Tag Archives: Stevie Wonder

The Great Mr. Ruffin

B6Abw9_CQAABg5qI’ve been blessed to have lived during a time when the music of our culture reached center-stage and changed the world. Of all of the great voices, I’ve heard during my time, I can say none has been more distinctive and profound than that of David Ruffin. I’ll gladly say, I feel blessed to have had my life enhanced by his music.

As we are about to celebrate Black History Month, I want to pay homage to this man whose music was a huge influence on my life, particularly my young life, to which I am grateful. In an interview after Temptation movie, something his son said struck me as profound. He said, “My daddy wanted love, but he got fame.” We know from the many talented artists to leave us of late that there is a line between triumph and tragedy. That line is often thin and frequently ends sadly. David Ruffin walked that line with tragic consequences.

Ruffin will always be remembered as the mightiest of all the Temptations’ lead singers. He was one of “the voices” that made the Temptations, and his legacy will live on in the depths of our souls as long as there is time. We will remember that sexy, gritty voice, those trademark glasses, and that stage charisma that sums up the one and only David Ruffin, and even that little crack in his voice was ok, well it wasn’t ok, but that was David Ruffin. To put his legacy into context; he achieved legendary status after only being with the Temptations for about four years.

His songs were like windows into his soul, exposing his greatest fears as a lover and a man. Even “happy” songs like “My Girl” brought out vulnerability in his voice. His relationship with the Temptations was a stormy one, but the marriage produced defining moments in 1960s soul, and his voice inspired just about every male vocalist – his influence is everlasting. We’ll never know how good he might have been, but we can rejoice in what he left behind.

Born Davis Eli Ruffin, on January 18, 1941, in Whynot, Mississippi. A sickly child inflicted with both rheumatic fever and asthma. His mother died in childbirth, and he was raised by his father, a Baptist Minister. He was a complex man and master vocalist with a gospel-trained voice that would gain him the affection of several generations of listeners, but Ruffin had more than a voice – he had a persona.

In the best of his music, there was a dark, terrible, tragic, and personal beauty. A good example would be in his self-penned composition “Statue of a Fool,” written when he was just 18 years old, in which he sees himself as a “man who lets love slip through his hands.”

My favorite line in that tune was “On his face, a gold tear should be placed to honor every tear he shed. And I think it would show, and everyone would know, concealed inside is a broken heart.” This was a powerful statement that spoke to the depth of his soul. However, as history would record he would share his most private pain in the Temptations’ biggest hits; “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” and “Since I Lost My Baby”, and the chilling “I Wish It Would Rain.

All of these songs were rooted in gospel where David began, singing in The Ruffin Family and The Spiritual Trying Four with his father, his sister Rita Mae and older brothers Jimmy and Quincy. David left home at 13 following his father’s footsteps to practice the ministry but was sidetracked, singing in Memphis talent shows where he met a young Elvis Presley. He later sang with the gospel group; The Dixie Nightingales out of Memphis, Tennessee, and toured with The Womack Brothers, The Swan Silvertones, and The Staple Singers.

It was with these gospel groups that Ruffin would develop his stage personality, dropping to his knees and doing splits just like the late Jackie Wilson before him. David’s show-stopping performances within the group would be enough to get him noticed on the secular side.

Then, in 1964, when problems arose between the Temptations and group member Elbridge Bryant, David would be invited to join the group. Shortly after David’s arrival, the group would record “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” a Smokey Robinson number with Eddie Kendricks on lead. Gone for a three-week gig in Saginaw, Michigan, the group would return home to find themselves with their first hit. It is said, when David saw the chart standings, he sat down on the long chaise lounge in the Motown lobby, took off his glasses, and cried like a baby.

