Motown Spotlight, May 2020

Dennis Edwards & Temptations

As life has changed for us all during the past two months or so, and as we've cried incessantly at the tragedy of lost life, we can't help but be concerned about the future.  We'll be in a situation we can't control but I've a feeling we'll do the right thing for each other.  I don't know about you, but I've done a lot of listening and reading, while toying around with different book ideas, but top of my list is interacting with people. Aside from obvious like Facetime and Zoom, this is what has made writing this blog all the more important.  I've called it "word talking" …so let's TCB…. 

Memories

 

Just recently I came across the Memories – The Amazing Life and Untimely Death of the Legendary Dennis Edwards, a book authored by Anthony Fuller, the singer's cousin.  (Valley Publishing Company – 2019).  In the preface, Anthony explained he wrote the book in response to fans wanting answers about Dennis' life and demise.  He's also quick to point out that it's not been professionally edited and the conversations are reproduced as said, in slang.  All credit to him. It's not a comfortable read in places as it opened up Dennis' somewhat insatiable appetite for women and drugs.  

Born in Fairfield, Alabama, on 3 February 1943, Dennis Edwards and his family moved to Detroit when he was about ten years old. As a youngster, he sang in church choirs, pastored by his father.  The Mighty Clouds of Joy was his first group, and by 1961 he had formed Dennis Edwards and the Fireballs, a soul/jazz outfit. He recorded "I Didn't Have To (But I Did)" for the little-known Detroit label, International Soulville Records before heading for the US military.  Upon joining Motown on a retainer, he first hooked up with The Contours as lead singer, before replacing David Ruffin in The Temptations.

This isn't meant to be a biography but reckoned a little back history would set the scene.  Otis Williams remembered inviting Dennis to join the group.  "He was out of the Contours then…he had to learn the songs and the steps and get used to our schedules, but it seemed to be working out,", he wrote in his autobiography Temptations. The public first saw him perform in July 1968 at The Forum, Los Angeles, where the first part of the show featured Otis, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams and Melvin Franklin.  Dennis was introduced during the second half.  As you know, when Dennis was drafted in to replace David Ruffin the transition was not a happy one:  in fact, David caused many a fractious situation that included trying to jump on stage with the group mid-way through a performance.  Otis Williams further wrote that at one point the group considered re-instating him, ensuring Dennis moved on to a solo career, but once again it was David's erratic behaviour and disregard for honouring touring commitments, that sealed his fate and led to Dennis being  hired on a permanent basis.

Anthony Fuller regularly dipped in and out of Dennis' life, before, during and after his Temptations' stint which, as it transpired covered many broken years. The book confirmed that Dennis' first recorded work with the group - and David's last - was "Please Return Your Love To Me," extracted as a single from "The Temptations Wish It Would Rain” LP,  whereas I thought it was "Cloud Nine".  Anyway, the group was at the top of their game with Norman Whitfield steering them into a whole new musical world of psychedelic funk likened to that being produced by Sly and the Family Stone.  It was a move Otis first initiated with Norman Whitfield, who told a surprised Temptation, it was a musical arena he was reluctant to enter.  "A few weeks later Norman played us ….'Cloud Nine'.  He said, 'So you were right.  Let's go on and make the record.'"   The group were excited about the single; it hit the spot and felt good.  Yet it bothered Otis.  "(I) wondered how it would go over with our fans.  Again, we got their full support."  Despite its lyrics, "Cloud Nine" wasn't about drug abuse, rather the struggles of low paid, everyday family life. The expression, Otis explained, was one he recalled as a child, as he told Paul Sexton in an October 2019 interview: "I would hear a guy being so knocked out by a woman that he would tell me, 'man, the way she made love to me….I was on cloud nine'."  A debatable statement methinks.  The single won them their first Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance - and the rest is history. The Temptations rose to a glorious high once more, as hit upon hit secured their place in a global market – "I Can't Get Next To You", "Ball Of Confusion, "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" and so on.   Two albums in particular were monster multi-million sellers – "Puzzle People" and "Psychedelic Shack" in 1969 and 1970 respectively.

This then was the musical landscape that Dennis joined: his rugged good looks, his powerful gritty voice that could shift mountains, his big heart and personality made him the perfect fit.  Dennis was living the life, wrote Anthony Fuller, he had plenty of money; drove a sweet sports car; had closets bursting with designer clothes, and was living with the finest girl in Detroit.  All the trappings of life in the rich, fast lane, that also included a growing habit of cocaine and weed joints dipped in brown hash oil.

"Dennis had a fiery, gospel-trained voice and vocally stood second to none.  His rep(utation) as a singer was rivalled only by his rep as a ladies' man," wrote Aretha Franklin in her autobiography From These Roots. The two were an item at one time.  Her encounters with Dennis were mostly wonderful, she added.  They had a strong physical attraction for each other, but all the while her woman's instinct nagged her that he couldn't be trusted. Despite these reservations, he was her magnet.  One time, he gave her a ring, a platinum setting with a single yet sizable white diamond.  She returned it, indicating their affair was over.  However, prior to this and in the aftermath of a lengthy romantic limousine drive, Aretha penned "Day Dreaming", lifted as a single from her "Young, Gifted And Black" album in 1972.   "Day dreaming and I think of you….I want to be what he wants….and when he's lonesome and feeling love-starved, I'll be there to feed it…"  Aw, what's not to love!

