Friday, November 21, 2014

Godspeed Motown's Jimmy Ruffin

Jimmy Ruffin who had such hits as "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" and "Gonna Give Her All the Love I've Got" for Motown on their Tamla label, died on 17 November 2014 at the age of 78. While an official cause has not been released, he had been recently hospitalised for pneumonia.

Jimmy Ruffin was born on 7 May 1936 in Collinsville, Mississippi. His mother Ophenia died when he was still a baby. His father Elias made a living as a truck driver and a sharecropper, but also served as a preacher in the Christian faith. He often preached at camp meetings in rural areas. Jimmy and his siblings (which include David Ruffin, who would later become lead singer of The Temptations) often sang gospel music on those occasions when Elias Ruffin preached. Eventually the Ruffin family would open for such gospel performers as  Mahalia Jackson and The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi.

Jimmy Ruffin moved from Mississippi to Detroit, Michigan in the late Fifties. There he got a job assembling cars in a Ford automotive factory. He sang at various local clubs, where he was discovered by Barry Gordy, the founder of Motown Record Corporation. He was signed to Motown's Miracle label in 1960. He sang on various sessions at Motown and in 1961 he released his first single, "Don't Feel Sorry For Me". His musical career would be interrupted in 1961 when he was drafted into the United States Army. He spent three years in the Army before returning to Detroit and Motown. For the next few years Mr. Ruffin continued to record for Motown, although to little success.

It was in 1966 that Jimmy Ruffin heard the song "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted", which had originally been written for The Spinners. Mr. Ruffin convinced the writers of the song (William Weatherspoon
Paul Riser, and James Dean) to let him record the song instead. "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" became Jimmy Ruffin's first major hit. It went to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and #10 on the UK singles chart. In 1967 Jimmy Ruffin followed it with two more hit songs: "I've Passed This Way Before" (which went to #17 on the Billboard Hot 100) and "Gonna Give Her All the Love I've Got" (which went to #29 on the Billboard Hot 100). He also recorded two albums in 1967: Jimmy Ruffin Sings Top Ten and The Jimmy Ruffin Way.

Unfortunately Jimmy Ruffin's succeeding singles would not do as well. "Don't You Miss Me a Little Bit Baby"  only went to #68 on the Billboard Hot 100 and "I'll Say Forever My Love" only went to #77. For the next few years most of his singles failed to chart. He continued to record albums, with Ruff 'n' Ready in 1969 going to #196 on the Billboard albums chart. He released the album The Groove Governor  in 1970 before recording an album with his brother David Ruffin, I Am My Brother's Keeper, in 1971.In 1971 he would also have two hit singles in the United Kingdom, "Farewell is a Lonely Sound" and "It’s Wonderful (To Be Loved By You". Mr. Ruffin had considerably more success in the UK than he did the U.S., often touring the Northern Soul circuit to large audiences.

In 1974 Jimmy Ruffin left Motown for Polydor. Unfortunately he would see no more success there than he had at Motown and he left Polydor for Epic. Eventually he signed with RSO Records, which gave him his first hit in the United States in years. In 1980  "Hold On (To My Love)" went to #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #7 on the UK singles chart. The next year Mr. Ruffin moved to London. In 1984 with Paul Weller of The Style Council he recorded the single Soul Deep" under the name The Council Collective to raise money for the families of striking miners. In 1986 he collaborated with the group Heaven 17 on the songs "A Foolish Thing To Do" and "My Sensitivity" . In the Eighties Mr. Ruffin also served as a presenter on the seven part series Jimmy Ruffin’s Sweet Soul Music on BBC Radio 2.

In 2012 Mr. Ruffin released what would be his final album, There Will Never Be Another You.

Jimmy Ruffin was one of the greatest vocalists to emerge from Motown, a recording company known for producing great vocalists. He had one of the label's most soulful voices, one that was capable of a wide range of emotion. It is curious that he did not have more success in the Untied States, as most of his songs number among the best R&B produced in the Sixties and the Seventies. I think it could be accurate to say that Jimmy Ruffin was one of the most underrated and under-appreciated singers to emerge from Motown. His songs are certainly ripe for rediscovery.

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