On February 1, we lost singer Dennis Edwards, who, beginning fifty years ago in 1968, helped transform the sound of the Temptations. His daughter, Issa Pointer, shares her family photos and Motown songwriter Kathleen Wakefield shares her memories with Goldmine.
By Warren Kurtz
Heroes and Legends Awards, 2013. Photo by Vincent Sandoval – Getty Images
When the Temptations’ “Greatest Hits” album was released in 1966 on Motown’s Gordy label, it contained a dozen love songs, of which more than half were written by the four members of the Miracles, Smokey Robinson, Warren “Pete” Moore, Bobby Rogers and Ronnie White, and included the Temptations’ number one single “My Girl.” The following year on the Gordy label, the Contours, who had a Top 10 hit single in 1962 with the Berry Gordy composition, “Do You Love Me,” were back in the Top 100 for a final time that decade with “It’s So Hard Being a Loser.” The single marked the debut of their new 24 year old lead singer Dennis Edwards. With his rugged voice backed by three vocalists, the sound was in line with that of Motown’s Four Tops. In 1968, when David Ruffin left the Temptations, Dennis Edwards was brought in as his replacement.
1968 was a year of transformation at the Motown labels. The Holland – Dozier – Holland songwriting trio left to form the Invictus and Hot Wax labels. A group of new songwriters, including R. Dean Taylor, wrote “Love Child” for Diana Ross and the Supremes, about an out of wedlock birth. Producer and songwriter Norman Whitfield, with lyricist Barrett Strong, tackled a variety of urban issues on Dennis Edwards’ debut single with the Temptations, “Cloud Nine.”
Dennis Coffey’s wah wah guitar at the opening of “Cloud Nine” triggered a new sound for the label. The second verse foreshadowed three Top 10 singles to come for the newly energized vocal quintet. The couplet, “My father didn’t know the meaning of work. He disrespected Mama and treated us like dirt,” was further explored in 1972 for the Temptations’ final number one hit, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” The line “I left home, seeking a job that I never did find,” was continued in the group’s next single for the Gordy label, “Run Away Child, Running Wild.” A nine minute version of that song appeared on the “Cloud Nine” album. The revelation, “Depressed and downhearted, I took to cloud nine. I’m doing fine,” led to “Psychedelic Shack” for their first single of the next decade, for more of what Dennis Edwards called “psychedelic soul.” “Cloud Nine” became the first Grammy award winning recording for the Motown labels.
Flip side: Why Did She Have to Leave Me (Why Did She Have to Go)
A side: Cloud Nine
Top 100 debut: November 16, 1968
Peak position: 6
Gordy G 7081
The flip side of “Cloud Nine,” was more in line with broken-hearted love songs that the group had delivered in the past including their prior Top 10 hit earlier in the year, “I Wish It Would Rain.” It was one of eight songs from the “Cloud Nine” album written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield, and featured Dennis Edwards’ lament on a lost love, a theme which resonated with young men in that era being sent to the war in Vietnam, leaving girlfriends back home and many facing a long- distance break-up.
In early December of 1968, the Temptations teamed up with Diana Ross and the Supremes for the television special and soundtrack, “TCB,” which stood for taking care of business. The show featured their oldies and show tunes but veered from the current, more controversial hits on the radio at that time, “Cloud Nine” and “Love Child.” There was also a studio album released by the pair of acts which included their version of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” written by Jerry Ross and Kenny Gamble and a Top 100 record for Dee Dee Warwick two years prior. Disc jockeys began playing this song, even though it wasn’t included in the TV special. Motown then released it as a single, with the combined group’s version “A Place in the Sun,” a hit for Stevie Wonder, also two years prior, as its flip side. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” spent two weeks in the number two position.
In 1969, the Temptations released “I Can’t Get Next to You.” Dennis Edwards began the recording, asking to, “Hold it, everybody, hold it, hold it, listen.” Fans listened and brought this intense song of love and frustration to the number one position for the group’s second time in the decade. This was included on the album “Puzzle People” in 1969 on vinyl and on a new portable tape technology, the cassette.
In 1970, the Temptations’ “Greatest Hits II” volume was released, which included their latest single at the time, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today).” Regardless of problems facing the world, the quintet’s delivery of Barrett Strong’s lyrics was fun. Dennis Edwards rapidly delivered the words, “Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration, aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation,” followed by the full group’s harmony on the title line, “Ball of Confusion, that’s what the world is today.”
In the ‘70s Motown moved to the west coast. The focus on albums increased. The Temptations’ 1975 album, “A Song for You,” included the Temptations final Top 40 hits of the ‘70s, “Happy People,” “Shakey Ground” and “Glasshouse,” all on the first side of the album. The second side of the album began with three songs featuring Dennis Edwards on lead vocals. First, there was their version of the title tune and Leon Russell composition, “A Song for You,” which some audiences knew from versions by Donny Hathaway or the Carpenters. The third song was “I’m a Bachelor,” written by the group, revealing that the singer was not a bachelor by choice. Between these songs was one of the most beautiful performances by Dennis Edwards, “Memories,” co-written by the same person who co-wrote the Supremes’ 1971 Top 20 hit “Nathan Jones,” Kathleen Wakefield. She told Goldmine, “I often brought my small children to the studio in Hollywood, sitting them quietly on the couches in front of the Temptations while they were recording, with Dennis always singing directly to them, making them forever fans. They were always gentlemen, sweet and respectful all of the time, Dennis, Otis, Melvin, all. Working with them, and being sung to, also, by them, was like stepping into a dream. I have missed them every day.”
In 1977, Dennis Edwards was no longer a bachelor, briefly marrying Ruth Pointer of the Pointer sisters. Their daughter, Issa Pointer, now sings as a member of the Pointer Sisters with her mother.
Dennis Edwards with Ruth Pointer and with daughter Issa Pointer, photos courtesy of Issa Pointer
In 1984, Dennis Edwards was in the Top 100 for a final time with the single “Don’t Look Any Further,” which also featured vocalist Siedah Garrett, who joined Michael Jackson in 1987 for the number one single “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.”
In 1985, his version of the beach music classic “Coolin’ Out” was his final single. For many years after that, Dennis Edwards toured as the Temptations Review Featuring Dennis Edwards.
The Temptations Review Featuring Dennis Edwards publicity photo
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, on WVCR radio as part of “Moments to Remember.”