Folks often inquire about the origin of many of our performers within the ImaSportsphile video library….especially with musical groups….like how did the group come together….and since the latest question on this subject came in regards to….How did The Temptations come together?….and where did they come from?….so, here you go.
Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams started singing together in church as children….and by their teenage years….they formed a doo-wop quartet in 1955….along with Kell Osborne and Wiley Waller…..calling themselves the Cavaliers….who after Waller left the group in 1957….the remaining trio left Birmingham to break into the music business. The group settled in Detroit where they changed their name to the Primes ….who soon became well known around the Detroit area for their meticulous performances. Their manager was Milton Jenkins…who later created a sister group, The Primettes….that just happened to later be known as the Supremes. By this time, Kendricks was already seen as a“matinee idol” in the Detroit area while Williams was well received for his baritone vocals….and about this time was when a Texas teenager named Otis Williams moved to Detroit as a youngster to be with his mother. By 1958, Williams was the leader of a vocal group named Otis Williams and the Siberians. The group included Elbridge “Al” Bryant, James “Pee-Wee” Crawford, Vernard Plain and Arthur Walton. The group recorded a song, “Pecos Kid” for a label run by radio deejay Senator Bristol Bryant. Shortly after its release, the group changed its name to The El Domingoes….and that is when Melvin Franklin replaced Arthur Walton as bass vocalist….as Detroit-born Richard Street replaced Vernard Plain as lead singer. Signing with Johnnie Mae Matthews’ Northern Records, the group had their name changed again to The Distants….an proceeded to record two Northern singles including “Come On” (1959) and “Alright” (1960)….and between these releases, Albert “Mooch” Harrell replaced Pee-Wee Crawford. “Come On” became a local hit and the Warwick Records label picked the record up for national distribution. Following the release of “Alright”…..Matthews appointed Williams the group leader and the group’s name was changed to Otis Williams & The Distants. During this period, both the Primes and Distants were influenced by other vocal groups including the Miracles….the Cadillacs….Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers….the Drifters and the Isley Brothers. After receiving an offer from Berry Gordy to sign with Motown Records….the Distants got out of their contract with Northern Records…and shortly thereafter, Mooch Harrell and Richard Street left the group….so, the remaining members lost use of the Distants name.
Members of the Distants were acquainted with the Primes as both groups participated in the same talent shows and performed at the same public venues. Friendly rivals, the Primes were considered to be the more polished and vocally stronger group of the two. The Primes disbanded in 1960 after Kell Osborne moved to California. Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams returned to Alabama following the band’s dissolution. While visiting relatives in Detroit, Kendricks called Otis Williams, who desperately needed two more members for an audition for Gordy’s label and offered Kendricks a lead singer place in his new group. Kendricks agreed on the condition he bring Paul Williams with him. Otis Williams happily agreed and Kendricks and Paul Williams moved back to Detroit to join the new group.
The original name for the new lineup of Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Elbridge “Al” Bryant, Eddie Kendricks, and Paul Williams was the Elgins…..and under that name, the group auditioned for Motown in March 1961. Already impressed with some of the members after hearing session work….Berry Gordy agreed to sign the group to the Motown imprint, Miracle….however, before signing, Gordy discovered another group was using the name of Elgins….so, the group began tossing about ideas for a new name on the steps of the Hitsville U.S.A. studio…..and on a suggestion from Miracle Records employee Billy Mitchell, songwriter Mickey Stevenson, and group members Otis Williams and Paul Williams….the Temptations became the group’s new moniker.
Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks split the leads during this early period, with Al Bryant, Otis Williams, and Melvin Franklin occasionally singing lead….as they would on a song titled “Isn’t She Pretty”. One hit song, “Do You Love Me”…..was originally to be recorded by the Temptations….but when Gordy couldn’t get a hold of the group….he produced a version for the Contours. In 1963, the Temptations began working with Smokey Robinson as producer and writer…..whose first work with the group was the Paul Williams-led “I Want a Love I Can See”….and while the song failed to chart….it did eventually become a popular live performance spot for the group and particularly for Paul Williams in general.
Some called the group “The Hitless Temptations” due to their lack of hits….and during this time, David Ruffin began following the group around as he aspired to join the group….when during a local Detroit performance he joined the group onstage and impressed the group with his vocal talent and dancing skills. Shortly afterward, Al Bryant had grown frustrated with the group’s lack of success and became restless and uncooperative….preferring the mundane routine of his day job as a milkman over the rigors of rehearsal and performing….and then after a second altercation onstage having struck Paul with a beer bottle during a heated quarrel at an earlier gig….Bryant was summarily fired from the group….and as a result, Ruffin was brought in as his replacement in January 1964….which started the era of the Classic FiveTemptations ….as hit after hit would follow until….even after Dennis Edwards replaced Ruffin in 1967.