he voice of Eddie Kendricks had sold millions of records before he attempted a solo career. As the translucent tenor voice of the Temptations, Eddie had helped them achieve their first hit, "The Way You Do the Things You Do" (number 11 in April, 1964). While David Ruffin sang lead on the group's first chart-topper ("My Girl," March 1965), Eddie shared lead vocals with Dennis Edwards on the group's second number one ("I Can't Get Next to You," October 1969) and was lead soloist on the Temptations' third number one hit ("Just My Imagination [Running Away With Me]," April 1971).
Performing solo was not new for the former Temptation. Born Edward James Kendricks on December 17, 1939, in Union Springs, Alabama, he was raised in Birmingham. With high school friend Paul Williams, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and formed a group called the Cavaliers. After that group broke up, Kendricks and Williams sang as solo artists, appearing in concert with dancer Caledonia Young.
Personal manager Milton Jenkins brought Kendricks and Williams to Detroit, where they became the Primes and eventually merged with another of Jenkins' groups, the Distants, to form the unit that would evolve into the Temptations.
Eddie had scored hits on the Gordy label as part of the Tempts and had a number two single on Motown, a Supremes/Temptations collaboration titled "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," on which he shared lead vocals with Diana Ross. For his solo career, he moved to a third Motown subsidiary label, Tamla. While his first two albums did not produce a single that made the top 60, he was a hot attraction in New York discos, thanks to the songs "Girl, You Need a Change of Mind" and "Date With the Rain." Those two numbers from his second LP were so popular in Gotham that Kendricks included those songs whenever he performed a concert in Manhattan.
With his third solo LP, Kendricks had changed managers and suddenly found his career in high gear. Producer Frank Wilson brought him a scratchy demo of a seven-minute song called "Keep on Truckin'." "I knew it was a hit because of the title," Eddie boasted. "The old people used to truck when they were dancing. And I knew the trucking industry would embrace the record." Just to be sure they did, the sound of a truck roaring down the highway was strategically mixed into the single release.
"Keep on Truckin' " was the highest new entry on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week of August 25, 1973. Debuting at number 79, it took 11 weeks to rise to the top. Eddie followed it with "Boogie Down," a number two hit in 1974.
On May 1, 1985, Eddie received a phone call from Daryl Hall and John Oates asking if he and Ruffin would perform with them at the newly reopened Apollo Theater. Two months later, Eddie and David joined Daryl and John at Live Aid, and also that same year lent their voices to the star-studded anti-apartheid album, Sun City. In 1987, their collaborative effort David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks spawned a No. 14 R&B hit, "I Couldn't Believe It."
Eddie next teamed up with yet another former Temptation, Dennis Edwards, for a 1990 single, "Get It While It's Hot." Kendricks, Edwards, and Ruffin went on tour together and things seemed to be looking up, but on June 1, 1991, Ruffin, long plagued by drug addiction, overdosed on cocaine after visiting a crack house. Co-founding Tempts Kendricks, Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin paid tribute to their longtime friend and musical collaborator by singing "My Girl" at his funeral.
The following year, Eddie died of lung cancer at age 52, on October 5, 1992. Again, the surviving Tempts attended his funeral, and Franklin eulogized his former group mate. Later Bobby Womack organized two concerts to raise funds for the singer's survivors.
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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