BALTIMORE — Mention the song “Everybody Plays the Fool,” and an older generation of music lovers will immediately recall that The Main Ingredient, featuring lead singer Cuba Gooding, before he added the “senior” tag to his name, recorded the once-popular tune.
A younger generation will immediately connect Gooding’s surname with his son, the actor, Cuba Gooding Jr. – famous for starring in several top films such as Boyz ‘N The Hood, Jerry Maguire, Fighting Temptations, American Gangster, Radio and now the recently released Selma.
In an interview from his home near St. Augustine, Fla., the elder Gooding reflected on his successful music career and raising two successful actor sons, including his “baby boy,” Omar Gooding.
At 70, Cuba Gooding Sr. has no problem divulging details about the past and the development of his formidable musical career from his Harlem, N.Y. origins. He notes that his father,Dudley MacDonald Gooding, was a Barbados native with an affinity for the Marcus Garvey “Black Nationalist” movement in the early 1900s. “He told my mother that he would name his first born son Cuba – that’s because he once lived in Cuba and had positive feelings about the country,” said Gooding Sr.
He also revealed that his mother (Addie Alston) wanted him to become a solo singer in the mold of Nat King Cole or Brook Benton. “She always wanted me to separate myself from that whole group thing.” In fact, The Main Ingredient had already formed in Gooding’s midst, as some of his boyhood friends started rehearsing in his neighborhood, but Gooding was unaware of their existence.
The original group was called The Poets and later, The Insiders. Before Gooding joined, The Main Ingredient had already recorded a marginal hit, “Spinning Around” in 1970 and scored heavily on the The Impressions’/Curtis Mayfield composition, “I’m So Proud,” in ’71.
The original group included Tony “Panama” Sylvester, Luther Simmons and Donald McPherson (vocal lead of “Spinning Around” and “Black Seeds Keep on Growing”). McPherson died in 1970, Gooding recalls. “We were not the typical black soul group from the early 1970s. We recorded on the prestigious RCA-Victor label (now SONY) with the likes of Harry Belafonte and Charley Pride, said Gooding. But remember, we were young and still wanted to be cool and soulful like our counterparts, The O’Jays and The Delfonics and people like that,” he said.
“I could never compete with the ones who sang in church, like Eddie Levert and the guys from The O’Jays. I don’t even know any spiritual songs, I grew up singing and wanting to be like Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra. I had to teach myself to become a group performer instead of a standup, solo artist,” said Gooding. “I vividly remember standing in Times Square in New York City – never asking for money, but just singing and working on developing my craft.”
He reflects on a career highlights after being recruited to join The Main Ingredient. “Heck, I was working in credit collections at Sax Fifth Avenue, and had no interest in singing on that level. The guys needed me (after McPherson’s illness and eventual death) so they promised me I could make more money than I did on my two-week salary at the department store. So, the rest is history.”
With Gooding’s magical lead vocals, the group scored heavily on the 1972 single “Everybody Plays the Fool” and two hits from 1974, “Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely” and “Happiness Is Just Around The Bend.”
Comparing today’s music business with the 1970s, Gooding says he will never forget recording album projects live, on sound stages, accompanied by a 40-piece orchestra. “It doesn’t get any better than that. Today, talent and stardom is all dependent on whether American TV viewers call and vote for you, ala ‘American Idol.’”
The golden years also had its share of bad times, he said. “We found ourselves $250,000 in the hole, after paying for all those recording sessions, for all the musicians, the payola – all that was in RCA’s budget. We never got the lion’s share. That’s why Stevie (Wonder) created Black Bull Music, so he could get his (publishing) share from Berry Gordy and Motown.
“This is a business, but sadly, the ones who make all the money are the ones who have no musical talent at all. The lawyers, the agents, the managers, road managers, accountants – they get the money. And, you pray that the government doesn’t come and hit you before all of them get paid.”
During the interview Gooding discussed the deaths of “two of his good friends from the industry,” namely Edward “Sonny” Bivins and Winfred “Blue” Lovett, both of The Manhattans. “I knew those guys from early in our careers, because we were all from the New Jersey/New York area,” he said. “I’ll really miss them.”
On a more upbeat note, Gooding recounted his input in helping to rear two successful acting sons, Cuba Jr. and Omar. Another son, Thomas, is a bass player and works as musical director of Cuba Sr.’s touring band. There is also a daughter named April.
On helping Cuba Jr. and Omar become actors, the older Gooding says, “I learned from my mom and dad that it was more important to be a parent. That means that I did what was necessary for them to be successful. I took that approach as if they were in a formal schooling environment. I taught them that it was important to be successful, and I taught them by example. I also taught them martial arts.”
Mr. Gooding said he wanted to make it clear that he was not his sons’ sole positive influence. “Their mother played a major role in their development,” he said. “Their mother (Shirley Sullivan) taught them how to pronounce their words – to speak the King’s English properly so the people would respect you regardless of your education. My answer is plain and simple – understand the responsibility of being a parent above and beyond being a biological father. I am truly blessed. It was like my father was telling me what to say to them,” he said.
Gooding notes that after a long period of marriage, he eventually left the family for nearly 17 years, but regrouped and remarried his mate in the 1980s.