Ruffin would turn out be an electrifying and dynamic force and set a course for stardom with their first universal #1 hit, “My Girl,” recorded just before Christmas in 1964, a tune that would turn the group into a household word and legends. The group began turning out one hit after another, and when David took such up-tempo hits as “(I know), I’m Losing You,” to the stage, he became a magnetic field of charisma. His greatness would then shine, and his permanent mark on the pages of history was sealed.

At his home-going service, Stevie Wonder told the audience: “We’re confronted with a problem that touches everyone of us. We’re confronted with the most devastating slave owner of all times.” Minister Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, who spoke at his funeral told the mournful audience, “In David there is a lesson. We should not clap our hands and mourn, for he is out of trouble now. You are still in it.” It is not my intent to rewrite history or to re-tell a story that we all know. Rather to simply to remind us that he is gone – but not forgotten. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

Rest In Peace

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“Just a Season”

Remembering: Bobby Womack “The Poet”

007_1000I love to pay homage to the ghost of the greats and, in this case, this man is one of the greatest. In today’s music world, the man is one of those people called a legend. Unfortunately, most are not wise enough to know they stand on the shoulders of giants, which is really a shame when you think about it. In my view, these modern artists probably won’t be remembered in a year let alone for decades. This artist, “Robert Dwayne Womack”, affectionately known as Bobby, the poet will be remembered for all time as a legend.

Born Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood on March 4, 1944 and became an active recording artist in the early 1960s, when he started his career as the lead singer of his family musical group the Valentinos and as a backup   guitarist, Womack’s career spanned more than 50 years, during which he played in the styles of R&B, soul, rock and roll, doo-wop, gospel, and country. Most people don’t know that he wrote and originally recorded the Rolling Stones’ first UK No. 1 hit, “It’s All Over Now” and New Birth’s “I Can Understand It” many other songs.

According to Bobby, his father caught him playing with his guitar and was shocked by his son’s talents, as well as the talents of his other sons. Soon afterward, he bought Bobby his own guitar and formed The Womack Brothers and began touring on the gospel circuit with their parents accompanying them on organ and guitar respectively. In 1954, under the moniker Curtis Womack and the Womack Brothers, the group issued the Pennant single, “Buffalo Bill”. Bobby was only ten years old at the time.

It was the great Sam Cooke who discovered the group performing while he was still in the Soul Stirrers in 1956 and began mentoring the boys. Within four years, Cooke had formed SAR Records and signed the quintet to the label. Changing their name to the Valentinos, Cooke produced and arranged the group’s first hit single, “Looking for a love”, which was a pop version of a gospel song they had recorded titled “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray”. The song became an R&B hit and helped land the group an opening spot for James Brown’s tour. The Valentinos’ career was left shaky after Sam Cooke was shot and killed in a Los Angeles motel. Devastated by the news, the brothers disbanded, and SAR Records folded.

However, the sad part of Womack’s story is that shortly after the death of Sam Cooke he married his wife, and the prolific songwriter was blackballed by the music industry. During this period, he worked as a studio musician play on recording made by many top artists. After years of this work, he got a break. His work as a songwriter caught the eye of music executives after Wilson Pickett took a liking to some of the songs and insisted on recording them. Among those songs included the hits “I’m a Midnight Mover” and “I’m in Love”.

Following years of isolation, in 1968, he signed with Minit Records and recorded his first solo album, Fly Me to the Moon, where he scored his first major hit with a cover of “California Dreaming”. The door was open, and the hits started coming. During this period, nearly all of the major artist either worked with or recorded his songs.

Name the artist and they were influenced by the poet: The likes of George Benson, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg, Rod Stewart, the Momma’s and Poppa’s, Wilson Pickett, Rolling Stones, Sly and the Family Stone, Rufus, The Crusaders, Patti LaBelle, Jodeci, Mos Def, Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child, Teena Marie, Gerald Levert, Ron Isley, Prince, and the list goes on and on.

