Eddie Kendrick, the former Temptations lead singer, kept referring to the Call. He talked about the way things were before and after the Call. Things were so-so before the Call but they've been great ever since.
That momentous phone call came from two longtime Temptations fans, Daryl Hall and John Oates, who wanted Kendrick and another ex-Temptation, David Ruffin, to perform with them. The occasion was a benefit concert May 23 at the Apollo Theater in Harlem for the United Negro College Fund.
Kendrick was at home in Birmingham, Ala., on May 1, when he got the Call. Afterward, he phoned Ruffin at his ranch in Upper Michigan. Friends for about 25 years--even before their joint tenure in the Temptations in the '60s--they had been planning to work as a duo. But, compared to the Hall and Oates offer, any plans they had were minor league.
Actually, Hall and Oates recruited four Temptations. They also wanted Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams, original members who are still with the group. But Franklin and Williams weren't interested. "Daryl and John decided to work with just me and David," Ruffin said. "It worked out better this way."
Kendrick added: "They could have easily done the show without us. We needed them more than they needed us. It was a nice gesture by those good ol' white boys. They've done stuff for us that black folks couldn't do because they've got the power. It was good of them to remember us. You get used to selfish people in this business. It's a surprise when something unselfish happens."
That Apollo show, the first at the recently reopened theater, was just the beginning of Kendrick and Ruffin's resurrection. The first bonus was recording an album with Hall and Oates, who are among the biggest pop stars in the business. They taped the Apollo concert for a live album with a long, long title, "Daryl Hall and John Oates Live at the Apollo with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick"--part Hall and Oates' greatest hits and part Temptations oldies. (See Record Rack on Page 74 for a review of the LP.)
The first single from the album, a rocking medley of "The Way You Do The Things You Do/My Girl," is already in the Top 30 on the Billboard magazine pop singles chart. These two Temptations' songs were the group's first hit singles back in the mid-'60s.
The Apollo show went so well that they did an encore at an even bigger benefit concert--Live Aid in Philadelphia. They also plan to take the show on the road. Ruffin and Kendrick, currently doing duo dates, will accompany Hall and Oates on an upcoming foreign tour.
That's not all. Hall and Oates are starting a label, Empire Records. Its newest recruits are Kendrick and Ruffin, who plan to record solo albums.
"We had no album prospects before this," Kendrick admitted. "Now we don't have to go through the agony of shopping for a record deal."
Acknowledging their good fortune, Kendrick said. "It's like Daryl and John are Santa Clauses and every day is Christmas for us."
Before the Call neither Kendrick, 45, nor Ruffin, 44, was in great demand. Both seemed on the downside of their careers.
Kendrick's falsetto, as critics have pointed out in recent years, sounds rusty at times. Ruffin's second tenor, though, seems as smooth as ever. Yet Kendrick was the one who has been actively singing and recording.
Ruffin was dabbling in recording but was more interested in raising horses on his farm. "Eddie would come by when he came to town and ask me when I was going to work," Ruffin recalled. "I would tell him I didn't think I was ready yet. Sometimes you've just got to get away and get out of the limelight for a while or you'll go crazy or just totally burn out on this crazy life. I was still in the studio constantly. I hadn't lost touch."
But Ruffin, who hadn't performed for about 2 1/2 years, decided he was finally ready when the Hall and Oates' offer came.
Why did Hall and Oates seek out the former Temptations? Mostly because of Hall, the foremost blue-eyed soul singer in the business. As a teen-ager, he idolized the Temptations. Singing soul music was his passion. He was in a white group called the Temptones that was mightily influenced by the Temptations. Paul Williams, a group member who committed suicide years later, befriended Hall and his Temptones during the Temptations' shows in Philadelphia. Ruffin and Kendrick were in the group at the time. To Hall, hanging out with the Temptations was an unforgettable thrill.
In an interview late last year, long before the Temptations project developed, Hall said: "I loved the Temptations when I was growing up. They were a major influence on my style. I would have loved to be in the group. If they would have let a young white kid join, I would have done it."