“Has it been that long?” said broadcaster Tavis Smiley when I mentioned that we’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of the death of David Ruffin. I affirmed and proposed that perhaps he could do a show about one of the most influential voices in contemporary music history. Ruffin who was a solo singer before joining Motown’s mighty The Temptations, came on the national and international scene as lead singer on their first Pop hit “My Girl.”
To bring attention to the occasion, I wrote an article titled “Will Radio Honor Singer David Ruffin On June 1st” (which is on the internet), challenging radio stations to showcase Ruffin’s talent. Fans are urged to call their local radio stations on June 1st and make requests for Ruffin’s music. Jim Saphin of the U.K. produced a You Tube video featuring a tribute song I wrote shortly after my friend Ruffin died called “Soul Man (A Song For David)” which is already getting a lot of attention.
Ruffin was lead vocal on other Temptations’ hits like “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”, “(I Know) I’m Losing You”, “Beauty’s Only Skin Deep”, and “I Wish It Would Rain.” There are classic photos on the internet of Ruffin on stage with singer Rod Stewart singing “Losing You”, the song which Stewart had covered on one of his own albums. An interesting true story: when Ruffin left Motown in the late 70’s and signed with Warner Brothers, he and I were together one night at a Detroit nightclub and when Stewart’s song “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” came on the jukebox, Ruffin said, “they should have given me that song!” It would have been interesting to hear his interpretation of it as Ruffin was still at the height of his vocal performance.
After his departure from the Temptations, Ruffin charted only two Top Ten hits: “My Whole World Ended”, and “Walk Away From Love”, although many other songs he had recorded during that period would most likely have top-charted had they been released. Unfortunately, they were vaulted until almost 40 years later. One can only imagine now how frustrated he must have been (“Loving You Has Been So Wonderful” written by Stevie Wonder is a prime example). I was very happy for him when I went by his house one day and announced that I had just heard the debut release of “Walk Away From Love” on Detroit’s radio station WGPR. When he heard the news he lit up like a boy on Christmas morning! Ruffin was back!
Sibling and singer Jimmy Ruffin (“What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted”) recorded a duet album with his younger brother titled “I Am My Brother’s Keeper”. He says, “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him.”
Claudette Robinson, original member of Motown’s The Miracles, and former wife of Smokey Robinson says, “What a talent!! David Ruffin!!! The Lord gifted him with a voice unparalleled with the genius music mates of all times. His voice will reign forevermore through his many amazing songs.” Claudette also shared this tidbit: it’s public knowledge that the song “More Love” was written for her by Smokey when she experienced a miscarriage, but what the general public does not know is that Smokey wrote the Temptations’ song “Since I Lost My Baby” for the very same reason (that was David Ruffin on lead vocal).
Betty Kelley who was a member of Martha & The Vandellas says, “I have always said there is only one David Ruffin…a very unique voice and hard to copy. The Ruffin brothers certainly made an impact in the Motown family.”
Another Motown girl group The Velvelettes (“Needle In A Haystack”) issued this statement: “David Ruffin was blessed with a soulful voice that had southern gospel roots. When he led songs, he sounded like he was reaching deep down in his soul for each and every note.”
The Motown Alumni Association (MAA) issued a joint statement: “My early years playing with a professional started with him…” Billy Wilson, President MAA; “David Ruffin was a true giant…his resonant voice coupled with a unique performance style catapulted him to a place in musical history.” Ron Brewington, Nat’l. V.P. MAA
Brian Spears who was in charge of Groovesville Publishing when Ruffin worked with producer Don Davis on his Warner Brothers recordings says, “I used to pick David up at the house on Parkside to get him to studio sessions on time. In a few conversations, and hanging out with him, I really got to know David ‘the man’…when he walked into a room everyone knew a ‘star’ had arrived, because David was in command.”
Singer Rena Scott who had a huge hit with Michael Henderson called “Take Me I’m Yours” says, “I first met David and all the original Temptations in 1968 at the Fox Theatre. I was one of about 10 acts chosen to perform in the [radio station] WCHB annual talent contest. I was star-struck and totally in awe…I performed onstage with the Temptations! Years later I was privileged to open for David [as a solo artist] and perform duets [with him] onstage. I shall never forget him.”
For additional comments please go to the above-mentioned You Tube tribute song. You may also post a comment there as well. Let’s make this a special day in honor of the late great David Ruffin!!
Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” (Steuben Pub. www.amazon.com) . Visit the author at www.editorialbylarry.com. (213) 220-8101