Music Throwback Saturday: the Ruffin brothers

David Ruffin and Motown sued each other, the settlement of which meant Ruffin stayed with Motown to finish out his initial contract.

jimmy ruffin.The Ruffin brothers show up on a collection called Motown 20 Hard-to-Find Classics. One of them also appeared on records that were quite easy to find.

Jimmy and David Ruffin were born in rural Mississippi, to Eli, a sharecropper/factor worker/miner/Baptist minister, depending on the source, and Ophelia Ruffin. “As children, the brothers began singing with a gospel group, the Dixie Nightingales.”

Jimmy Ruffin (born Jimmie Lee Ruffin) (May 7, 1936 – November 17, 2014) became a singer for Motown in 1961, but soon was drafted into the Army. He returned to the label, but had difficulty getting a hit.

“In 1966, he heard a song about unrequited love written for The Spinners, and persuaded the writers that he should record it himself. His recording of ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted’ became a major success,” and remains his best-known song. Follow-ups in the US were successful, with “I’ve Passed This Way Before” and “Gonna Give Her All the Love I’ve Got” reaching the US charts in late 1966 and early 1967. He also teamed up with brother David to record the album I Am My Brother’s Keeper, a modestly successful 1970 album for Motown.

“Jimmy Ruffin concentrated on the British market, had three UK top ten songs, and “he was voted the world’s top singer in one British poll.” He had later success working with the likes of Robin Gibb and Paul Weller.

Davis Eli “David” Ruffin (January 18, 1941 – June 1, 1991) grew up in the music business. He met future Motown founder Berry Gordy in 1957, and for a time, packed records for Gordy’s Anna Records with Marvin Gaye. Eventually, he started recording at the label with a group called the Voice Masters, which included future Motown producer/songwriter Lamont Dozier, and the four members of The Originals.

“Ruffin became a member of the Temptations after founding member Elbridge ‘Al’ Bryant was fired from the group. Ruffin’s first recording session with the group was January 9, 1964. Though both David and Jimmy were considered, David was given the edge, thanks to his performance skills.”

Ruffin went from being a background singer, the lead singer after Smokey Robinson, the group’s primary producer/songwriter, created “My Girl”, which became the Temptations’ first #1 song in early 1965. “Ruffin’s most notable non-vocal contribution to the Temptations was the masterminding of their trademark four-headed microphone stand. This enabled the other members to sing and do their dances without having to crowd around one microphone while the lead singer would sing into a separate microphone.”

By 1967, however, difficulties with Ruffin became an issue for the group. He became addicted to cocaine and began missing rehearsals and performances… After the Supremes had their name changed to Diana Ross & the Supremes in early 1967, Ruffin felt that he should become the focal point of the Temptations, just as Diana Ross was for her group, and began demanding that the group name be changed to David Ruffin & the Temptations. This led to a number of disagreements between Ruffin and the group’s de facto leader, Otis Williams.

In addition to the group’s problems with Ruffin’s ego, he began inquiring into the Temptations’ financial records, demanding an accounting of the group’s money. This caused friction between Ruffin and Gordy.

david-ruffin
He was fired on June 27, 1968 when he missed a show to watch his girlfriend perform, and was “replaced with Dennis Edwards, a former member of The Contours.” But then, “Ruffin began turning up unannounced at Temptations concerts during Edwards’ first few dates with the group,” which the audience loved but the group did not.

Ruffin and Motown sued each other, the settlement of which meant Ruffin stayed with Motown to finish out his initial contract. “Ruffin joined Motown as a solo artist and always had a separate contract from the other Temptations, which some felt caused a lot of the in-fighting within the group.”

His first solo single was a song originally intended for the Temptations, “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)”. The single (from the album also entitled My Whole World Ended) was released in 1969. His final Top Ten hit was 1975’s “Walk Away from Love”, produced by Van McCoy. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in February 1976.

As I have mentioned, in 1982, Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks re-joined the Temptations for the recording of their album Reunion and toured to promote the album. I saw them perform at the Colonie Coliseum near Albany. My recollection is that it was one of the greatest pop musical performances I’ve ever seen.

Apparently, I caught them on a good day, because the reunion tour was short lived, “as Ruffin started to miss shows as a result of his cocaine addiction, leading the group to be fined thousands of dollars. Otis Williams fired Ruffin from the group for the second and final time (along with Kendricks, whose voice was weakened due to heavy smoking) by Christmas 1982.”

David Ruffin would die from that cocaine addiction, and his brother Jimmy would become an anti-drug advocate.

Links

What Becomes of the Broken Hearted — Jimmy Ruffin. Background vocals by the Originals and the Andantes 3:03. #7 Hot 100, #6 on the R&B Chart in 1966. It also initially reached #10 in the UK singles chart, rising to #4 when it was reissued in the UK in 1974. Listen HERE or HERE.
I’ve Passed This Way Before — Jimmy Ruffin. #17 pop, #10 soul in 1967. Listen HERE or HERE.

Walk Away From Love — David Ruffin. #1 US R&B, #9 pop in early 1976. Listen HERE. Extended version HERE or HERE.
My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me) — David Ruffin. #9 on the Billboard Hot 100, #2 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart. Listen HERE or HERE.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

3 thoughts on “Music Throwback Saturday: the Ruffin brothers”

  1. I always thought “My Whole World Ended” was basically Motown giving David Ruffin the kiss-off: why, of all the songs in the Jobete library, would they give him that one?

    There exists an alternate take of “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” with a spoken-word recitation at the top. On balance, it was probably better that they decided to lose it for the single.

  2. I have a play ministry that brings bi b le stories to modern day life. The latest is called FLAWS a love story.based on the book of Hosea. The song “Walk Away from Love”is great for one of the scenes. Is this song public domain. If not is there anway to get clearance to use it for this stage play?

  3. I seriously doubt it’s in the public domain. I would check the ASCAP and BMI databases to see which one controls the song, and follow the directions.

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