The greatest falsetto, the sweetest smile, responsible for dress and style. However, the Expressive vocalist was known not only for his years as an original member of Motownís supergroup, The Temptations, but also for his major success as a solo artist in the 1970ís. He was born Edward James Kendrick (which he later changed to Kendricks) on December 17, 1939 in Union Springs, Alabama, and moved to Birmingham when he was seven, but it would be Motownís original home of Detroit that would make him a star.
In 1955, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Willy Waller, and Kell Osborne, were singing in local talent shows in their hometown. Realizing they would never make it if they stayed in Birmingham, Eddie and Paul left for Cleveland, where they worked at the Majestic Hotel on 55th & Central. Kendricks washed dishes and Williams worked as a bellhop. They also performed in the hotelís Rose Room with the now deceased dancer/contortionist Caldonia Young, but the group never recorded.
With nothing happening in Cleveland, the two moved to Detroit, along with new manager Milton Jenkins, who promised them a recording deal. It was in Detroit that Kell Osborne rejoined them, and they called themselves The Primes. When future Temptation Otis Williams and his group shared rehearsal space with The Primes, they couldnít help but notice Kendricksí vocal prowess and Paul Williams smooth and classy choreography. In 1961, tired of the small club "gigs", Kendricks returned home to Birmingham, Kell Osborne left to go solo, and The Primes disbanded.
Shortly after, Kendricks, back in Detroit to visit Paul Williams, made a phone call that would change history. On the other end of the phone, Otis Williams couldnít believe his luck - Richard Street and Pee Wee Crawford has just quit The Distants, so Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Elbridge Bryant, Eddie Kendricks, and Paul Williams, became The Elgins.
The group arrived at Hitsville, on an invitation by Berry Gordy, and impressed with the groups performance, he signed them on the spot. After discovering that another group was calling themselves The Elgins, they changed their name to the Temptations, right on the front lawn of the Hitsville building.
Eddie Kendricks, with his creamy tenor, falsetto, and Paul Williams, with his earthy Baritone, shared the leads on the Temptations early records. However, the Tempts ended 1963 with a series of stiffs, and that was the least of their problems. Group member Elbridge Bryant was drinking and complaining. He was fired after a Motortown Revue Christmas show in December 1963. In came showman David Ruffin, not yet a star but on the move.
Finally, in 1964, with the Smokey Robinson crafted "The Way You Do The Things You Do", the Temptations had their first hit. The hits continued with Kendricks singing most of the leads, to include "Iíll Be in Trouble", "The Girlís Alright With Me"(which Kendricks co-wrote), "Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)", and "Baby, Baby I Need You", until late in December of 1964 when Smokey penned the infamous "My Girl" written with David in mind. It was a universal number one smash that turned The Temptations into a household word. Smokey turned from Eddie Kendricks to David Ruffin as the groupís centerpiece, but didnít leave Eddie totally behind, serving up the stone R&B jam "Get Ready" for him to ride. However, "Get Ready" failed to crack the Pop Top Twenty, and "Ainít Too Proud To Beg" with David Ruffin on lead, was chosen as the next Temptations single. Written and produced by Norman Whitfield, the hit promised Norman the follow ups for the next eight years. Most of the hits that followed featured David on lead, except for the soulful top ten hit "Youíre My Everything" , in which David joins Eddie.
Yet with the fame, came trouble. There were hints that Ruffin sought top billing. Egos flared and their were fits of anger between the guys. Ruffin was replaced with Dennis Edwards. Eddie had threatened to quit when David was fired from the group, and eventually he did. Eddie loved David and they would remain close friends until Davidís death. So Eddie was torn, wrestling with leaving his beloved Temptations, or having a solo career. "I did not want him to leave." says his mother, Leebell Kendricks. He hated having to choose. Eddie quieted his mind to turn the gossamer "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)", into the performance of his life. The combination of his voice close to the microphone, the slow drag guitar in the spaces between the percussion, and the groupsí hushed harmony , made for an exquisite moment.
