If you want to talk about turning tragedy into triumph, the discussion has to include the Main Ingredient. The group formed in Harlem in 1964, and consisted of lead singer Donald McPherson, Tony Silvester, and Luther Simmons, Jr. At first they called themselves the Poets, and recorded for Leiber and Stoller’s Red Bird Records. Then they changed their name to the Insiders and signed to RCA.
After yet another name change, this time to the Main Ingredient, they started working with producer Bert DeCoteaux. Beginning in 1970, the group started a string of Top 40 R&B hits that included a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “I’m So Proud,” “Spinning Around (I Must Be Falling In Love),” and the soul power anthem “Black Seeds Keep On Growing.”
Then in 1971 Donald McPherson died unexpectedly of leukemia.
Silvester and Simmons were stunned, but they managed to pull themselves together and hire a guy named Cuba Gooding (yes, father of … ) to replace McPherson. Gooding had sung background on some Main Ingredient records, and as it turned out the surviving members made a great choice.
The Gooding-era began with a bang. The first single with the new lead singer was a record called “Everybody Plays the Fool.” It reached #2 on the R&B chart, and #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was the biggest hit ever for the Main Ingredient. The album Bitter Sweet, which included the hit single, went Top Ten on the R&B chart.
The group’s next album, the 1973 release Afrodisiac, didn’t spawn any hit singles, despite having several songs written by Stevie Wonder. But the Main Ingredient were not done yet. The next year they found their way to the charts again with the smash single “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely”, a song originally recorded by Blue Magic, who were featured in this column a couple of weeks ago. The record sold a million copies and made the Top Ten of the R&B and Pop charts.
There was another hit in 1975, the R&B Top Ten “Rolling Down A Mountainside,” but by then, Silvester was looking for a way out. He left the group for a solo career, and formed a production company with producer DeCoteaux. Carl Tompkins was brought in to replace him in the Main Ingredient, but the chemistry had changed, and not for the better. Gooding left in 1977 for a solo career with Motown that resulted in two albums, and Simmons left the music business altogether and became a stockbroker.
The Main Ingredient burned brightly, but not for very long. When they were struck low by tragedy, they picked themselves up and made it all the way back to the top. In their wake they left some indelible records.