People who really know soul, really rate top harmony group, Main Ingredient. Sadly most of their classic material is hard to find. The trio have been badly served by the re-issue labels and the ‘hits’ albums that do exist haven’t been that comprehensive. All that’s about to change with this excellent 22 tracker that traces the group’s history from 1967 (when the one-time Poets were billed as the Insiders) through to 1975 when the group scored their 15th chart hit with Shame On The World.
The history of the Main Ingredient isn’t completely straightforward. The band can trace it roots to mid-60s Harlem where Donald McPherson, Luther Simmons Jr and Tony Silvester formed the Poets and won a recording contract with the declining Red Bird set up. Confusion with Sue’s Poets forced a name change to the Insiders and it’s was under that name that this collection opens with the lilting I’m Better Off Without You – the first fruit of the group’s 1967 deal with RCA Records.
Success, however, didn’t come till 1970 with You’ve Been My Inspiration – a shimmering Bert DeCoteaux-arranged ballad; but jubilation was tempered by the sad news that lead Donald McPherson had leukaemia. He saw the group enjoy two more hits (a cover of the Impressions’ I’m So Proud and Spinning Around) before his untimely death in July 1971.
Cuba Gooding, a Harlem buddy, was drafted in as McPherson’s replacement and the new line-up enjoyed major success with the single Everybody Plays The Fool and the albums “Bitter Sweet” and the Stevie Wonder-heavy “Afrodisiac”. The 45 Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely cemented their success while recordings with Leon Ware – such as Rolling Down A Mountainside confirmed their status a soul group heavyweights. As ever, success bred its own demons and in 1974 Tony Silvester quit for a solo career as both producer and artist. His replacement was another Harlem-ite, Carl Tompkins. Then Gooding embarked on a solo career in ’77 and Simmons quit to become a stockbroker! Two years later, Gooding, Silvester and Simmons were back together, cutting a brace of albums before drifting apart again. In ’86 they were together once more, though Jerome Jackson eventually replaced Simmons. Gooding resumed his solo work in the early 90s, although by the end of the decade Main Ingredient was out there again with Silvester and Simmons working with Carlton Blount.
Complicated? Maybe, but what is clear enough is the lasting beauty of the music they cut for RCA in their prime. Cuba Gooding’s is certain that it was the influence of Harlem that made their music so distinctive – “Harlem has a heritage that we were definitely in touch with. A few blocks in any direction was a new source of stimulation. Our songs became a reflection of every style we were exposed to, from jazz to doo-wop to rhythm and blues to soul to country. Add the percussive sounds of Afro-Cuban-Latin-Hispanic culture and you have the musical melting pot that became the Main Ingredient.” Enjoy it all right here!
By Bill Buckley (www.bluesandsoulunplugged.com)