like Soul Train and American Bandstand realistically don’t exist. However, we had a much better shot at it then, instead of the way youngsters do now as far as distribution is concerned, because now even if you hear the music, you may never get the name of the artist. If you get the name of the artist, you may not be able to name but one or two songs that they have, so how do you create a superstar or icon? How do you create another group like the Beach Boys or the Four Tops if nobody knows you as an artist? They can hear you but they may not see you, and if they see you, then you go right next to other people that sound just like you, so a lot of times the best thing to do is to go into acting so that you can be seen and use your speaking talents at your advantage to feed your family. That’s what it’s all about, you do it not just for the love of the music or the love of the craft, but to be self-sustaining in order to self sustain yourself you have to be able to feed your family.
Soultrain.com: Can you explain that a little further–the differences in the industry now versus when you started?
Cuba Gooding, Sr.: One of the main things missing right now is the radio. The radio used to always be on, it came into your home first thing in the morning, and put you to sleep at night. You listen to songs like “Everybody Plays the Fool.” Gladys Knight and I had this discussion recently, and the surrogate of the radio became the television. The Hit Parade where Johnny Mathis got his start, and the Ed Sullivan Show…and then came the bonanza for superstars, Soul Train and American Bandstand. Every Saturday people could actually see the artist performing the songs that you had been listening to on the radio. Specifically black artists–you could visibly see what the Chi-Lites or the Stylistics look like as they sang songs. You see what they look like and those people became heroes to people like me sitting at home watching. The whole idea of having a vehicle that brought the music to your ears and it allowed you to watch it at the same time was phenomenal. You could turn it on at 11AM and I’d actually see the person singing “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Then I would go out and buy the records for a dollar. So that brings us to today, the anonymity of artists today; it’s not because they aren’t good. What has been taken away is who fans want to pay $75 to $100 per ticket to see. Because the radio has told you immediately that Lady Gaga was happening before she ever went on television, you just wanted to see what she was looking like. Now with the computer, not every one is computer literate so it’s not accessible for everyone, so it’s got to be drummed into audiences’ minds by mass publicity, media exposure. So many other people have to make money before the artist can make money. It’s like a political campaign: Whoever can put up the most money and make the most noise gets the attention. Gladys Knight could have a new record out, but some may not know it because she’s not on young peoples’ radar, or even being played on those types of radio stations. So, back to your question on longevity as an icon. It was so much easier for me back then. I don’t know if “Everybody Plays the Fool” would be a hit today if it was released tomorrow. I do know that four generations of young people have embraced that particular song. I’m proud of that; I don’t know how we can improve on that with the internet factor. Back then, radio was the key and we were selling something that made you feel good just by listening to it, so that’s the difference between then and now.
Soultrain.com: How do you feel about your music from the 70s being used for soundtracks in movies in 2012?
Cuba Gooding, Sr.: My son, Cuba Jr., is studying to be a director. He’s working on the movie about the family, but he said doing the music for the Cuba Gooding Story is going to be the easy part of the film. We go into production next year, but he said over the past 25 years, 85% of feature films have had a 70s song in it to tell the story of what is going on in a movie. There’s a new movie out with Meryl Streep that has “Everybody Plays the Fool” in it, and it’s doing very well at the box office, but that’s another conversation. As for movies they are getting licensing to redo songs from 40 years ago. Just a simple statement has lasted 40 years, and those simple statements help sell the movies. It is criminal to me that youngsters today are not encouraged to do just a simple song. Alicia Keys redid a song of mine called “Let Me Prove My Love to You”, but her song was “You Don’t Know My Name.” She used my adlibs and kept it in the song. I still get checks for that today, but the fact of the matter is it was better for her to license my music if she wanted to have those ooh’s and aah’s behind her.
Soultrain.com: On that note, what do you think about other artists sampling your music?
Cuba Gooding, Sr.: I think it says a lot about a young person, producer, agent, or manager, to use some of the ingredients of music that have lasted decades and add that to the music today. I think that’s one of the best technologies of the computer age today, to be able to do that. It’s wonderful. On whatever radio is left today, you don’t hear a lot of music that is brand new from scratch piano playing like Paul McCartney did; instead they are doing another version or remakes of stuff from years ago. Artists like Gladys Knight’s and Barbra Streisand’s most recent albums were remakes, because why try to do something different and new unless you can reinvent yourself as well? There was no need for Michael Jackson to do that, but God forbid if there was only the internet when the Jacksons started and no Ed Sullivan Show or American Bandstand. How far would they have gotten? How do we even create a Jackson 5 today? There’s no way to do that. It’s scary when you think about it. Don Cornelius jumpstarted my career and I have a lot of company.
Soultrain.com: You have been quoted in prior interviews saying you owe your career to Don Cornelius. Why do you credit your career to him?
Cuba Gooding, Sr.: Don Cornelius brought Soul Train to the world. He became popular, like Bob Marley became more popular than Elvis Presley; Bob Marley drew more people to his concerts than Elvis. Presley didn’t find it necessary to tour, but then he also had other issues. I feel the same about Don Cornelius and Dick Clark. Don Cornelius was the music industry and at the time it was called black television. Nonetheless, the music was judged by the white stations as to what record they would play and the black radio station signaled to the white radio station which record to play. So if I had not had Don Cornelius and Soul Train, I never would have gotten on American Bandstand. I also never would have had a number one record that lasted forever and ever. It was my springboard, as well as others’. He put a face on us so that we could go on to become what some call legends and icons today. It’s tragic how we lost him.
Soultrain.com: Any memories of Soul Train that you’d like to share?
Cuba Gooding, Sr.: We did one of the first episodes of Soul Train when it was in Chicago. The sets were made of cardboard, and we were one of the first to sing on the show. Soul Train has got to be an integral part of the Main Ingredient’s beginnings and it’s just as important as the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
For more information on Cuba Gooding Sr. check out his website cuba-gooding.com.
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Vibe, Creative Loafing, or her own site, www.themofochronicles.com. She’s also a special guest contributor on The Social Hour on Urban Soul Radio. Follow her on Twitter @mofochronicles.