The strings and keyboards on “Happiness is Just Around the Bend” are memorable on that hit tune, but it’s the distinct voice of Cuba Gooding Sr. and background vocals of the Main Ingredient Tony Silvestre and Luther Simmons Jr. that made it an everlasting R&B hit.
The one thing that R&B groups had in common during the 1960s and ’70s were great voices and incredible backup bands. During those days, every label had studio bands, Motown had the Funk Brothers, Stax Records had Booker T & the MG’s and Epic Records had MFSB. Many of these band members were jazz musicians. “The live band was an overall effort with groups like us, the Temptations, Four Tops and Stylistics,” stated Gooding.
Once again there is that relationship between jazz and R&B. Although on the R&B level it wasn’t about improvisation, it was backing up the groups with some serious funk and memorable melodies. Gooding and the Main Ingredient were cooking up front as the band beat out melodies on “Summer Breeze,” “California My Way,” “Euphrates” and “Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely,” among their other hits.
“Sometimes we used orchestras on our recordings or small groups, but we could have not done it without a producer and arranger,” said Gooding. “Today, most groups use drum machines. The real music has disappeared from most acts.”
At last summer’s Harlem Week tribute to Hal Jackson, Gooding showed the audience his old moves, as well as some new ones, as he sang hit songs like “Rolling Down the Mountainside.” “I am so grateful that Harlem Week is keeping our music alive,” stated Gooding.
The audience, ranging from teens to adults, knew Gooding’s repertoire verbatim although the songs date back to the 1970s, when the Main Ingredient was at its zenith. During this performance, Gooding was backed by Ray Chew’s hard-hitting band. It has always been the live beat that makes crowds jump up and dance.
Gooding learned early on how to work with the band and audience, which is the talent of a true entertainer. Now that he is a little older, he has developed a cool onstage finesse of working with the band through some improvisational licks as he offers up hip and humorous audience banter.
“Today, many young people listen to music on computers or smart phones. Music is run by corporations that have no musical background, which has led to the glorification of drugs, profanity and good looks,” noted Gooding. “We produced all the music and made sure it was true to the neighborhood. Our Harlem neighborhoods were international.”
Gooding was born in Harlem’s Sydenham Hospital and lived only eight blocks from the world-famous Apollo Theater, where his mother often took him. He attended P.S. 125 on West 123rd Street. “While shopping with my mother on 125th Street, it was not unusual to see greats like Ella Fitzgerald or Jackie Wilson,” noted Gooding.
As a child of Harlem, Gooding says he had many role models, including Sammy Davis Jr., Sam Cooke, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Curtis Mayfield (and his political statements in the ’60s), Eddie Fisher, Tony Bennett and Ben E. King.
“I always wanted to be an entertainer, and living in Harlem gave me a glimpse of all the greats, and seeing them perform at the Apollo was the real treat,” stated Gooding. “The melody and lyric was more important than anything else for me. The music wasn’t categorized, it was just popular music. I want everyone to enjoy my music.” Gooding was a known solo vocalist before he joined the Main Ingredient in the early ’70s.
Today, most young aspiring singers set their sights on getting on “American Idol,” but that is a tough route. During the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, young singers got their starts on shows like “American Bandstand,” “Soul Train,” “Hit Parade,” “Ed Sullivan” and “Dinah Shore.”
Although those doors have closed and the shows are long gone, technology has led young singers and musicians to another realm of producing and recording live on YouTube, setting up Facebook pages and texting. Gooding has joined the crowd with his website, www.cuba-gooding.com. You can also go to YouTube and check out videos of him and the Main Ingredient.
To some who think Gooding looks very familiar, it might be because of his Oscar-winning son, Cuba Gooding Jr. Ironically, the two look more like brothers than father and son. In Gooding Jr.’s movie “Radio,” there is a scene where his character is listening to the Main Ingredient. His younger son Omar Gooding is also an actor, and they all have that big, warm Gooding smile.
Gooding’s advice to aspiring singers is, “Every time you record music, make it sound good with a good story that people can understand–positive and meaningful. Make sure you are doing quality music that can last the ages.”
Gooding’s music has stood the test of time and is still inspiring young singers and musicians. Currently, Gooding continues to perform throughout the country as a solo artist and with the Main Ingredient. He is also working on a film project and recording is always on the sound board.