Known to many as the older brother of former Temptations lead David Ruffin, Jimmy Ruffin had sporadic periods of chart success that resulted in three of Motown's greatest tunes of the late 60s and a surprise hit more than a decade later.
Born in Collinsville, Mississippi in 1936, Ruffin moved to Detroit in the early 60s and was signed the Motown's Miracle label for a series of unsuccessful recordings. A half decade later, however, he experienced his first chart success, as his plaintive reading of "What Becomes of a Brokenhearted" (a song originally written for The Spinners) leaped into the Pop and Soul top 10 and became one of the most revered songs of the Motown catalog. Ruffin followed "Brokenhearted" with two major 1967 hits, "I've Passed This Way Before" and "Gonna Give Her All the Love I Got" (ironically, both of which were also covered by David and the Temptations).
In 1970, with their individual careers flagging, David (by then gone from the Tempts) and Jimmy teamed for I Am My Brother's Keeper, a modestly successful album that included a hit cover of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me." It was Jimmy Ruffin's last notable Motown hit, though. Ruffin split Motown and continued to record with Polydor in the 70s, landing a couple of moderate hits in Europe. But he truly surprised the music world when re-emerged 1980 with an unlikely top 10 pop hit, "Hold On To My Love" on RSO Records, compliments of writer/producer Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees. The resulting album came and went quickly, and Ruffin, by then living in the UK, again went silent until 1986, when he recorded a couple songs with British pop group Heaven 17 that made some chart noise in Europe.
In the 90s Ruffin hosted a radio show in the UK and became an anti-drug advocate following the death of his brother David by overdose. He later relocated to Las Vegas, Nevada and reportedly was writing and recording material in 2011 and 2012 that he hoped to release. He was hospitalized earlier this Fall in Las Vegas, and his family reported him to be in grave condition in October. He died on November 18, 2014 at age 78
Ruffin was one of the great singers who starred during the halcyon days of soul music. His death brings another sad loss from the Motown era, and he will be greatly missed.
By Chris Rizik