No less an authority than Smokey Robinson once famously said “The only way David Ruffin could survive at Motown was as a solo artist.” That’s quite an endorsement when you think about it. After all, Ruffin had been the voice of many hits, including Robinson’s immortal “My Girl,” as a member of the Temptations. There was simply no way that any group, even one as great at the Temptations, could constrain such a massive talent, and the ego that went with it.
Sadly, Ruffin’s parting with the Temptations wasn’t what you would call amicable. As early as 1967 there were issues between the singer and the rest of the group. That ego I mentioned, along with a wicked cocaine problem, added up to trouble for the Temptations. The Supremes had recently changed their name to Diana Ross & the Supremes to reflect the lead singer’s stature in the group. Ruffin thought he deserved similar treatment. But Otis Williams was the leader of the Temptations and he was having none of it. Ruffin also grew suspicious about financial matters related to the group and demanded an accounting. In addition to his problems with Williams, that created a problem with Motown boss Berry Gordy, Jr.
By 1968 matters were coming to a head. Ruffin had been missing shows for quite some time, but when he failed to appear for a show in Cleveland on June 22, opting instead to attend a performance by his girlfriend Barbara Gail Martin, who was Dean Martin’s daughter. Five days later Ruffin was fired. He was replaced by Dennis Edwards, who had been a member of the Contours. Now that he was no longer wanted, Ruffin began to turn up at shows unannounced. When the Temptations would begin a song that Ruffin had sung lead on, he would walk out onto the stage and take the mic from Edwards. The fans loved it. The Temptations hated it. Still, the group decided to give Ruffin a second chance. He showed up late for what was supposed to be his comeback show in Gaithersburg, MD, and that was the end of that.
Ruffin wanted out of his contract with Motown. He had initially been signed to the label as a solo artist. He filed sued, and Motown countered. Eventually there was a settlement, with the parties agreeing that Ruffin would finish out his contract with Motown.
“My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)” was supposed to be a Temptations record. Instead it became Ruffin’s first solo single. The song was written by Johnny Bristol, Harvey Fuqua, Pam Sawyer, and James Roach, with Bristol and Fuqua producing the record. Background vocals were by the Originals, who would have a hit of their own with “The Bells” the following year. Motown released the single on January 20, 1969 and it was an auspicious debut to say the least. “My Whole World Ended” reached #2 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart, and #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Only one other Ruffin single did as well, 1975’s tour de force “Walk Away From Love.”
“My Whole World Ended” became the focal point of Ruffin’s first solo album of the same name, which was also released in May, 1969. It was a #1 album on the Billboard R&B Albums chart. The year wasn’t nearly over for Ruffin though, as his second solo album, Feelin’ Good, was released in November of that year. Driven by the hit single “I’m So Glad I Fell For You” the album climbed to #9 on the Billboard R&B chart.
Next came an album called David, which Ruffin recorded in 1970 and 1971. Motown shelved the record however, and it wasn’t officially released until 2004. It wasn’t until 1973 that Ruffin’s next album was released. The album, David Ruffin, found Ruffin moving away from the formula Motown sound. While he was growing as an artist however, his personal life was beginning to take a toll on him. The album contains a great take on Gamble & Huff’s “I Miss You (Part 1).” Eight of the album’s nine remaining tracks were written by producer Bobby Miller. David Ruffin is often spoken of as a psychedelic soul masterpiece.
The following year, Ruffin got together with producer Norman Whitfield to record Ruffin’s final Motown album Me ‘N Rock ‘N Roll Are Here To Stay. It was a fiery collaboration to say the least. Fortunately, a lot of that fire was caught on tape. David Ruffin finally left Motown in 1977.
David Ruffin left four solo albums (and a fifth that wasn’t released) behind him when he left Motown. Real Gone Music has collected the albums in a pair of twofers. The first CD includes the albums My Whole World Ended, and Feelin’ Good. The second has David Ruffin, and Me ‘N Rock ‘N Roll Are Here To Stay. The second pair have never before been released on CD, other than on a long out-of-print limited edition set. The reissues include liner notes by Gene Scurlatti, and original artwork.
David Ruffin died in 1991. He was only 50 years-old. It was a sad end to a tragic life. In my opinion he was the greatest soul singer who ever lived. If you’ve read this far I don’t have to tell you how important these four albums are to his legacy. They are a must for any fan of this music, or for anyone who wants to understand the greatness of this singer, and this sound.