Eddie made his choice when he walked off the stage at the Copa in New York after the first show, and never returned. He was replaced briefly by Ricky Owens and later Damon Harris, Glenn Leonard, and Ron Tyson, respectively. Many Temptations fans questioned the wisdom of Kendricks leaving the still tremendously popular group, but Eddie proved to be quite viable as a solo act. His first post Temptations solo album was All By Myself which included the song "This Used To Be The Home of Johnnie Mae", sung with surprising reverence in Eddieís natural tenor. Within the confines of a group already rich with tenors, The Temptations failed to utilize Kendricks natural voice as often as they should have, a great injustice in my opinion. However, you can hear his natural voice in some early Temptations songs such as the 1963 single "May I Have This Dance", and the just recently released "My Pillow", recorded in 1962.
Unlike many solo Motown acts, content to occasionally raid Jobete Music Publishingís vast array of sure-fire covers, Kendricks, and thanks largely to songwriters/producers Frank Wilson and Leonard Caston quickly developed a sound of his own. Eddie would continue to record songs on the subject of love, but in keeping up with the times, would record some Disco tunes like "Keep On Truckin"(a #1 R&B hit) and "Boogie Down"(#2 on the soul charts). Other noteworthy solo hits were "Shoeshine Boy", "Get The Cream Off The Top" and "Happy" in 1975. In 1976 Norman Harris took over as producer. (Normanís crew included high sweet tenor Ron Tyson who would eventually end up with The Temptations). It was with Norman that Eddie would record Heís A Friend, Kendricks first record about spirituality. This trend would continue as evidenced in the 1976 recordings of "Goiní Up in Smoke", "Born Again", and "Donít You Want Light". Eddie was no stranger to God; religion was definitely in his background, but he had temporarily lost his way. Before his death Eddie would secure promises from family members that they would return to the church. For Slick, in 1977, his last Tamla/Motown album, Eddie returned to Leonard Caston. Following Motown, Eddie signed with Arista Records and later Atlantic Records for the 1981 Love Keys, a fine effort despite Kendricks weakened voice.
Following a brief reunion album and tour with the Temptations in 1982, Kendricks suffered declining success and health. He later teamed with his Temptations brother David Ruffin on RCA for an album called simply Ruffin & Kendrick and decided to return to his roots and drop the "s" from the end of his name.
The pair also teamed with Daryl Hall & John Oates to appear live at The Apollo Theater in New York in 1985. In 1989, at the Temptations induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, David and Eddie decided to get together with Dennis Edwards, but their debut album entitled Get It While Itís Hot was apparently never released.
By October of 1991 Eddie knew he was dying when doctors removed a cancerous lung. It was then that he swore off smoking, but it was too late. Shortly before his surgery Kendricks got together with David Ruffin and Dennis Edwards to make a video called "Street Gold - The Original Leads of The Temptations." Unfortunately, instead it turned out, that the video became a special tribute to David Ruffin when David died tragically and unexpectedly of a cocaine overdose before the video was completed. David's death tore Eddie up, he never could quite come to terms with the circumstances of his best friends death. Eddie was among the pallbearers at David's funeral, and it was reported that as he sat sobbing uncontrollably with his head in his hands, so-called fans and press snapped pictures. But things would only get worse for Kendricks that day, when outside the church he was arrested for back child support (he had three children) and would spend a brief period in jail. Although Eddie was suffering terribly at this point, he continued through sheer force of will to try and complete the video, his determination apparent in his offhand remark about a portion of the video when he said, "Iím glad we kept that on tape because it is something weĎll never get again. ItĎll never happen anymore."
His failing health was becoming even more evident on stage in his final appearances, especially at the Apollo Theater in N.Y. in June of 1992, only months before his death. Part way through the show, which included Dennis Edwards, Damon Harris, and Daryl Hall, Kendricks left the stage, the empty microphone remaining. He came back at the end of the show, to take his bows with the others, but only briefly. He flashed his familiar smile to the cheering audience, then turned, and quickly exited the stage, but not before a camera at the rear of the stage would catch the pained look on his face. Kendricks died of lung cancer less than four months later on October 5, 1992, at the age of 52. A tragic and unfortunate loss to be sure, but we continue to enjoy his music, and we try not to be sad, as we remember some words Eddie said, "Anything can happen to you - at any moment, so you might as well try to be a happy person at all times, rather than be sad, because you can only be sad by yourself - nobody usually is sad with you." Eddie Kendricks - Master of Melody - now thatís somebody to remember.