2. "Dennis Edwards tells all post-Tempts stint #1, 1977 (sw, long & messy)" In response to In response to 0
Written on June 6, 1977 by Leonard Pitts Jr. Dennis Edwards and The Sinking Of The Good Ship Temptations
The press release was terse and to the point. "The Temptations and Dennis Edwards have mutually agreed to terminate their association in order for Edwards to pursue a separate career. A replacement for Edwards will be announced in the near future."
One might never have known from reading it that a bit more than an "association" had ended. It was almost a musical era, an era that began spectacularly in 1968 with an innovative song called "CLOUD NINE," which garnered gold and a first Grammy for the group. The era ended inconspicuously in 1977, it's passing marked only by an unsuccessful little single called "Who Are You?" from an unsuccessful little album called "The Temptations."
At the beginning of the "era" the group was universally acclaimed the world's #1 male recording group. At the end, their records were not selling, and they were having trouble filling concert halls they once would have filled with ease. What happened in the interim is a story in itself. Of course, there were the many personnel changes, which helped to weaken the Temptations as a musical force. Then too, other groups exploded- The Jackson Five in 1969, The O'Jays in 1972, the Spinners in 1971.
"It's a new era out there now," says Dennis Edwards, "and we didn't change, man. We didn't change." His long frame seems out of place in the rigid little chair, and periodically he bounces to his feet to pace around SOUL's offices as he speaks. His enthusiasm is like that of a child's in it's intensity-certainly a far cry from the egotism of which fans have sometimes accused him. It is only when he speaks about his years as a Temptation that the incredible sadness creeps into his manner.
"I'd be upset man, when we'd go out there and it didn't come off like the Temptations. That's what makes me mad. I can notice when a group like the O'Jays comes on stage before us and it'll be really hot when we come on. I remember when Gladys & the Pips and The O'Jays were on the show with us- that's when we had Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams-and we held our own." He stresses though, that "That was in the days-the good old days."
"I would be so mad after shows, because I would go out and I would know what was happening. I've found friends of mine, they would come to me and say, 'Great show man, great show!' I'd look at them and say, 'How was the show, man?' I'm the type of cat you couldn't hide it from. I'd see this and it would hurt. I would say, 'Hey man, tell me. I want to know.' "If I knew the O'Jays had just kicked us in the behind, it would hurt. I couldn't go out and party. Sometimes they would see me after shows, I would be really hurt because of my pride as a singer. Maybe they got it, as far as how much pride they care about. But see, my thing is, if I'm gonna be with somebody, I wanna be #1. I want to either be with the best, or don't wanna be with it. When you can't see that you're slippin', that's bad.
"You don't understand how it feels to go up there and do a show and the show ain't right, and everybody's applauding. I have been so mad, I just didn't want to come out of the dressing room. I would wait two or three hours until people leave, because I didn't want to hear 'Great show!' and I know it wasn't."
The words are bitter, and inflict telling damage to the fourteen-year-old Temptations legend. During the group's years of fame, they have often been called the "Emperors of Soul," "legends in their own time," and the "world's number one singing group." Group members often express a fierce, defensive pride in the Temptations, but for Dennis Edwards at least, it was a pride which faded as the group's records stopped selling, as the slogans become more hype and less truth.
"I would look up and see the Spinners and the O'Jays REALLY singing! I would want to stop and just do a whole 'nother type of thing. I'd say, 'Hey wow! These cats are SINGING, man!' And I think I kind of lost that ‘pride of the Temptations' thing. I wanted to do another thing. I wanted to get another show. I wanted the show to be better. I was watching groups and they were kicking ass, you know? Seriously. There's no other way you can look at that. I'd say, 'We got to do somethin'.' I might say a statement in the dressing room that would start a revolution. I might say that I think the O'jays are the number one group. It would be, (mocking a shocked, disbelieving voice) 'You've lost your feeling for the group, your pride!' But it wouldn't be that, it would be my honesty. Lots of times, they (The Temptations) would really be mad, because I would say, 'Hey, those cats are really bad!' " Edwards remembers that when the O'Jays came out with their famous "Ship Ahoy" show opener, "I wanted to rehearse for a year! We could have done it, but you can't do that type of thing and have little inner things."