While the world enjoyed The Temptations' music, moves were afoot for them to leave Motown, with offers on the table from several interested companies. "We were in the process of recording 'The Temptations Do The Temptations' when our contract came up for renewal," wrote Otis Williams.  "It was 1976 and Motown was a totally different place."  As negotiations progressed, it became clear Dennis wouldn't be moving with them. "His troubles were getting out of control; his attitude was generally intolerable.  A couple of years later, when his mother confessed to me that she had spoiled him rotten because he was an only kid, I said to myself 'Aha!'. We loved Dennis; he's a good brother, but we just couldn't take his nonsense anymore, and at the same time he felt the urge to try it solo…"  It took some months before we were told that Dennis' departure wasn't of his own making; we assumed he wanted to branch out on a solo career, using his highly successful stint with The Temptations as his launching pad.   His first solo attempt failed, but his career was saved when he was asked to rejoin The Temptations upon their return to Motown from a relatively unsuccessful stay with Atlantic Records with a couple of poor selling albums "Hear To Tempt You" in 1977 and "Bare Back" a year later, with their associated singles.  In 1979, Atlantic released them from their contract, enabling them to return to Motown the following year after an invitation from Smokey Robinson.  Otis Williams: "Smokey was the revolving door, as we called him because he helped us leave Motown and then he helped us come back. Berry Gordy had (co) written a song called 'Power' and he felt it was perfect for us….We met Berry at an impromptu meeting in Smokey's office and before we knew where we were, we were gathered around a piano rehearsing 'Power'. It all seemed to fall into place…"

Reunion

 

The following "Reunion" album (with the membership Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin Glenn Leonard, Richard Street, Dennis Edwards) faired much better thanks to the Rick James'-inspired "Standing On The Top" on which he also performed (the promotional video is exceptional). From here the group kicked off their Reunion tour in April 1982.  Despite great expectations of the public rushing to see this extraordinary group performing, the tour was only partially successful.  David Ruffin and Dennis Edwards missing shows due to their rising drug abuse didn't help matters, and, of course, the group lost money for non-appearances. The novelty bubble had burst, and Dennis and David were given their marching orders.

Ali-Ollie Woodson temporarily replaced Dennis. However, by 1987 Dennis returned to replace him, inspiring the title of their next album "Together Again".  A year later, Dennis left permanently with Ali-Ollie Woodson taking his place.  I think I've got that in the right order, as to be honest, I'm fair worn out with all the comings and goings! 

As a soloist, it was Dennis Edwards' intention to take Teddy Pendergrass' crown for himself.  He felt that being in a group was yesterday's news, particularly when money earned needed to be split five ways.  Author Anthony Fuller well remembered this time in his book as he accompanied Dennis to the recording studio, to liquor stores and dope houses, and was introduced to a string of beautiful women.  Two highly credible albums were issued by Motown – "Don't Look Any Further" in 1984, spawning its title track as a hit single.  This duet with Siedah Garrett not only reaffirmed Dennis as an exceptional singer but it also offered an outstanding bass line.  Two further, less successful, singles followed, namely, "(You're My) Aphrodisiac" and "Another Place In Time".  A year later, "Coolin' Out" hit the streets where the first single "Amanda" was followed by the album's title in June and August respectively.  Both albums and all the singles were UK-released.

Dennis fought hard to uplift his career: strutting the strut, living the dream.  Yet, he had gained weight, using a cummerbund to secure his expanding waistline. I got the impression from the book, that money, women and drugs continued on a never-ending conveyor belt, while the public loved to hear his baritone tenor voice gracing well loved songs.  In an attempt to clean up his act, Dennis went into rehab, after being hounded by drug dealers for unpaid bills.  One incident terrified him sufficiently to say ,"I knew I had to make changes."   Dennis was a complex man.  On the one hand, he was a dedicated family man, happy being at home doing everyday things; on the other, his professional life appeared to be dogged with unwise decisions and countless demons.  Throughout though he maintained a high public profile, delighting audiences with his dynamic, inspiring persona on stage. Turning the clock forward further, Dennis hooked up with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks on record and on tour, and during the nineties he toured using the name "Dennis Edwards and The Temptations", prompting Otis Williams to take legal action for using the group's name. "The Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards" was used instead.

Around 2003, Dennis struggled once more with his weight, and had married again for the fifth time, I think.  Andrew Fuller also believed that Dennis had fathered as many as sixty children across the world.   Despite his recurring destructive streak, Dennis outlived four of the five Temptations, as he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch during 2013. "I never imagined I'd be one of the last ones standing.  Me and Otis.  We really got caught up in the times, and how the heck did I make it?  We dibbled and dabbled with alcohol and drugs.  But it's important for people to know that if you change your lifestyle and wake up, there is hope….I had a mother who prayed for me, and prayer changes everything."

