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TALKING WITH DENNIS EDWARDS...BF:Could you tell me the present members of the Temptations Revue?
DE:I'm very lucky to have a group of this magnitude. I have Bernard Gibson, who's a baritone or whatever voice we might need. He sings everything and does the choreography. Mike Potella, who's my super bass. Chris Arnold, who does all the Eddie Kendricks parts and whatever else we need and of course you know we have the dynamic David Sea. That's the current line-up.
BF:Where have you been on this tour.
DE:We've done about eight or nine cities here in Germany and two dates in France.
BF:Going back to the start. You started out in the gospel group, the Crowns of Joy...
BF: ... and you were discovered by a bass legend who is no longer with us, James Jamerson.
DE:Yes. James Jamerson as you know was the legendary Motown bass player. He got famous for the one line on 'My Girl'. James was a great person and we became friends. He's the one that suggested I go to Motown and talk to Mister Gordy. He arranged an audition [for me] with Mister Gordy. My knees were shaking when I did the audition but Mister Gordy signed me up then.
BF:Was that as a solo artist or straight with the Contours?
DE:I signed as a single artist and Mister Gordy kept me on... I was really frustrated because he kept me on a salary for about four years and all of a sudden one of the Contours had to go to the hospital. Ironically, they were going out on tour and they needed somebody immediately to sing with them. So I had to go and learn all the Contours songs and we were touring with the Temptations. That was my very first tour.
BF:And that's how you got to know the guys in the Temptations?
DE:That's when I met the Temptations. I hit it off with David [Ruffin] and Eddie [Kendricks] right away and we were good friends up until their demise.
BF:There's a track on International Soulville called 'Johnny On The Spot' and 'I Didn't Have To Do It'...
DE:You know what? I think I did do 'Didn't Have To Do It'. When I think about it... yes, that was my record. That was my very first record, with a guy named Willie Brown. He had a little recording studio in his basement. All the young artists... he got me down there and I don't think I got a dime off that record. (David Sea can tell you all about first records!) It was the beginning of my career. I recorded it, I enjoyed it, then all of a sudden, after I had made the record, I tried to make a deal about the money. You see, that's what most young artists do and we should not do that. When you're young and you're an artist, you should try to get your money first. But all we wanted to do was sing. I just had no idea that the man would just take all the money but that's what he did.
BF:On the northern soul scene in England the single is selling for about two thousand dollars.
DE:Then I wish I could find him and get some of my money!
BF:On the Contours, is it your voice on 'It's So Hard Being A Loser'?
DE:That is my voice, yes.
BF:On joining the Temptations in 1968, you stayed for nine memorable years. These were the 'Norman Whitfield' years.
DE:They were. They were great years. We started off with 'Cloud Nine', that was my first, and we were lucky enough to win a Grammy. And, of course, the writing went on. 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone', we won two Grammys off that. It was a great time.
BF:The style changed when you joined but it wasn't because you joined...
DE:No, it was really not because of me. I remember the last record was 'Wish It Would Rain'. After that, we were trying to find a direction and I remember, we were in the studio and the radio came on and there was a record by a group out of San Francisco that changed the path of the Temptations' career. It was called 'Dance To The Music' by Sly & the Family Stone. And I'll tell you why it changed it... because we were trying to figure out how to use all of the dynamic leads we had. When we heard 'Dance To The Music', Sly was doing something that no other group was doing at the time, they were using most of the leads. Everybody was singing a line. That was unheard of. There was a lead singer and there was the background. When Sly came up with 'Dance To The Music', Norman Whitfield came up with the idea of 'Cloud Nine'. He said 'You take this line, you take this line...' And the rest is history. Of course, it did not sink in to us, the group members. We were mesmerised by that. We didn't like 'Cloud Nine' the first time we ever did it. I'd sing a line, Eddie would sing a line, Paul would sing a line, Melvin sing a line but we found out that the public liked it and it brought about what we called at the time 'psychedelic soul'. And we had quite a run... 'Psychedelic Shack', 'Ball Of Confusion', 'Runaway Child', 'Don't Let The Joneses'...
BF:It was a gradual process, because 'Cloud Nine' was half the old Temptations and half the new.
DE:Yes and also it was the beginning of that era of 'message songs'. During that era there was a war that was being fought and American people were protesting. So it was a perfect time to start to do that sort of thing and we just capitalised on that.
BF:'Papa Was A Rolling Stone' is perhaps the most well known Temptations song for the public today..
DE:I must tell you because that little incident about 'my father' and all that stuff. The thing about 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone' that was so controversial with us is we never thought it would ever get played, because of the length of it. And we took a big chance. Back in the day it was like two minutes, two and a half but the Dells broke that market. They came out with 'Stay In My Corner'. And disc jockeys told them they wouldn't play it but the record was so strong they had to play it They were the pioneers of it. Then we came out with 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone', with that big sixteen bar intro. The jocks had not really got together on whether or not to play long records. What we did to them was, we were the top group in the world and we came out with it and said 'This is our new record.' So we made them play it. After that, a lot of groups came out with longer playing records. It was that driving beat, that haunting beat for that era.
