Did he, or didn't he?
Did the late David Ruffin sing on the Temptations single "Cloud Nine," as my appreciation last Sunday said? Or was it Dennis Edwards doing the singing, as the "Cloud Nine" album notes (and many Sun readers) claim?
And why would there be any doubt over who sang what in the first place?
To answer the last question first, let's go back to Saturday afternoon when I first heard that Ruffin had died of an apparent overdose. Given two hours to write my article, I turned to my reference library - in particular to Nelson George's "Where Did Our Love Go?" an intelligent and well-researched telling of the Motown story. And there appears the following: "David Ruffin had split after the recording of 'Cloud Nine,' and many around the group weren't unhappy to see him go." George, former R&B editor at Billboard, had the facts, I figured. (Attempts to reach him by phone this week proved unsuccessful).
Nor was he my only source. Vince Aletti, in liner notes to "The Temptations Anthology," also suggests Ruffin was around for "Cloud Nine." According to Aletti, Temptation Otis Williams remembers Ruffin cutting the track for 'Cloud Nine' before he moved on.
Obviously, Edwards had replaced Ruffin in the group by the time "Cloud Nine" was released, which was promoted at the time as Edwards' first recording with the group. But ` and this is where things get murky ` it wouldn't have been unusual for Motown to have given false credit.
Motown's loyalty, after all, was never to the group ` it was to the record, and Motown producers were known to do almost anything to make a good single better. George Clinton, a one-time Motown artist himself, said last year that "the Supremes, the Temptations, probably everybody except the Four Tops, had people stand in and sing lead and background."
But what about the record itself, you ask. Can't you at least hear whose voice it was?
Digging out a CD version of the song after these questions had been raised, I listened closely ` and came away more confused than ever. Yes, Edwards is on the single. But so, to my ears, is Ruffin, although to a lesser extent than I'd thought when writing the appreciation. Stranger still, there are moments when Edwards' voice seems like a bad overdub (note the odd way his voice goes out of phase while singing "It ain't even safe no more to walk the streets at night"), and a few points on the out-chorus where I'd swear producer Norman Whitfield blended the two voices together.
So here's what I think happened: David Ruffin did record "Cloud Nine" with the rest of the Temptations. Then, after he left and Dennis Edwards was hired, portions of the lead vocal were over-dubbed with the new guy. But Edwards, for the sake of image, was given full credit by the label.
Whatever really happened, though, there are two things I'd like to add. First off, had there been more time, I probably would have listened more closely to the single and worded my appreciation differently: I may not have been completely wrong, but I wasn't entirely right.
Even so, in a way I'm glad this happened, because it was a pleasure to hear from all the Tempts fans who called and wrote in to correct me. Knowing that the Temptations' music continues to mean so much to so many is not only reassuring to a soul fan like myself, it's also a more eloquent appreciation than any writer could manage.