APPRECIATION: Eddie Kendricks

by Marcus K. Dowling

I believe that new is boring and that history is inspirational. These opinions are not necessarily the views of the Couch Sessions. “Marcus Dowling appreciates…” celebrates the memories that define the future. Enjoy.

Being a musical early adopter is hard enough. Indie crowds are notoriously stiff judges, venues never quite get the sound right, making your music sound like yesterday’s garbage, and the money really doesn’t equal the effort. Now imagine unwittingly being an early adopter, and you are greeted with Eddie Kendricks in 1971. Hating the psychedelic soul direction adopted by the Temptations, he left the group and set upon a solo career that stumbled out of the gates, received unlikely support from the strangest of places, eventually making him a cornerstone of the future. In being a disco superstar before disco was cool, his effortlessly smooth vocals set a world-respected standard, and deserve appreciation.

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David Mancuso’s Manhattan loft apartment was the most unlikely home of dance music’s progression. European discotheques had crossed into the American consciousness at NYC venues like the Peppermint Lounge and the church-turned-workshop of depravity the Sanctuary. Largely homosexual and free-thinking crowds turned on and dropped out to four-on-the-floor soul tinged rock acts like Chicago, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, with visits from Clyde Stubblefield funky drummer breakdowns in James Brown’s musical oeuvre. That being said, sweeping, percussive and soulful numbers like Kendricks’ “Girl You Need a Change of Mind” made sense in the mix, and when played, gained the R & B vocalist a huge counter-cultural following.

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Kendricks success opened the door wide open to the classically-influenced Philadelphia International Records recorded Gamble and Huff productions for acts like Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. As well, the sensual odes of both Barry White and his Love Unlimted Orchestra and Issac Hayes with Hot Buttered Soul benefited from the the then Motown/Tamla artist’s dance/funk combination. Kendricks excelled by effortlessly meandering over the chug-a-lug style of Motown. Though separated from the Funk Brothers at the time, many of the label’s early Los Angeles era hits bear the same sonic construction from their Detroit heyday. 1973’s #1 “Keep on Truckin’?” Soulful but not wholly disco-fied, still a sign of the era slowly ingratiating itself into the pop dance consciousness. In staying in that ideal, he set forth to create something even more concussive to the universe.

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By 1977 album release Slick, Eddie Kendricks’ sound was the commercial standard. One of the disco era’s top soul stirrers, even Motown noted the inundation of his inimitable style, and released ballad “Intimate Friends” as a single. Reaching #24 on the R & B charts, it’s a soul standard that shows that at its core, dance is more soul than likely anything else. When sampled for Sweet Sable’s “Old Times Sake” on the soundtrack for 1994 film Above the Rim, or as a standout 2005 Unplugged performance for Alicia Keys, it takes soul from dance and inserts it into hip hop, an enduring reminder of the cyclical symbiotic history of music.

When seeing soul artists of the modern era like Usher and Ne-Yo consciously and uncomfortably making the commercial move from R & B to dance, take a second, throw on some Eddie Kendricks, and remember how it all started, an accident on purpose that deserves appreciation.