EDDIE KENDRICKS-HE’S A FRIEND.

EDDIE KENDRICKS-HE’S A FRIEND.

Eddie Kendricks was one of the founding members of The Temptations back in 1960. He then spent the next eleven years as one of The Temptations’ lead singers. Then in 1971, Eddie Kendricks decided to leave The Temptations and embark on a solo career. By 1976, Eddie had released six solo albums. It hadn’t all been plain sailing for Eddie Kendricks. Mixed fortunes best describe Eddie first six albums. Granted Eddie enjoyed commercial success, but there had been some disappointments along the way. So for Eddie’s seventh album, He’s A Friend, it was decided that a new producer be brought in. The very man was Norman Harris, who had gained a reputation as one of the hottest producers of the seventies. Norman “The Machine” Harris wasn’t just a producer, he was one of the founder members of M.F.S.B. and then The Salsoul Orchestra. He was also a songwriter and arranger, who with some of his Philly friends, would write, arrange, produce and play on He’s A Friend. This seemed the perfect partnership, Eddie Kendricks plus Norman Harris and a cast of some of Philly’s best songwriters, arrangers and musicians. However, did this partnership prove to be a dream team? That’s what I’ll tell you, after I’ve told you about Eddie Kendricks’ career up until He’s A Friend and the music on the album.

Following Eddie Kendricks’ decision to leave The Temptations, he released his debut solo album All By Myself in April 1971. It reached number eighty in the US Billboard 200 and number six in the US R&B Charts. This was a promising start to Eddie’s solo career. However, his sophomore solo album wouldn’t prove as successful.

May 1972  saw the release of Eddie’s sophomore album People…Hold On. It reached just number 131 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. This was a disappointment for Eddie. Things would improved for Eddie when he released his third album.

When Eddie released this third album in May 1973, the self-titled debut album Eddie Kendricks, Eddie’s fortunes changed. The album reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 200 and number five in the US R&B Charts. Keep On Truckin’ gave Eddie a dual number one, reaching number one in the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts. This was Eddie’s most successful album. Things would improve with his next album.

Boogie Down was released in February 1974, and proved to be Eddie’s most successful solo album. It reached number thirty in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. The title-track Boogie Down gave Eddie his most successful single, reaching number three in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Critics hailed Boogie Down Eddie Kendricks’ best album so far.

Just ten months after Boogie Down, Eddie released For You in December 1974. While For You stalled at number 108 in the US Billboard 200, it reached number eight in the US R&B Charts. The only crumb of comfort for Eddie was the single Shoeshine Boy. It reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. This was Eddie’s third number one US R&B single. Sadly, Eddie couldn’t repeat this feat with his next album.

July 1975 saw the release of Eddie Kendricks’ sixth solo album The Hit Man. It reached just number sixty-three in the US Billboard 200 and number eight in the US R&B Charts. The two singles Happy and Get the Cream Off the Top reached the top ten in the US R&B Charts. Happy would also reach number one in the US Dance Charts. However, Eddie’s last two albums had failed to match the commercial success of albums like Boogie Down. So Norman Harris was called upon to rejuvenate Eddie Kendricks’ career.

For Eddie’s seventh solo album, Norman Harris and a cast of some of Philly’s best songwriters, arrangers and musicians got to work. Norman cowrote three tracks. He penned Part of Me and I Won’t Take No with Allan Felder and Ron Tyson, who used the nom de plume Tyron Presson. They also cowrote Chains with Walter Tyson. These weren’t the only songs Allan Felder cowrote. With Bruce Gray and T.G. Conway he cowrote He’s A Friend and Never Gonna Leave You. Allan and T.G. also cowrote It’s Not What You Got and with Bruce Gray, Allan cowrote All of My Love. Theodore Life and Molden cowrote Get It While It’s Hot. The other two tracks, The Sweeter You Treat Her and On My Way Home, were written by the songwriting team of Buddy Turner, Jerry Akines, Johnny Belmon and Victor Drayton. These ten tracks became He’s A Friend.

