Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dennis Edwards Soul Survivor

th (3)I was listening to my favorite group of all-times strolling down memory lane. As I embraced the sweetness of harmony that realized when we think of the Temptations we usually think of the five members of the classic lineup.

Then it hit me that David Ruffin was only a member for about four or five years, and in that time he became a legend, and that classic lineup became virtually immortal. As the CD moved from David to Dennis Edwards, who replace David, how underrated he is for his work taking the group in a different direction and to another level. We could say that it was the Dennis Edwards era of greatness.

Imagine, if you can, replacing a living legend. Dennis Edwards came to Motown in search of a solo career. Motown signed him on a retainer, in order to keep him from signing with another label, and he was eventually slotted into the rough and rowdy Contours. Meanwhile, Otis Williams and Eddie Kendricks, having seen him as he dominated a Contours performance, figured he would be a perfect replacement for David Ruffin, whose showboating had gotten on the final nerve of the group.

With the addition of Dennis came a whole new sound, thanks to the genius of Norman Whitfield. "Cloud Nine" would give Motown and the Tempts their first Grammy. For the next six years Dennis' soulful shout would be heard on hit after hit, including "I Can't Get Next To You", "Don't Let The Jonses Get You Down", "Ball Of Confusion", and of course, Grammy winner "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone".

By 1975, the group became tired of the social conscious "message" songs, and wanted to return to the love songs they so enjoyed. They left Motown for Atlantic and Jeffrey Bowen took over production, and as a result, A Song For You, would turn out to be one of the group's most satisfying albums, as well as proving the versatility of Edwards.

Longevity is something that is rare in the music business. The Detroit-raised Edwards, who moved to St. Louis in the ‘70s to be close to his mother remarked in a recent interview that “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? ... I had a mother who prayed for me, and prayer changes everything.”

Dennis, always wanting a solo career left the group and cut a solo album for Motown. The album never materialized and after a short and humbling stint as a construction worker, Dennis rejoined the group, who had returned to Motown, for the triumphant release of Power, a Berry Gordy produced album.

During all this, Dennis finally did release his first solo album, Don't Look Any Further, in 1984. It was a great album, the title song with Siedah Garrett being one of the great duets of the decade, but Dennis began having problems with drugs, and a second album, Coolin' Out, was released the next year, but proved to be far inferior to the first. The title track was a moving and autobiographical piece on which Dennis sings about trying to put his life back together.

In 1987, Dennis would again return to Motown for the appropriately titled, Together Again. But in 1988, embattled by personal crisis, he left the group for good. In 1989, after talking with friends and former group mates Ruffin and Kendricks at the Temptations R&R Hall of Fame Induction ceremony, united with the pair, and the trio set off on a historical US tour. A couple of years later, the unexpected deaths of his good friends, Ruffin and Kendrick, left Dennis alone.

After those tragic events he formed several groups, attempting to use varying forms of the name "Temptations” that he had to battle in and out of court for use of some form of the name. Now, seventy years old, he continues to perform as Dennis Edwards and the Temptations Review pleasing audiences all over the world. No matter what the result, Dennis Edwards is a true "Soul Survivor", and one of the most gifted singers of our time. He still has his sensuous and soulful voice, and no one can take that away.

By the merciful grace of God, he is the only one of the classic Temptations lead singers alive to continue the legacy, and we are so blessed. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

Twitter @ John T. Wills

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