Interview The Tempations

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The Temptations Special  IT WAS Friday the Thirteenth so it was logical to expect something would go wrong. But happily all was not lost because, after a period of total confusion. I did get to speak to a temptin' Temptation — Richard Street. And boy, was he heavy in cold! He'd been suffering for three days but had so far managed to keep it to himself — and this was despite have a flu shot before leaving America!
Anyhow, The Temptations are touring here, as if you needed me to tell you, and to coincide their new single "All I Want From You" has been released, taken from their super "Special" album. And I mean it is a super release, a pot pourri of music, with tracks appealing to all ages. Maybe not so much of The Temptations' sound though. Richard said this was largely due to the producers.
"We used different producers here and some were only in their twenties. That's the way the record company wanted us to go. The producers were fans of the group and maybe the result isn't exactly what people expected.
"If it had been left up to me, I think I'd have waited until all the tunes that moved me had come along before recording. But that would have meant waiting and we had a deadline to put the album out. It was a time-game really because we only ha
ve a certain amount of time to record because of our tight schedules."
The group did choose the songs though?
"Well, not so much chose. Y'see it's the record company's money so they have a certain say in the recording. It's not like a Michael Jackson situation, where he pays for everything. So we do have to listen to the record company. Songs are presented to us all the time, apart from those we write and produce, so we have a good selection. However, it's inevitable that we look back afterwards and say we wish we could have waited and done this one or that one. But there's always the next time around."WHEN MCA took over Motown, much speculation arose as to how it would affect the artists already on the roster. Richard sid the group had so far noticed no changes, although they conceded the company family feeling had gone — "but the rapport and communication still remains. We can still talk to the president Theryl Busby in the same way as we did with Berry Gordy so that's good. Not many companies allow you to talk directly to the president without going through the secretary first. That's the nice part of the relationship."
During the transition period of Berry Gordy leaving and Jheryl Busby taking over, I said I noticed The Temptations' name had been omitted from the first artist listing. Richard assured me it had always been there — "MCA told us they wanted us to stay when they made the changeover."I told him that thoughts had passed through my mind that the group had left the company, in much the same way as before which resulted in a very lean period for them.
"Oh, yeh, you mean when we went to Atlantic. Well, we didn't have a good time there because we'd changed lead singers when we went over. The company was expecting Dennis Edwards and we had Louis Price. And the material was written for Dennis but of course it was too late.
"Although we don't have any definite lead singers, certain producers get someone in their mind, and when they heard we were coming they had already prepared the songs. Subsequently the album we cut wasn't in the right key and that changed the whole atmosphere right away. So, we were told as we weren't the original line-up, no Dennis Edwards, we weren't the group they wanted. So we went."
That was probably the leanest time of their careers — no hits, no work! And hit records are very important as Mr Street pointed out. "In today's market, promoters and agencies always
take into consideration what you've done recently. A Grammy, a hit record and so on. If you are hot you can make more money, it's as simple as that. You can play larger venues, play to larger audiences and get paid more."I smiled, obviously you don't make money touring England! "No! We don't. Coming to England is 'show and tell'. We want people to know we're still in the business, letting our fans know we're still around. We want to be well-known not only in America but everywhere. We're off to Japan at the end of the year, which is sort of a continuation of this tour.
"We're working all the time, and that's the way we like to do it. We've always been able to work at a medium range and we thank God for this."
ON AVERAGE, The Temptations spend ten months every year touring and recording, which plays havoc with their personal lives. However, they are now trying to find a way to spend more time at home.
Richard: "It's a tremendous sacrifice particularly if you have a wife or girlfriend because they have to be a very understanding person, knowing you won't be there all the time, and appreciate and respect you for what you do."All the group are married and all, he said, have to take a lot of crap because their lives are not the norm — "Our jobs are very demanding and we miss our home life, our wives and our kids. I have three children — two girls and a boy, agedeight, ten and sixteen. I bring them on tour when they're not in school. They love coming out with us. They love the room service, going to the show, riding in the limo and plane — it's one big party to them!"Would he encourage them to follow in his footsteps? "I'd encourage them in whatever they want do do. My smallest girl wants to be a doctor, the other one a lawyer, but I guess that's going to change. My younger girl also likes to play piano, she sings a little, so . . . who knows!"
Travelling constantly and then performing for over an hour on stage must take its toll, particularly as the guys are, er, maturing . . . urn, getting a little older, and I remember fellow-Temptation Otis Williams telling me during their last visit that although the choreography on stage was the same it was now a little slower!Richard laughed and agreed, but added on a more serious note: "Since I've been here I've seen some appalling things on TV about the homeless people in the world and people who will never get the chance to do what they want to do. All the starving, overpopulation, people dying in the streets of India . . . Well, you have to be thankful for what you have, and to be in this position, because not to be thankful is a sin."I'm happy at my job and I make a living at it, so when I feel it's taking its toll, making me tired and so on, I don't think about it. I think of all those other unfortunate people. When I'm physically tired I remind myself that I could be in America with no job, or a job I don't like. Life is very traumatic for everyone."
IF YOU went to the opening night of the tour, you'll have noticed that Melvin Franklin left the stage during the performance. Well, although I don't recall anything being said at the time, Melvin sadly underwent two major operations last year.I asked Mr Street what was wrong but he thought his friend would prefer him not to say, so I didn't press the issue. However, Richard did say: "We almost lost him. They were life threatening operations and he's just now getting back. We don't let him do a whole show, he has to watch his heart rate. We're trying to nurse him through this, but Melvin wanted to do this tour.
"If the doctors had said 'no way, wait for two years' then that would have been the way it would have gone. He was told he could go onstage, if he felt like it. We read between the lines which is why he goes off stage. We've also tried to reduce his participation on stage, taking some of pressure away from him."Melvin IS The Temptations. He and Otis have kept the group together through the good and bad times. Even when we were starting out, singing on street corners and in nightclubs, he kept it all together. Y'see I was with the group before it became The Temptations, then left to do other things before re-joining them."
You're going back a few years I chirped! "Hey, it seems like only yesterday. You're only as old as you feel, or as young as the person you're with! I've a few years left in me yet, y'know!"
News from across the Atlantic told of another Temptations outfit performing there. Richard confirmed this was ex-group members Eddie Kendricks and either Dennis Edwards or David Ruffin — I don't remember now, not having taped the interview.Richard: "As Otis and Melvin own the name 'The Temptations', they have to be billed as 'formerly of the Temptations'. I don't really feel anything about this, a man has to do what man has to do, if you like. I wish them all the luck in the world. I'm not prejudiced and don't hate anyone because of it. Look, they were part of The Temptations, so they're really entitled to use the name somewhere in the billing if they want. And they've both got families to support."They're not taking work from us because there's only three in their line-up. As long as we have a tenor, three leads and Melvin's big bass voice, that's the sign people identify with the real Temptations. Before talking to you, I hadn't given them a second thought."And with that, he had to go. The others were waiting to leave their Holiday Inn for Nottingham, I think. So as Richard Street and his cold stepped outside into the drizzling rain, I promised to catch up with them in Eastbourne in ten days time.
(Sharon Davis B&S 547)

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