As a singer he is most notable known for the hits “Lookin For a Love”, “That’s The Way I Feel About Cha”, “Woman’s Gotta Have It”, “Harry Hippie”, “Across 110th Street” and his 1980s hit “If you Think You’re Lonely Now”. In early 2012, Womack’s career was the subject of the documentary show Unsung on TV One.

One of my favorite songs Bobby made a powerful statement “Where Do We Go From Here”. I think it is a fitting statement! The poet made and wrote songs that are timeless! Sadly for the world, Bobby Womack left this earthly realm to write songs for the heavily choir in glory. Bless you my brother and God Bless your soul – RIP! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


A Tribute To Black Music

5White folk use to call music sung by black performers race music as they pretended not to listen to it – but stole it for white artists to use; nonetheless. Since it is true that black people are the first people to make a sound, the drum has been the foundation of rhythm since the beginning of time. Music is a world all unto itself, and some say it is the greatest communicator.

If we were to go way back to the cradle of civilization eon’s ago; it all began with the drum. When the African was captured they brought the drum to the so-called New World; bringing the rhythms that dictated our souls. It is a fact that African American people are responsible for creating all of the great music genres; Jazz, Gospel, Blues, Soul, R&B, Rap, Hip-Hop, and just about every musical sound we hear directly speaks to our glorious past.

During the despicable era of slavery and segregation, before the Civil Rights Movement, the mystical sounds of gospel music delivered an in-your-face sound that fed the souls of black people and that outlet produced some of the most timeless music ever created. Before I go further, let’s remember that it was Michael Jackson whose music video was the first black music to air on MTV just a short while ago.

I want to pay special homage to a place that was just tiny little building in Detroit that became the Mecca of black music called Motown, also known as Hitsville that changed that world. Its existence was historic and game-changing – thanks to its founder Mr. Barry Gordy. Let’s be honest, can you imagine a world without “The Motown Sound”? For many who don’t know or have forgotten, before Motown Records rarely did you see the face of an African American on the cover of an album or black music heard on mainstream radio.

The music we enjoyed and others stole was called “Race Music.” As strange as seems music was segregated the same way America was prior to the 1960s at the time Motown was founded. Before Motown, few black performers enjoyed nothing close to crossover success. By the way, an album is what was used to play music before CDs.

Motown was the first record label owned by an African American that primarily feature black artists, and its soul-based subsidiaries were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as The Motown Sound. It had a style of music with a distinct influence and soul touching flavor. From its Hitsville U.S. A building on 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan served as Motown’s headquarters produced the most universally recognized stable of songwriters and performers of our time or any time.

The music produced by Motown made a nation of people living in this nation without a nationality proud with its awe-inspiring run of hits that spoke to the essence of our souls and from that tiny little basement studio. The world was introduced to Michael Jackson, the Supremes, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, the Miracles, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Four Tops, the Commodores, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Rick James, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Teena Marie, DeBarge, the Jackson Five, Martha and the Vandellas, the Marvelettes and Motown’s Funk Brothers studio band; just to name a few of the artists that graced our souls and touched our hearts making us proud.

Many of Motown’s best-known hits were written by Smokey Robinson, Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield and the songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who became major forces in the music industry. For example, it’s a known fact in the music industry that in order to get a number one hit song someone would have to write more than thirty songs. Holland-Dozier-Holland had a string of more than fifty number one hits in a row with some becoming number one with several different artists like the hit “I heard it through the Grapevine”. This is profound and will never happen again. No songwriter will ever achieve this feat – guaranteed.

Although Mr. Gordy sold Motown, and it’s now in the hands of others, its legacy resides in a very special place in my hearts as well as millions around the world. So again I say, thank you Motown for the music, the love, the magic, and the many great memories.

Lastly, to the legends who are no longer with us to perform – thank you for your contribution – Rest in Peace. My guess is that they are walking around heaven all day singing with gleeful harmony the same way as it touched our souls when they were with us in this earthly realm. It must make heaven more glorious and wonderful than one could ever imagine. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


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