From 1979 to 1988, Main Ingredient frontman Cuba Gooding Sr. could be found singing "Everybody Plays the Fool" and his soul group’s other hit songs at Harrah’s (then the Holiday Casino).
It’s not what you think. He was singing them in the lobby, for passers-by, trying to interest them in buying $5,000 time shares.
"They would know the songs, and it would make them feel as if they had bought time shares from a celebrity," says Gooding, 66, phoning from his San Diego home.
The Main Ingredient — a Harlem soul trio first formed as the Poets in 1964 — was known for the 15 silky singles and four platinum albums it recorded after Gooding (father of Cuba Gooding Jr.) joined in 1971. The only remaining member from that period, Gooding and his latest bandmates co-headline ’70s Soul Jam at Texas Station on Friday.
During his Vegas days, however, singing was just a means toward a commission for the Holiday Clubs International assistant sales manager.
"All of the other salesmen used me as a bird dog," Gooding says. "They would say, ‘Do you know who that is? Do you know who that is?’ "
Potential time share customers who showed up in a conference room for their free clock, map and key chain were shown a movie.
"Then we’d tell them about how they could get a free week at any Holiday Inn in the world," Gooding says. "And then for five years, they could get 50 percent off."
Gooding — who was coming off a divorce from his famous son’s mom — refuses to frame his Vegas years as a low point.
"It was a lot of fun," he says. "I made plenty of money. And my kids understood. They came and visited me a couple of times."
Gooding does admit, however, a preference for performing on a noncommission basis.
"I still in my heart wanted to come back singing," he says. "Any time I’d go out to entertain myself, it was on the Strip to see people that I believed that I could sing better than."
In 1988, Gooding booked his first gig in years: at the old Aladdin lounge. He says he was instructed to play at a very low volume so as not to disturb nearby gamblers — and to limit his sets to 15 minutes each.
"That was more torture than not singing at all," he says.
Gooding then reformed the Main Ingredient with new members and recorded an album in New York for PolyGram Records. This exercise helped psychologically, but not financially.
"It crashed and burned for lack of promotion," Gooding says, "or because of the infusion of hip-hop and rap."
Gooding knows that the main ingredient figuring in his career’s current revival was the household status his Oscar-winning son achieved for a nearly identical name several years later.
"Believe it or not, many people thought it was Cuba Jr. people were talking about until they saw me live," he says.
Thanks to this recognition, Gooding says a movie about his life is in the works at Sony Pictures, starring in the lead role — who else?
"Cuba Jr. may be doing more lip-syncing than actual singing," Gooding says, laughing. (A spokesman for Sony Pictures would neither publicly confirm nor deny the production.)
Oh, and if anyone is interested, Gooding can still get you a good deal on a time share.
Contact reporter Corey Levitan at clevitan @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0456.Preview
What: ’70s Soul Jam starring the Main Ingredient with Cuba Gooding Sr., the Stylistics, Harold Melvin’s Bluenotes, New Birth and hosted by Jimmie “JJ” Walker
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Where: Dallas Events Center at Texas Station, 2101 Texas Star Lane, North Las Vegas
Tickets: $19.95-$49.95; call (702) 547-5300.