Among other problems, the 'little inner things' concerned group jealousy over the number of songs on which Edwards sang lead. He says "The 'Song For You' album was very successful. I did a lot of lead on that, and right after then, we got to the point where the members of the group were unhappy because of the fact that I was doing a lot of lead. So we started having all these types of little confusions. It got touchy. I've been singing all my life, and I was really shocked at the problems we would have about lead. I come to find out that a lot of groups have the same problem."
Probably they do. But those other groups do not suffer those problems to the extent that the Temptations have. Other groups do not have those problems to the extent that they cannot even get together enough to go into the studio and record. Other groups do not, but the Temptations did.
Edwards claims, for instance, that on many tunes on the group's "Wings Of Love" LP, there is only his voice and perhaps one or two of his fellow Temptations. Some tunes have only him singing the lead with no background, and on others the background voices do not belong to the Temps. "While we were squabbling over who was gonna lead what, an album came out. You've got to put out something. You can only go on for so long on who you are".
Edwards says he was caught between producers who wanted him to lead the majority of the songs, and groupmates who didn't. It got so bad that when "The Temptations" album was being recorded, "I didn't really want to lead on any of them (songs). I always want to make peace. I never want to cause any little problems because of leading. To me, it (became) unnecessary. The reason it became like it was because of the producers. You go to a producer, and he picks out who he wants to do a song. I try to be a singer If I had to sing baritone every note, every song, it would be fantastic. I'm just glad to get out of the ghetto."
He laughs, but the laugh is only half-deceiving. The hurt is still there, the sadness that seems automatic in talking about the Temptations, about his ten years with a legend gone stale. Of course, one of the major factors in the stagnation of the group is its massive number of personnel changes-seven in all. "When Eddie left, it kind of really..." His voice trails off, leaving one to one's own conjectures. He adds, "I thought Eddie was one of the most stabilizing factors of this group.
Edwards says that the departure of Eddie Kendricks and the retirement of Paul Williams were what initially tempted him to leave the group - way back in 1971.
"When I got in the group, I told the whole group, 'The most important man in this group is Eddie Kendricks.' As a fan the only thing I used to visualize was that tenor. A lot of guys didn't want to give Eddie the credit. I never will forget when Eddie left. I had to sing his parts. We had to go on stage that night- it was unexpected. That was the night that he had left, and they had arguments. After that show, that's when I really started thinking about the Temptations. At one time I really had the pride and everything-when Paul Williams was living. Thought we were the baddest group in the world."
A lot of things have happened since the Temptations were "the baddest group in the world." One of those things was the hiring and firing of young singer Damon Harris, who took Kendricks' place. Damon, whom Edwards describes as inquisitive, would question Edwards about faults in the way that the group was run , and Edwards would explain to the best of his ability. Damon would then question his failure to bring up the faults to the rest of the group. According to Dennis Edwards, that's something that just wasn't done.
"I think everybody that is a replacement is reminded of that in the group. The original members run the group. It's okay. Like I say, it's their group. We had a democracy thing and I only had one vote. It's very fair, you know? If you're with a democracy and everything's fair and you're still not getting your sayso - what can you say?"
He adds though that while the voting might have been fair, he still questions the wisdom of some of the group's decisions. "I always wanted my opinion voiced, that's all. I would take care of my job stagewise, but other than that, a lot of decisions were made and I just kind of went along. "My biggest problem is not saying nothing. Damon was outspoken-but maybe at the wrong times" Nevertheless Dennis says that at times he envied Damon's outspoken attitude. "He didn't mean no harm. Sometimes you cannot bring up stuff like that when you're dealing with old guys that's set in their ways.