BF:You left in 1977 and rejoined in 1979 and the Temptations produced, in 1980, one of the underplayed classics for me, 'Power'.
DE:Oh, 'Power'. Let me tell you how 'Power' came about. As you know, when I came back in the group... When I left the group, I recorded an album which is still in the can, which was a great album... When I got back in the group, Mister Gordy pushed me. He told me had wrote one song that was a smash called 'I Need Money'. His second song was 'I Need Power'. So that kind of summed up Mister Gordy! He wrote the words to that song. It was one of the most difficult recordings I have ever done. I think me and Melvin Franklin had to go and see a throat specialist after that. It was really difficult. We got a mediocre hit off of it... [#11 r&b, highest chart placing for four years -Ed.] ...but the work that we did on it... They had it in a key so high that really Eddie should have been doing [my part] but Mister Gordy wanted to drive with my voice. So they pushed me to the limit. You know I can do some things like that but 'Power' was a song that is very, very difficult.
BF:So you left again in 1983 and in 1984 went solo.
DE:Yes, I was very lucky. I met Dennis Lambert who was my producer and I was lucky enough to get a great record, 'Don't Look Any Further'. Chaka Khan was supposed to do the female voice on it but we couldn't find her. She was on tour and we could not make an appointment with her. When I heard the record with the lady, Siedah Garrett on it, I knew... that record was so hot. Some records are just magical. I heard the beat... I said, don't go waiting on Chaka, just let me put my lines in. I went on and put my lines on but they still wanted to wait on Chaka. It went on to quality control and the next thing I knew it was in the street. Then Chaka called and said 'I'm ready to do the song' but it was already a smash. I'm sure she would have made it even bigger but it had all the little things that a hit record has.
BF:What do you consider your most productive time: with the Temptations or when you left and brought out 'Cooling Out'?
DE:I think my most productive time was when I was with the Temptations. When we had the 'A Song For You' album, we were in a great groove at that time. We had been through the message thing and were now back to singing ballads. The group were in a good place and we were happy as a group, which is very important. It was one of the best times. We had sung for the Queen of England, for the Archbishop of Canterbury and for the President. It was a great time in our career.
BF:Your 'Temps Review' includes songs from the earlier David Ruffin/Eddie Kendricks era. You did some shows together, were you disappointed nothing came of it?
DE:No. It was not on the cards. We formed 'The Temptations Review', that was where it was conceived. David Sea was one of the original members of that but just about the time of their untimely deaths, everything was just getting ready to roll. I had no doubt it was going to be a smash but I think we just had too much there. It was not meant to be. When Eddie died, I was left in a situation where either I could have given up or pushed on. And I pushed on and I picked up some great people and now we like to think we've got the nucleus of something again. These guys are the reason I'm still here.
BF:How long have you been together now?
DE:Well, off and on... Two were in my first group, two in my second group. Now we're finally all together. Some divine thing happened. Some things happen for a reason and it's full steam ahead. Out here doing this as long as I've been doing it, you've got to have something that drives you and the guys keep me going.
BF:What about the name situation? Despite you having been a lead singer and the current [Temptations] group sounding just like any other group...
DE:Well, let me say I spent almost two hundred thousand dollars and numerous hours in court and I want to clear this up too. We are the legitimate 'Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards'. There are a lot of groups running around Europe that are using my name that I'm going to sue but right now there are 'The Temptations' and 'The Temptations Review'. We refuse, like you just said, to sound like all the other groups and that's why we have a brand new single, called 'Naturally'. It's in the vein of all the other things. We are currently going to start working on some new material and, just by what you said and it's something we talk about all the time, we do not want to sound like the other groups. I'm not knocking them but, to me, the Temptations' sound is a sound of its own. That's what we're striving for. I had to wait but I've got the right voices now and to reproduce the 'Temptations' magic. I'm not talking about Otis but I don't think [the Temptations] have got the voices now. When you've got a guy like me, who's been out here a long time, and you've got a guy like David Sea and you've got a guy like Mike and Chris Arnold... we're all seasoned singers. But there's one problem there with the record companies. One day we're going to have a record company that's going to take a chance on us. They also know that we're not young singers who listen to everything they say but one day somebody will be fair enough and give us a deal and, when they give us a deal, they'll have great product. The single is on High-C, which is our manager's label. It's just an indie but we're looking for a major record deal and it's only a moment away like I said. If we were a young group they'd have signed us a long time ago.
[At the end of December, reports came through from America that Otis Williams (of the Temptations) had successfully forced the cancellation of two shows featuring Dennis Edwards and his group on the technicality that they had been advertised as 'The Temptations Review' (rather than 'The Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards', as agreed in the legal judgement made early 1999 - see news, issue #14). A legal spokesman for Williams is alleged to have claimed they will be on the lookout for any advertisement or announcement that does not contain the full wording with a view to taking the group and the venue to court on contempt charges.
Interviews with Dennis Edwards 5 July 2000