Friday, 17 August 2007

Music Specialist Spotlight: Soul singer David Ruffin

Wish it would rain ; In a mellow mood, by the TemptationsSoul singer David Ruffin was one of the members of the 'classic 5' line up of Soul legends 'The Temptations'. Hired to replace volatile founding member Elbridge Bryant who was fired for attacking another band member with a beer bottle, Ruffin's role was as a secondary singer, the lead singing duties being divided between the falsetto of Eddie Kendricks & the baritone of Paul Williams. All this changed one night, as legend has it, when fellow Motown singer/songwriter Smokey Robinson saw Ruffin performing a song live.

The ultimate collection, David RuffinThe next day he came to the Temps dressing room with a new song he thought Ruffin would be perfect for. The song 'My Girl' became their 1st number one, sold over a million copies, and elevated Ruffin to lead singer. More leads followed and Ruffin's dynamic live performances made him the group's focal point. Ruffin was never much of a team player though, with a deep and often troubled personality. A growing addiction to cocaine fuelled his personal demons, and his demons fuelled his ego. When 'The Supremes' became 'Diana Ross & the Supremes’ Ruffin, who was singing most of the leads, failed to see why he shouldn't get top billing as well. The group voted him out and the embittered Ruffin filed suit against Motown demanding an accounting of his money and a release from his contract. Forced to finish out his contract Ruffin went solo and had his first big hit with 'My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)'. Things looked good for a while but then the hits dried up. Ruffin was never popular with Motown management & an entire album ('David') was cut but never released until 30 years later, when it became regarded as his best solo work. But teaming with uber soul producer Van McCoy he made a mid-70's comeback with 'Walk away from love', which became his last big hit.

After leaving Motown he recorded a couple of solid albums for Warner Brothers, hooked up with the Temptations again for a 'Reunion' album in the early 80's, recorded a live album with Kendricks & 80's Blue Eyed Soul stars 'Hall & Oates', cut an under-rated duo album with friend and fellow ex-Temptation Eddie Kendrick, was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, then toured with Kendrick and fellow ex-Temptation Dennis Edwards (who replaced him as lead singer) as 'The Former Lead Singers of the Temptations'. But the 80's in general weren't kind to Soul music or any of its surviving practitioners, and Ruffin was never kind to himself, his demons finally consuming him as he died of an overdose in a Philadelphia crack house in 1991. David Ruffin was 50 years old.

Ruffin's legacy remains in his music. His aching voice was never really equalled in 'The Temptations' and as a Soul singer he belongs in the same pantheon as legends like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding & Al Green. Ruffin's gift was similar to Sinatra's in that he could inhabit any song as if he'd written it, channelling the drama and darkness inside him into whatever story the lyrics were telling. On Wish it would Rain he channels the pain of Motown writer Rodger Penzebene on the title track & the song 'I could never love another (after loving you)', both written by Penzebene (who committed suicide just after the song reached number #1) about his wife's infidelity. The Ultimate Collection is a selection of Ruffin's post Temptation solo sides, and reveals a surprisingly consistent level of work, the song titles seeming to form a montage of vignettes in which Ruffin could live out the drama of his life: 'My whole world ended (the moment you left me)', 'I've lost everything I've ever loved', 'Walk away from love', 'Statue of a fool', 'Rode by the place (where we used to stay)' & 'Let somebody love me'.

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