3. "...and Otis' rebuttal (swipe, also long & messy)" In response to In response to 2
Written by Leonard Pitts Jr,
July 18, 1977 The Temptations are embattled these days, from all sides. It Comes from the charts, where the group hasn't had a hit album or single in two years. It comes at from their fans who don't flock to their concerts with the same enthusiasm that they once did. Also, it comes from within the group, as witnessed by the 1975 firing of young Damon Harris, who in turn complained that his childhood dream of being a Tempt had slowly become "a nightmare".
While Harris' unflattering description of life as a Tempt caused more than a few eyebrows to rise, it was the most recent group dropout who caused the most furor. Recently Dennis Edwards sat down with SOUL and in a story called "Dennis Edwards and the Sinking Of The Good Ship Temptations", talked about his ten years with the group. In the article, he complained about his former groupmates as "old guys that's set in their ways. When you can't se that you're slipping", he said, "that's bad." Edwards' article was enough to draw four of the five Tempts into their manager's Sunset Blvd. office to tell their side of the story, and interestingly enough, the thing that they seem most upset about is the title.
Veteran Temptation Otis Williams leads off, saying that the title "wasn't cool". Don't nobody sink this but the public. I think that the title was a little too strong, because I don't think you, nor Dennis, hold the fate of the Temptations. The public does that, and when we get ovations like what we got at the Forum for singing the National Anthem, I don't see where that title is appropriate.
"When I read this (title), I said "It's got to be with selling papers.' But , I still think you can sell papers and tell the truth".
That "truth" then, as the Temptations see it, involves their story, a story of poor promotion and poor producers at their home of almost twenty years, Motown records. This is what they blame for the recent dramatic decline in their record sales. And on top of the story, the temptations also have a task. The group's legend is tarnished these days, sustained by the accusations of two former members, those declining record sales, and their fast-sinking popularity. In short, they have a legend to set aright, and they seen single-minded in that task.
Glen Leonard says, "I wish Dennis all the success in the world. I wish him happiness. I wish him what he really wants in life. But, we're not here to get into what Dennis says. That's his opinion, and he's entitled to that. What I would like to say is that we are doing positive things. We are functioning. We are about unity. We are about taking care of business and making music."
Richard Street is a bit more emphatic. "We couldn't communicate with the company, the company wasn't communicating with us. Now that we are no longer a part of Motown, I feel like the Temptations will be very successful, because now we're happy. If the company would have been behind the Temptations, I don't think the group broke up the way it did-not saying that everybody would still be here, because every man wants to do their own thing."
"It takes more than a group", says Williams. "Things behind us stopped happening and it slowly started affecting us-which we realized quite some time ago. In part, this is why I can't understand where he (Dennis) is coming from, butt hen again, knowing Dennis you don't get mad-you understand the makeup of the man. But it wasn't necessarily like a lot of things he was saying." What was it like then? Williams complains that Motown records is "not adequate in the area of producers." He says that after the group's records under producer Norman Whitfield ceased to sell, there was seemingly no interest in finding them a new producer capable of working with the group. He mentions that although things clicked once with producer Jeff Bowen's Song For You LP, it still wasn't something worthy of "a group of this caliber".
Franklin adds that Motown often "mistakes luck for genius", in their producers, and Williams went on to claim that the group has never had the consummate producer like Thom Bell or Gamble & Huff who study each voice in the group and tailor the songs around the entire group. He cites Smokey Robinson as the group's only producer to do that-way back in the early and mid 60's. More recent producers have chosen the "easiest" way - letting Dennis Edwards do leads on virtually all the group's material.
"Everybody in here can sing", says Street. "The reason why you ain't heard from everybody in here is because of the way the material was given to us to sing. We wasn't makin' up those LP's ! THEY decided what was gonna put out on that way!" He goes on to describe producer Jeff Bowen as "a crazy man (who always) degrading you as a human being".
Leonard explains, "When you go into the studio with a producer who doesn't know what he wants, who doesn't have lyrics to his songs, or doesn't have definite melodies, and he gets in there and he's scrambling your brain, and spending your money, and you've got bills to pay, and families to feed-that's enough to make a man have a nervous breakdown, and that's what they were doing. One night we left and Melivn and I had to take Otis to the hospital. The doctors told him he couldn't stand the mental strain up there."
Melvin adds, "I told all the guys and I told Otis too, 'When we go into this, I did not mean for singing to have to cause this to happen to my friends'."
"A lot of things just started deteriorating", says Williams matter -of-factly," and we had to leave. A lot of bad blood came about".
The company was deciding what was being cut and who was going to do it.....everything!" says Richard Street. "They had their politics, just like anybody else. They had their favorites, and they has ones that they didn't like. I came under the heading of the ones they didn't like! I mean, seriously!"