Sadly, Dennis was running out of time, and when in the spring of 2017, news filtered across the internet, that he was seriously ill.  He had contracted meningitis and suffered a stroke. Further facts were sketchy, but it later appeared Adult Protective Services were alerted to his apartment following reports that his wife, Brenda, was mistreating him.  Long story short, in an interview with CBS2 after his death, she said, "He just had thoughts that people were trying to do things to him."  Brenda was cleared of all charges.   In his book, Anthony Fuller detailed how he had arranged for Dennis to be transferred to a Detroit hospital, where he would receive a higher level of professional care, having learned he was paralysed and suffering from a urinary tract infection.  "He had helped so many people along the way and there he was lying in Mercy Medical Centre alone, unable to move."  Sadly, before he could put his plan into action, Dennis' heart gave out and he died on 1 February 2018, two days before his 75th birthday.   On 11 February, a public viewing and celebration of his life was held at the FaithMiracleTemple, St Louis, while six days later, a memorial service was arranged in Detroit's Little Rock Baptist church, where three choirs and a female soloist performed, and Dennis' eldest son sang "A Song For You". 

As Diana Ross fans will know, her Top Of The World tour has been postponed.  In the light of our current awfulness this came as no surprise.  However, what did surprise me was tickets were still being sold after the announcement.  At least, so I've been told. Anyway, in that same conversation it emerged that it took Ticketmaster several weeks after Diana's announcement to confirm this on its website. By all accounts,  Diana was prompted to go public following an article (which I read and instantly dismissed) in the 18 March edition of The Daily Mirror claiming, something like, she intended to fly over in a private plane with her own medical team (which was a load of ‘you-know-what’). She wrote, "I am respecting the authorities' direction and for the health and safety of everyone, I will not be coming to the UK this summer. I'm heartbroken.  I hope to be seeing you as soon as the promoters reschedule."   Around 7 May, she further posted on her FB page, "We notified the promoter of the concerns.  They are working to rectify this as soon as possible…. I believe the intention of the promoters is to reschedule.  Thank you for your patience.  Sending my love and prayers to everyone."

After later checking with a couple of fans who I've known for years and who certainly know the business, it seems there's been no option to return ticket money; indeed this statement from the promoters seems to confirm this.  "We are currently working hard with the artist to reschedule the dates, so would advise you to hold on to your tickets as they will remain valid for the future dates."  All well and good. Ticket money is sitting in the promoter's bank account, probably accruing some sort of interest until 2021 dates are confirmed.  Mmm. Presumably when new dates are announced and fans can't actually attend, refunds will be available.  So, why not do that now? Oh, yeah, I think I've answered my own question. 

Supertonic

 

So, this brings me to the Motown/Ume album "Supertonic".  First off, the promotional blurb: "'Supertonic' is a special kind of Diana Ross magic.  Absolutely authentic;  it's her voice, her electrifying sound.  The music knows no boundaries, blending the past and the new in this new collection."  The nine remixes have been adapted from original master multi-tracks by Eric Kupper.  Keith Russell, a presenter on SheppeyFM 92.2FM on Thursdays between 12pm–4pm (email: contact@sheppeyfm.org.uk for requests) tells me the radio-friendly "It's My House" has been released in advance of the album and is already attracting airtime.  Tracks, which vary in length, are "I'm Coming Out/Upside Down". "Love Hangover", "The Boss", "Surrender", "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", "No One Gets The Prize",  "Touch Me In The Morning" and "Remember Me".  The latter two are, as you probably know, high in the list of my best loved Ross tracks, and I'm getting a little nervous about hearing them. This, of course, isn't the album Diana's public was expecting.  Keith also told me that during one of her Las Vegas performances, she talked about working with Mark Ronson, among others, on new material, and, rightly so, fans hoped this would be issued to coincide with her UK visit.  Maybe next year now.

"Supertonic" is digitally available this month, with the CD and crystal clear vinyl version available n 26 June.  Additionally, you don't need me to tell you that the sleeve, with a different background, was used on her "The Greatest" CD released, I think, 2011.

Romina

 

While writing this I was listening to a brand new digital release "Heartbeat"from Romina Johnson, who has a tenuous link to Motown as she's the partner of Angelo Starr, brother of Edwin.  It works for me.  However, as I'm rapidly running out of space here and would like to do the album justice because it's worthy of so much more than a few rushed lines,  I'll talk more about it and Romina next month.  However, I must mention two "hit-me" tracks in this incredibly stylish release which as a whole is a fusing of innocence and gentle sass, with a little audacity and vulnerability thrown into the mix.  Oh, the tracks are "Glad I Got To Know You" and "Catch You Out".  An established artist with a rich musical history, Romina's presentations are uncluttered and on the button.  Meantime, do check her out Spotify or visit her website www.rominajohnson.com until I come back to you next month.

Take care of each other – keep calm and listen to Motown!

Sharon Davis

 

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