Recording of He’s A Friend took place at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios.Providing the album’s heartbeat were the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, along with bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman and drummer Charles Collins played supporting roles. Guitarists included Bobby “Electronic” Eli and T.J. Tindall, while Larry Washington played congas and Vince Montana Jr. vibes. Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, Carlton Ken, T.G. Conway and Bruce Hawkes played keyboards. Strings and horns came courtesy of Don Renaldo and A Fantastic Group. Adding backing vocals along with the Sweethearts of Sigma, Barbara Ingram, Evette Benton and Carla Benson, assisted by Bruce Gray, Bruce Hawkes, Carl Helm and Darryl Grant. Arrangers included Vince Montana Jr, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, T.G. Conway and Norman Harris who produced He’s A Friend.

On the release of He’s A Friend in February 1976, it reached number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number three in the US R&B Charts. Four singles were released from He’s A Friend. Chains reached number two in the US Dance Charts. Then Get It While It’s Hot reached number twenty-four in the US R&B Charts and number three in the US R&B Charts. He’s A Friend was the most successful single, reaching number thirty-six in the US Billboard 100, number two in the US R&B Charts and number fifteen in the US Dance Charts. It’s Not What You Got then reached number two in the US Dance Charts. It seemed Norman Harris and his Philly friends had rejuvenated Eddie Kendricks’ career on He’s A Friend. You’ll realize that when I tell you about the music on He’s A Friend.

Opening He’s A Friend is the title-track He’s A Friend, arranged by Norman Harris. The track bursts into life, a thunderous Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, cascading growling horns and dancing strings. Then the arrangement takes on a hustle sound, thanks to Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar. Eddie’s thankful, joyous falsetto enters. It soars above the pulsating arrangement, while lush strings sweep and swirl and horns rasp. Meanwhile, the rhythm section provide the song’s heartbeat. Tender harmonies play an important role, accompany Eddie. Soon, he’s rolling back the years, producing a vintage slice of soul music, with a sumptuous Philly Sound arrangement for company.

APart of Me sees the tempo drop, as Vince Montana Jr. takes over arranging duties. Strings and vibes gently cascade, before broody, pensive strings, keyboards and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine. Horns rasp, while the arrangement matches Eddie’s heartfelt, fervent delivery. Vince Montana Jr, adds vibes, while flourishes of keyboards, swathes of strings and bursts of powerful drums reflect the emotion and drama in Eddie’s vocal. Gentle harmonies prove a perfect foil for Eddie’s vocal. They match him for emotion, drama, intensity and sheer sincerity on one of the most beautiful tracks on He’s A Friend.

Norman Harris arranged and produced I Won’t Take No, which sees the tempo and emotion increase. Horns blaze and bray, strings cascade and Baker, Harris, Young provide a driving, sometimes dramatic arrangement. Taking his lead from the all-star band, Eddie unleashes a vocal that’s a mixture of pleas, power and passion. Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar adds to the arrangement’s sometimes hustle sound. Playing their part are the Sweethearts of Sigma, whose tight, heartfelt harmonies provide a contrast to the the power and drama of Norman Harris’ arrangement. Mostly, the arrangement becomes an unstoppable juggernaut, which is soulful, funky and dance-floor friendly. 

Never Gonna Leave You gives Eddie to chance to show another, very beautiful side to his music. The tempo drops for this gorgeous ballad. Eddie delivers one of his most tender, impassioned vocals. With an understated string-laden backdrop, punctuated by rasping horns, subtle harmonies and percussion. The rhythm section provide the track’s understated heartbeat, allowing Eddie the opportunity to showcase his vocal prowess, winning you over with his fervor and sincerity.

Horns rasp, strings swirl and drums add to the drama as Get It While It’s Hot unfolds. The Sweethearts of Sigma add cooing, sassy harmonies before Eddie’s vocal beckons and begs. His vocal is tender, needy and sensual. Behind him, Vince Montana Jr, adds vibes, which are augmented by percussion. Meanwhile, the mainstay of the arrangement is powered along by the rhythm section, helped along by a myriad of strings and horns. However, it’s Vince’s vibes and the Sweethearts of Sigma who play the starring roles, ensuring this sensual, sultry track is truly memorable way to close Side One of He’s A Friend.