"I like Melvin (original Temptation Melvin Franklin) as a brother. I don't know whether he dislikes me or not, but I cannot go along with him on some of his ways as far as the Temptation supremacy thing, and being an institution. All that's great, but I don't feel that way now. When we were#1, I felt cocky and I told everybody about it. But when we started to slip, I also was the first one to say, 'Hey somethin' ain't right!' Melvin and Otis' (veteran Temp, Otis Williams) philosophy was, being a Temptation 24 hours. I was a Temptation for that hour that I was up there. I gave them 189%.
"Fans never knew of Dennis' complaints because all interviews with the Temptations were usually controlled by the original two members. "The Temptations have a set pattern as to who does the interviews. It's usually the same couple of guys. I was a replacement, and when you're a replacement you have to always ... just remember. You're always reminded of that, and it's their right to remind you. People have accepted me before my group did. The fans have been great." Of the Temptations, Edwards says, "I wish 'em all the luck in the world. I think they're gone on a gig, and I hear they got a standing ovation, which is great. I just hope they become the #1 group again. If they do, I'll find out maybe I was the problem."
The Temptations, ever true to form then, are on the road again with their new lead singer Louis Price. What in the meantime is happening to Edwards, who gave ten years of his life to the group? " I was doing an album with Motown, and we're in the middle of contract negotiations now. The only problem I'm having with them now, I want to get an album out, and I want a nice deal. I asked for something, and I found out in this business you can't ask for nothin' if you're a nobody. I'm finding out after ten years - I guess I'm a nobody."
Fans have often been heard to single Edwards out as the flightiest member of the group, the egotistical one. He certainly doesn't seem that way now. "A lot of times I might have appeared cold, but I was just trying to keep my job. I hate that people have felt like that about me. A lot of people don't know me, and that's because I've never really had an interview. I've never been on a star thing. I've just always been trying to make a living. I've been in the streets, a hustler all my life.
"I'm really going through a little hurt thing,” says the tall singer. After all these years....to be put on a shelf." Edwards has already said that he made very little money in his last years as a Temptation. That and the fees paid to the lawyers that are negotiating his contract with Motown are forcing him into a financial bind. He expresses a fear that he might end up signing a deal that he doesn't really want to sign. Although he still laughs, his worry and concern over his own future are far too obvious. "I've got a lawyer, and I'm just paying lawyer money. I'm at a standstill. I've asked them for a release. They say they don't like the album, but I just followed directions. They asked me to cut an album and I cut it."
He plays a cassette of some of the songs. The tiny speaker of the tape recorder vibrates with pleasant, jazzy melodies, intricate guitar arrangements, and over all, the soulful, haunting voice of Dennis Edwards on unreleased tunes like "destiny", "Summer Love," and "Earthquake". As the tape plays, the former Temptation is lip-syncing happily along. The music is good, at least as good as anything he has done with the Tempts for the last three or four years.
Ten years ago, Dennis Edwards first took the stage as a Temptation. "It was really weird for me, 'cause I was a little cocky about singing-always thought I could sing. Then all of a sudden I realized that it was more than just being a singer. That's the easiest part of your job-the voice." In late October of 1976, Edwards was on stage for the last time as a Temptation. It was a sensation that he describes as "really a depressing feeling, going out for the last time with a group I've spent ten years of my life with."
Dennis Edwards served as a Temptation far longer than any of his fellow replacement members. He saw the group in its pacesetting heyday, and from that, through to what it has allowed itself to become today. He says, "A lot of times, I've felt proud of being a temptation. A lot of times I've felt ashamed".
There is no one reason why Dennis Edwards left the Temptations. There are ten years of them, ten years of various problems, confusions, and hurts. But then, too, there had to have been many triumphs, many good times. Those are probably the times of which the singer is proudest. In the end then, Edwards says that he left because he "didn't feel like being a part. It wasn't, he explains, what it really was supposed to be."