*Okay…right off the bat, for those who don’t know, glissando is the musical term for sliding your hand up and down the piano keys. Why I chose the term for this article…keep reading. This is a tribute to Jimmy Ruffin (‘What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted’) who passed away on November 17th.
It was a phenomenon happening right before our very eyes. Detroit was trippin’ because we were getting all this great stuff firsthand (Motown and Aretha Franklin [go get her book ‘Respect’]). Among so many things, at the beginning of 1965 The Temptations hit with ‘My Girl’ and the lead singer David Ruffin’s brother, Jimmy, had a song called ‘As Long As There Is L-O-V-E Love’ at the end of the year. Both songs were written/co-written by Smokey Robinson. The Ruffin brothers epitomized brotherhood through their artistry, and represented upfront what Motown was all about behind the scenes – family.
Oh yes, there were others like Joe Stubbs and Levi Stubbs – Joe a lead singer with The Falcons and The Contours; Levi with the Four Tops. There was also (brothers) Brian and Eddie Holland of the famous Holland/Dozier/Holland hit songwriting team – and many other Motowners who were related. Hell, the company was founded by Berry Gordy and practically run by his family! It was definitely a family affair throughout!
But there was something special about the Ruffin brothers’ voices – separately or together as demonstrated in their 1970 duo album ‘I Am My Brother’s Keeper.’ There was that sincere earthiness (‘The Things We Have To Do;’ ‘Lo And Behold’). Before we knew much about them, when we first heard them on record in the early ‘60’s it was easy to think that because David had the huskier, more dominant voice that he was the eldest; but Jimmy’s voice and delivery on ‘Brother’s Keeper’ seemed to convey a ‘big brother’ presence. Yes, David had the fire, spontaneity and impulsiveness, but Jimmy had the assuring stability (steadfastness) of an elder (by five years) looking after the younger. On their cover of Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me,’ Jimmy sings ‘If you’re ever in trouble…David just look over your shoulder…you’re gonna find me standing right there.’ Jimmy had a warmth and patience in his voice, while David had that urgency (gotta have it now) like any typical younger brother anxious and chomping at the bit – out to prove himself.
I first met Jimmy at David’s house – there on Parkside off Seven Mile Road (yeah the mile before Eminem’s Eight Mile). We were all upstairs in an alcove equipped with a bar and music sound system. There was a door that led to the master bedroom, so we had access to both. I was there trying to shop some songs I had written. This was back in 1978. We were having fun. Jimmy and David were being brothers – not stars. David was going in and out of his bedroom closet with different electric razors for Jimmy to try. Finally Jimmy said he liked one of them. I remember thinking: Black guys using electric razors? They both had very smooth skin that looked as if a conventional razor blade had never touched.
In a corner of the room was a small table with a photo of a guy in a military uniform. I asked who he was. They said it was their brother Quincy. I started thinking ‘Oh another brother…does he sing too?’ Quincy wrote a book called ‘Mississippi Tears.’
We were having fun and as I started naming some of their tunes that were my favorites, I said something like ‘You guys should have a patent on the hums.’ They said ‘What?’ I said ‘Like David’s hum on the intro to ‘I Wish It Would Rain,’ and Jimmy’s on ‘Maria,’ and ‘Our Favorite Melody.’ They laughed…we started talking about who had the better hum. David relented and said Jimmy had the better hum. He said, ‘Jimmy hums like he smells something.’ We all laughed at that!
Okay, as I promised in my opening: the glissando intro to Jimmy’s song ‘Our Favorite Melody (1972), and David’s intro to ‘You Can Come Right Back To Me’ (1971) are the same.
But after the intro you get a picture of the two distinct personalities of the great Ruffin brothers – Jimmy and David. RIP Jimmy Ruffin. Thank you for one of the greatest Motown songs ever: ‘What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted.’ The songs referenced are on YouTube.
Below, check out Jimmy doing “Broken Hearted” and David performing with the Temptations on “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg.”