*Since TV One first aired “Unsung: David Ruffin” in March 2012, I have received many phone calls and e-mails from viewers on both sides of the Atlantic which I appreciate, and I thank TV One and the Ruffin family for inviting me to be included in the telecast.
I’ve written many articles about Mr. Ruffin, particularly to make his fans aware of the significant body of work he recorded as a solo artist that remained in the vault for 35 or 40 years before being released.
Some viewers who contacted me said it seemed I had more to say, and yes I did say more during the interview, but as these things go there’s only so much you can fit into one episode. Most of my interview ended up on the proverbial “cutting room floor.” So for those who may be interested, here’s the addendum:
Concerning Ruffin’s solo release “Action Speaks Louder Than Words”: Shortly after my baby brother died we were packing up to leave Detroit for Los Angeles. The day we were leaving my cousin Vincent brought over the record and said “Y’all gotta hear this,” and he played it over and over again. So naturally that was the last song ringing in our ears as we were traveling by car across the country. Three years later as we were packing to move back to Detroit “My Girl” was just airing on the radio. I did not realize until later that the voice was the same as on “Action.” It was Ruffin’s voice that sent us away, and Ruffin’s voice that brought us back home.
[Note: It seemed everyone in Detroit was talking about the tall man with the glasses! Personally, I was more interested in the guy who had his name on everything – Smokey Robinson. I used to try and write songs patterned after Sam Cooke like “Another Saturday Night.” After he died and I was back in Detroit Smokey had my undivided attention.]
Concerning “Walk Away From Love”: I was driving home from work one day when the song debuted on radio station WGPR. When I realized it was Ruffin, I drove straight to his house, and told him his new song was on the radio. He asked “Which one?” I told him it was something about walking away, and he leapt up with joy like a boy on Christmas. We had a ball that day as he kept calling around to see where he could get the album. I was glad to be the one to let him know about it. He later told me that producer Van McCoy was late for the recording session – it was just him and the engineer. He said the engineer was amazed that he recorded the entire song in one take, and when McCoy arrived and heard the playback, he simply said, “Next!”
I first shook hands with Ruffin at Phelp’s Lounge in Detroit after his “My Whole World Ended” album was released. He had his three daughters with him when he walked in. The show was awesome. The next day I looked in the phone book and to my surprise he was listed as Druff Productions located on Hazelwood. I called the number and a woman answered (maybe it was Tammi…I don’t know). When I asked to speak with Ruffin she said he’s resting right now. I told her I just wanted to let him know how much I liked the show. She then put him on the phone and he said “You really liked my show?” I told him it was great. He thanked me and said he needed to get some rest for the show that night.
Over the years I would stay in touch with Ruffin. He was the first famous person I knew who took an interest in my songs and would always encourage me. He once invited me to Studio A at Hitsville where he was rehearsing with the band getting ready to go on the road. His “Everything’s Coming Up Love” album had just been released of which he said of the title track “This is my favorite song for the moment…it’s the closest one yet to ‘My Girl’.” After rehearsal we went upstairs to listen to some of my songs and he gave me some very helpful tips which are incorporated in them to this day. He said my style reminded him of Smokey, and coming from him that made my confidence soar sky high!
There were other things like the morning I stopped by his house; he was making oatmeal and offered me some. I remember thinking, “So this is the breakfast of champions.” While there he answered the phone, and when he hung up said, “That was Barrett Strong (hit Motown songwriter)…the Tempts are looking for a first tenor…you interested?” I declined. I had no desire to sing; I just wanted to write.
I called Ruffin one Sunday morning. He asked, “What you doing?” I told him I was getting ready for church. He said, “Come get me.” When I got there he rolled out his gold “Gucci” Cadillac and we rode in his car to my family church on the eastside of Detroit. I thought this would be a great opportunity – I had once suggested to Ruffin that he should add some Gospel songs to his repertoire and he agreed. My uncle – pastor of the church – is a great Gospel writer, arranger and choir director. After the service we tried to have a meeting, but other activities took precedence. I never got the chance to bring them together again. Later that day Ruffin confided in me that he was troubled by a family incident that happened the night before which I will not disclose.
Then finally, Ruffin and I talked several times on the phone about a song I wrote titled “Call The Children Home.” He said he wanted to record it in the style of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” Long story short, we had everything set in order to make it happen. I was even finishing up on a couple other songs for him to consider. On May 31, 1991, I finished the demo for one song at 12 midnight (3AM Philadelphia time). The next morning I went to another studio to finish another demo. When I returned home the message was on my machine that Ruffin had died. Reports said it happened around 3AM in Philly. I was heartbroken, but as someone told me, you did all you could do…it just wasn’t meant to be. The last time I saw Ruffin alive was December 1989 in Ventura, CA. I took the photo of him wearing the lavender tux. Should you care to listen, my version of “Call The Children Home” is on YouTube.
I went to Ruffin’s funeral in Detroit. While there I went to Hitsville which by then had become the Motown Museum. While Mrs. Esther Gordy Edwards was personally giving me, my brother Keith and cousin Steven a tour, she said, “A lot of people in the group and otherwise envied David, but while they were out partying and having a good time, David was in here working on his craft.”
TV One has scheduled the Ruffin episode to air again Sunday, January 12th at 1PM PST. Please check your local listing for the airtime in your locale.