The Main Ingredient are one of my favorite funky soul groups of the mid 70’s. The reason is just because of that particular musicality of theirs. Their music very successfully bridged soul’s gospel feeling and melody with the complex,jazzier harmonics of funk. Hearing their greatest hits CD in the 1990’s showcased for me just how much breadth their was to their music. Got me to thinking if their singles were that diverse,what were their albums like? After hearing one in 1973’s Afrodesiac, it became clear their sound could stretch across the full LP format with energy to spare.
One particular Main Ingredient album which always appealed to me was their 1974 release Euphrates River. It was released in 1974. And is one of many Main Ingredient albums I do not have have on physical media. In the light of Cuba Gooding Sr’s recent passing,his first posthumous birthday today and a conversation with my friend Henrique? Seemed like a great time to check out its songs via YouTube. One of them which instantly got my attention was written by jazz/rock pioneer Brian Auger. It was called “Happiness Is Just Around The Bend”.
A slow grinding Latin percussion/conga/xylophone based groove provides the intro with a crawling melody on Fender Rhodes. Then the tempo goes up with the steadier drum beat,lighter percussion and bass/guitar interaction. For the main refrain,the Rhodes play a more rhythmic role as the strings come into play with Gooding’s echoed voice chiming in the spoken early vocal leads. The refrains are a spiraling,orchestrated vocal arrangement with a very complex melodic exchange. After a bridge featuring an echoed soprano sax solo, the least involved end of the chorus continues into the songs fade out.
“Happiness Is Just Around The Bend” is probably the most melodically and rhythmically complex piece of music I’ve ever heard from the Main Ingredient. In the rhythm arrangement I hear Curtis Mayfiend. The orchestration has a heavy Isaac Hayes vibe while the melody comes out of a Stevie Wonder school. Not totally bound to its influences Cuba,Tony and Simmon’s vocal stylings all come together to deliver one of the strongest funky soul arrangements I’ve heard come out of 1974. And it really makes a very strong case for my future exploration of the Euphrates River album itself.
Cuba Gooding Sr is probably famous for to two things. One would be as the lead singer for the Harlem vocal trio The Main Ingredient after their original lead singer/songwriter Don McPherson died. The other would be a the father of actor Cuba Gooding Jr of Jerry McGuire fame. Under McPherson,The Main Ingredient mixed romantic and black power themed funky soul. During Gooding’s era,the political elements became less pronounced. And the group began doing more cinematic soul numbers arranged by Bert DeCoteaux. At the same time, The Main Ingredient never fully lost their funk.
Cuba Sr’s history is every bit as political. His name derived from his father Dudley marrying a woman when he fled to Cuba. After being murdered due to her support of Pan Africanist leader Marcus Garvey,he vowed on her death bead that his first child would be named Cuba. Gooding was in the process of working on documentary about his family tree before he was found dead in his car on April 20th,2017. Though best known for their 1972 hit “Everybody Plays The Fool”, one Main Ingredient song that always stands out to me in a similar vein is the following years “Something Lovely”.
A drum kick off breaks into the instrumental intro of the chorus. This is lead by a descending string and muted trumpet arrangement. When Cuba and the rest of the trio come in with their three part harmonies,the arrangement pairs down to a wah wah guitar/bass/drum/electric piano based sound. That goes for the arrangements too-accented occasionally by a several not long horn chart before the next chorus. After one refrain where the horn arrangements play the vocal lines, the trio finish the song out with an extended reprise of the chorus.
“Something Lovely”,written by Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright, is a masterpiece of funky soul arrangement as far as I’m concerned. The harmonies that Cuba,Luther Simmons and Tony Silvester come up with on this song are a superb example of funky soul as sweet as it can be. Its from their 1973 album Afrodesiac, which I purchased at the recommendation of an employee at one of my favorite record haunts Dr. Records when I was trying to exchange a defective CD of Parliament’s Funkentelechy Vs The Placebo Syndrome.
I fell in love with the Afrodesiac album after getting it. Especially in the interpretive material it embraced. Stevie Wonder offered some of his own material and wrote two songs for this project itself. I also discovered one of my favorite Isley Brother’s songs “Work To Do” through The Main Ingredient doing it on this record. The very unexpected passing of Cuba Gooding Sr not only reminded me of that youthful musical discovery. But also of Gooding’s strong musicality and respect for quality. He will be missed by many and I wish his surviving family all the best at this difficult time.