Williams interjects, "Smokey Robinson - got to give it to him,' cause he's the only one over there that helped us get out of this. They were getting ready to get nasty, and we were getting ready to get nasty. Smokey is definitely in my opinion, one of GOD'S favorite children. He didn't want us to leave, but he didn't want no ugly situation". Any "ugly situation" would have stemmed from the fact that the company's ownership of the group's name, plus their individual contract on each man made it difficult for the group to get out intact.
"It was horrible," says Richard Street. "Some of the things that they sent me through, I'll never do again for nobody." With luck, he won't have to, because the group, complete with new member Louis Price, has settled into its new home at Atlantic records. Presently, they are in the studio, laying down tracks for a first LP, to be released sometime in August. They are excited about it, and Melvin Franklin goes so far as to declare, "We got it together! We got five functioning people away from the type of contractual situation we were under at Motown. It's much more the way it should've been, because we've been greatly exploited.
We've got a situation now that is conducive to success. For the first time as Black men in the business, we're not so overly familiar with people that they call you 'Hey boy !!' They (Atlantic) treat us with great dignity. They keep their word to the fullest."
Happy days are here again? So it seems. All four seem to be happy with Louis Price, who took Dennis' place. Williams says that "I think the public is waiting for us to come out with a fellow that sounds like Dennis. Louis don't sound nothing like Dennis. He don't sound nothing like David (Ruffin). Louis sounds like Louis Price."
And what do the Temptations think about the charges that their ex-member made about them? Williams explains, "We don't want to air no dirty linen out in the public, 'cause that don't do nothing but bring us down to what's already been said. Why is it that we as Black people got to tear one another down when we sever ties?"
"I don't feel like it's our nature to sling mud ," says Leonard. " I don't like that stuff happening to me. I don't like to talk about it or deal with it."
"Since you want to sell some papers," says Williams, "I'm gonna take it past the Tempts. We were in Florida, and I saw this gentle, nice old man (choreographer Cholly Atkins) go somewhere and kick something just to relieve the tension because of this man (Dennis) not participating as a member - he wouldn't come to rehearsals. I was surprised, but he said, 'Otis, it just bugs me for this cat to do this!' That's just one (example). We could go on, but like I say, we ain't trying to sling no mud."
Franklin rumbles, "I miss the dude, because he's been here for a lot of years and stuff like that. I wish him well, and I find this new thing with Louis Price challenging and exciting." To that, Richard Street adds, "We all know Dennis' got a lot of problems, personal problems that weigh a lot of his decisions-when he says a lot of things. Some people can take a lot of pressure, and some can't. He had a lot of pressure on his back."
One of the group's publicists is in the room, and, in an attempt to put things "in perspective," he asks rhetorically, "Who was Dennis Edwards before he was a Temptation? Who is Dennis Edwards after he's not a Temptation?"
The intent of his question is matched by a very blunt Otis Williams. He is leaning his chair back on two legs as he says, "I'm gonna be very honest with you. I DON'T miss Dennis. Anybody that hurts the group -- I don't miss that. I miss somebody that loves the Temptations and wants to help. He was hurting us, so I don't miss that."
That's it then - the group's full range of opinions on the "sinking of the good ship". Still, love him or loathe him, there is one thing which the Tempts must acknowledge about Edwards. With his gutsy leads and sex symbol image, Edwards was an extremely popular centerpiece to the group for many years, and the group benefited. Many fans are going to be disappointed when they look on album covers and stages and see that he's not there. That and the fact that that they haven't had a hit in two years puts the Tempts in deep water, deeper indeed than after the departures of Eddie Kendricks, Damon Harris, Paul Williams, or even David Ruffin.
Characteristically, the Tempts are unworried. Otis says, "I don't think we've been more optimistic in our careers than we are now. Melvin says, "There's people who think it might be over. That exists. That's real. I'm not dodging that at all. But, it's for the people who believe in us that we continue."
Richard Street goes so far as to lean over into the microphone of the tape recorder, and in a voice reminiscent of a Bill Cosby monologue, announces, "We are cool. We are just waiting to get this next LP out, fans, and we are coming back strong as ever! Thank You."
He laughs, and the room laughs with him, but meantime there is a horde of cynical journalists and fans who scorn any chance of the Tempts coming back "strong as ever". Certainly, looking at the mountain of odds stacked against the group, one has to admit that they have a point. Yet on the other hand, if they come out of the studio with a smash album in August, it will not be the first time the Tempts made monkeys out of the doubters of the world. Can they pull off the improbably once again? No one, not even the group can know that they can-or cannot. It all depends upon the strength of their new material, and the willingness of a fickle public to reaccept them. Yet, watching them, listening to them laugh and express such confidence in their own abilities, one is apt to be lulled into their sense of security. They might just pull it off after all.