Like the previous track, Chains was arranged by T.G. Coway. Thunderous drums, rousing horns, urgent strings and the Sweethearts of Sigma combine, creating an uptempo backdrop for Eddie’s vocal. When the baton passes to Eddie, he plays his part. His vocal is filled with emotion and joy. He helps make this an irresistible track. You’re swept along with lush, dancing strings, braying horn and Baker, Harris, Young, who ensure the arrangement dances and skips along. Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar adds a hustle sound, while the Sweethearts of Sigma’s delicious harmonies. The result is a hook-laden track, that’s an irresistible way to open Side Two of He’s A Friend.

The Sweeter You Treat Her is the third and final song Norman Harris arranged on He’s A Friend. The tempo slows, with wistful horns, pensive strings and the rhythm section adding bursts of drama. They set the scene for Eddie’s fervent, impassioned vocal. Strings sweep, horns growl and drums add drama, while tight, heartfelt harmonies accompany Eddie, as he lays bare his soul. Soon, heartache and hurt are revealed, as Eddie wishes “we could start over again.” Wistful, melancholy, dramatic and beautiful. This track is all this and much more.

Searing, sizzling guitars, bursts of braying horns and a pounding Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section open It’s Not What You Got. Strings slowly sweep, while the arrangement unfolds. Powerful, dramatic and dance-floor friendly it is. This seems to spur Eddie into action. His vocal is confident and sassy, with punchy harmonies keeping him company. While the arrangement become a funk-laden juggernaut, Norman Harris lays down one of the best jazz-tinged guitar solos on He’s A Friend. As he does this, the rhythm section, strings and horns that accompany Eddie’s breathy, sensual vocal provide a dramatic, uber funky backdrop, infused with Philly Soul. It’s a tantaliSing fusion of musical genres and influences, with Philly’s finest musicians providing a backdrop for Eddie’s vocal preening and prowess.

On My Way Home has a real Philly Sound from the opening bars, thanks to Don Renaldo’s strings and horns and of course, the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. It’s another uptempo track, with Eddie’s vocal floating above the cascading strings and bursts of growling horns. Harmonies accompany Eddie, completing the Philly Sound. They spur Eddie to greater heights of soulfulness, Philly style. Then Vince Montana Jr’s vibe provide a curveball. A brief vibes solo slows things down, teasing the listener. Then the track bursts back into life, heading home to Philly where the track was born.

Closing He’s A Friend is All of My Love. It’s the perfect track to close any album, closing He’s A Friend on a high. Baker, Harris, Young provide the track’s stomping backdrop, while horns bray and strings dance. Eddie scats against a backdrop of warm melodic keyboards. Soon, Eddie unleashes one of his most fervent vocals. As Eddie sings “all of my love, that’s all I have to give,” you believe him. It’s as if he’s given so much during He’s A Friend. The band match Eddie, providing the perfect backdrop for his vocal. A mass of dancing strings, braying horns and Baker, Harris, Young at their very best provide an arrangement that marches along, sweetly and soulfully, bringing He’s A Friend to a deliciously, soulful high.

After two albums where Eddie Kendricks’ career seemed to stall, He’s A Friend saw his career back on track, with the help of Norman Harris and some of his Philly friends. Norman Harris produced He’s A Friend, while his Philly friends wrote, arranged and played on the album’s ten tracks. They never missed a beat, fusing musical genres and influences seamlessly and peerlessly. Accompanied by some of the greatest musicians of the seventies, there was neither a poor track nor filler on He’s A Friend. What there was, on He’s A Friend was vintage Eddie Kendricks. The partnership between Eddie Kendricks and Norman Harris, plus his Philly friends, was sadly a short one.

He’s A Friend would be the first of two albums Norman produced. Goin’ Up In Smoke was released in September 1976. It stalled at number 114 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-two in the US R&B Charts. By then, music was changing, with disco now flavor of the month. Leonard Caston produced Slick, released in August 1977. Eddie’s fortunes failed to improve, when Slick reached just number forty-seven in the US R&B Charts. Slick became Eddie’s first album not to enter the US R&B Charts. For many people, Eddie Kendricks two Norman Harris produced albums He’s A Friend and Goin’ Up In Smoke were the last of Eddie’s great albums of the seventies, thanks to Norman Harris and his Philly friends. Standout Tracks: He’s A Friend, A Part of Me, Chains and All of My Love.

EDDIE KENDRICKS-HE’S A FRIEND.

 

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    1. Eddie Kendricks : He’s A Friend (1976) | Mr. Moo's What Da Funk

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