David Ruffin Biography

18 January 1941, Meridian, Mississippi, USA, d. 1 June 1991. The younger brother of Jimmy Ruffin and the cousin of Melvin Franklin of the Temptations, David Ruffin was the son of a minister, and began his singing career with the gospel group the Dixie Nightingales. He combined the roles of vocalist and drummer in the doo-wop combo the Voice Masters from 1958, before signing to the Anna label in Detroit as a soloist in 1960. His releases there and on Check-Mate in 1961 proved unsuccessful, though they demonstrated the raw potential of his vocal skills. In 1963, Ruffin replaced Eldridge Bryant as tenor vocalist in the Temptations. At first, he played a supporting role behind the falsetto leads of Eddie Kendricks. From 1965 onwards he was allowed to take the spotlight on hits such as ‘My Girl’ and ‘I Wish It Would Rain’, which illustrated his commanding way with a ballad, and raunchier R&B material such as ‘I’m Losing You’ and ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’. Adopting the role of frontman, Ruffin was soon singled out by the media as the key member of the group, though his erratic behaviour caused some tension within the ranks.

The Motown Records hierarchy slowly began to ease him out of the line-up, achieving their aim when they refused to give him solo billing in front of the group’s name in 1968. Still under contract to the label, he embarked on an episodic solo career. ‘My Whole World Ended’, a Top 10 hit in 1969, re-established his credentials as a great soul singer, under the tutelage of producers Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol. Subsequent releases failed to utilize his talents to the full, and an album of duets with his brother Jimmy also proved disappointing. After three years of comparative silence, Ruffin re-emerged in 1973 with the first of a series of workmanlike albums which spawned one Top 10 single, the Van McCoy -produced ‘Walk Away From Love’, and a batch of minor hits. In 1979, he left Motown for Warner Brothers Records, where his career fell into decline.

In the early 80s he was briefly jailed for tax evasion, and his slide was only halted when a Temptations reunion in 1983 brought him back into contact with Eddie Kendricks. After the project was complete, Ruffin and Kendricks established a regular partnership, which was boosted when they were showcased in a prestigious concert at New York’s Apollo by long-time Temptations fans, Hall And Oates. This event was captured on a 1985 live album, and Ruffin and Kendricks also joined the rock duo at the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia. They subsequently recorded a well-received album of duets for RCA Records, which revived memories of their vocal interplay with the Temptations two decades earlier. He recorded with Ian Levine’s Motor City label in 1990 including ‘Hurt The One You Love’ and toured with Eddie Kendricks and Dennis Edwards as Tribute To The Temptations on a package tour in 1991. A few weeks after the last performance he died after an overdose of crack cocaine.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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