After David Ruffin left the Temptations to embark on a solo career, he scored a big hit in 1969 with “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me).” He recorded several albums— including an excellent collaboration with his brother Jimmy, 1970’s Am I My Brother’s Keeper. Although Ruffin recorded some great solo material from 1969-1974, he had a hard time scoring a major hit after “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me).” That all changed in 1975.
Ruffin wisely connected with producer/arranger Van McCoy, who was responsible for “The Hustle,” one of the first big disco hits. This union gave Ruffin the biggest hit of his solo recording career.
Released on October 1, 1975, Who I Am is a combination of smooth soul and disco tightly produced and arranged by McCoy. The album kicks off with the title track, a mid-tempo song with a danceable beat about a man who wants to be upfront and honest with his lady about who he really is. It’s followed by the great tune “It Takes All Kinds of People to Make A World,” a commentary on the need for unity and brotherhood in the world.
The third track is the smooth disco gem “Walk Away From Love,” the first single released from Who I Am, is a terrific song about the difficulty of leaving a relationship. Written by Charles Kipps Jr., it has a great melody and powerful vocals, and is one of the finest songs Ruffin ever recorded. Originally running over five minutes on the album, the single was edited to about three minutes (in the ‘70s and decades earlier, most radio stations could only play songs that were approximately two to three minutes in length). This classic song was a huge hit and went to #1 on the soul singles chart the week of January 3, 1976 and #9 on the pop charts, and helped to revive Ruffin’s career.
“I’ve Got Nothing But Time,” the next track on the album, tells about a man who is determined to find the right woman, no matter how long it takes.
Next up is “The Finger Pointers,” a lesson about people who only hang around you when you are successful but desert you when your success begins to dwindle.
“Wild Honey” is a perky and spry tune about a man who is on cloud nine about the love of his life.
“Heavy Love” is an excellent tune with a smooth, mid-tempo rhythm similar to “Walk Away From Love.” On this tune, Ruffin sings in his trademark pleading style about being too closely attached to someone. This was the second single released from Who I Am and went to number eight on the soul singles chart in May 1976 and 47 on the pop singles chart.
The album’s next cut is arguably one of the greatest tunes Ruffin ever recorded. The melodramatic “Statue of A Fool” is a tale Ruffin wrote about a man who agonizes over how he foolishly let the love of his life get away, and that a statue of him should be erected because of his mistake. When he performed this song in concert, he would always momentarily pose as a statue during the song. It is a standout song and a favorite among Ruffin’s fans and is worth taking a listen to for those who are not familiar with it.
“Love Can Be Hazardous to Your Health,” the album’s last track, tells of how falling in and out of love, failed relationships, and cheating can take a person on an emotional rollercoaster.
Who I Am was a huge success, going to #5 on the soul album charts in January 1976 and #31 on the pop album chart, and put Ruffin back into the limelight. The disco-styled album fit perfectly in the midst of the disco phenomenon.
The album cover featured a wonderful photo of Ruffin looking mighty dapper in a white suit and a white hat slightly cocked to the side.
Unfortunately, Ruffin would not have a major hit again. From 1976 to the early ‘80s, he recorded several other albums with good material, but he was pushed aside by the continued heavy onslaught of the disco music craze, which is a fate many other soul recording artists suffered. He, along with Eddie Kendricks, reunited with the Temptations in 1982. Due to internal issues within the group, Ruffin and Kendricks left (again) and, three years later, went on to tour with Darryl Hall and John Oates. In 1987, Ruffin and Kendricks recorded a great and underrated duet album simply titled Ruffin and Kendricks.
David Ruffin died in June 1991 of a reported drug overdose.
Who I Am, as well as all of Ruffin’s material as a solo artist and with the Temptations, clearly demonstrates why he is one of the greatest singers of all time. David Ruffin’s voice is a soul music treasure that will forever be cherished.
Journalist, actor, filmmaker, dancer, performer, writer, poet, historian and choreographer. That’s Stephen McMillian.