Trojan
 

There are many artists who have one song that they might later wish they had not been persuaded to record. Max Romeo's 'Wet Dream' led to years of innuendo, Buju Banton's 'Boom Bye Bye' led to media hostility and Bruce Ruffin's 'Mad About You' resulted in cries of sell out. Even Bob Marley's 'Buffalo Soldier', which although saluted the unsung heroes of the US Cavalry was ridiculed owing to the similarity of the sing along chorus line to that in the Banana Splits television theme. More often than not, these records overshadow an impressive career and the artists are written off with blasé commentary. Well we've all got to eat!

And Bruce has an impressive career inaugurated with some of the biggest names in the island's recording industry including Duke Reid, Winston Riley and Leslie Kong. In an interview with Trojan's Laurence Cane-Honeyset in April 2001, Bruce mulled over his musical career and it is his recollections that provide the biographical detail of this article.

Bruce, the first of eleven children, was born in St. Catherine, Jamaica, on 17th February 1952. He was christened Bernard Constantine Valderama. His father came from Honduras, while his mother's family originally came from Cuba. His grandmother lived in the Up Park Camp region of Kingston where he spent his early childhood. After being initially educated at Kingsway High School, Bruce joined Woolma High School, where he attended choir practice every Sunday. On completing his education he began studying for a career in dental work, but music was Bruce's first love and after summoning up the courage, he auditioned for Byron Lee. The band leader-cum-impresario was so impressed that he invited the young singer to perform with his Dragonaires band, but while Bruce subsequently enjoyed the experience, he was less than impressed with the level of financial remuneration. None the less, he remained determined to make it in the business and entered several talent shows, the celebrated Vere Johns show. And it was here Winston Riley, of leading vocal group, The Techniques, first took an interest in his talents.

Bruce knew of Winston Riley, as Slim Smith and the Techniques, had been one of his favourite groups, later stating that their 1965 hit, 'Little Did You Know' was a particular inspiration to him. But Slim had left the group soon after recording the song and the Techniques had floundered without him.

Riley was eager to rebuild the group and saw Bruce as the cornerstone to their future success. So it was that in 1967, Bruce Ruffin became a member of the Techniques, first performing alongside Winston Riley and Junior Menz on an interpretation of Curtis Mayfield's 'Minstrel And Queen', which saw issue as 'Queen Majesty'.

The Techniques' follow-up, 'Love Is Not A Gamble' came following a request from Duke Reid to use the title from which Bruce had molded the song. Further hits followed with 'My Girl', 'It's You I Love', 'Drink More Wine' and 'Travelling Man'. The group also recorded a festival song, 'Run Come Celebrate' (featured on the Trojan compilation, 'Baba Boom Time' TJDDD175), although soon after, Menz returned to his native USA. Without Menz, Bruce felt the group failed to recapture their distinctive sound, in spite of recruiting the superb vocal skills of Bobby Davis and Jackie Parris from the Sensations. A further attempt to revive the Techniques came when Pat Kelly recorded a few hits with the group, including 'I'm In The Mood For Love' and 'I Wish It Would Rain'. Following the release of the disc, Riley formed the Techniques label, which would go on to release a series of groundbreaking hits over the ensuing decades. Soon after the formation of this new business venture, Bruce heard a local singer called David Crooks who sang with an American accent and who seemed an ideal replacement for Junior Menz. Upon consultation with Riley, the singer was recruited and while his time with the group proved short-lived, his association with Winston Riley eventually led to international fame when as Dave Barker, he was paired with Ansel Collins to record the chart-topping 'Double Barrel' and the best-selling follow-up, 'Monkey Spanner'.

Meanwhile, back in 1968, Bruce wrote the group's next hit, 'A Man Of My Word' and in his last session with the group, recorded 'The Time Has Come' and 'What Am I To Do'. Bruce then decided it was time to move on and formed the Shades with Tyrone Evans, previously of the Paragons, and a third singer, whose identity for now remains a mystery. The newly formed trio recorded a version of the Temptations', 'Who You Gonna Run To', which became a major hit on the island. The follow-up 'Everywhere, Everyone' proved even more successful, immediately topping the Jamaican charts, before dropping down to number eight, then returning to the number one slot. But in spite of their phenomenal success, the group's sessions with Winston riley resulted in only a few releases that the wonderful 'Let Me Remind You alongside, 'Never Gonna Give You Up' and 'I Know A Girl'.

At the same time as working with the Shades, Bruce had ventured into solo work with Lloyd Charmers, who in 1969 produced the sublime 'Long About Now' that was released in the UK on both the Songbird and Crab labels. As a soloist, the singer was known as Bruce Lanvin, although Lloyd Charmers rightly considered the name as being more suited to a French perfume. In the aforementioned interview, Bruce explained the background to his name change: "He )Lloyd Charmers) said that was a terrible name and I should have a name that was a bit rougher, so I became Bruce Ruffin".

In this new guise, Bruce embarked on sessions with Leslie Kong at Beverley's studio, leading to a successful run of hits, including 'Dry Up Your Tears', 'I'm The One' and 'Bitterness Of Life' c/w 'Ooh Child'. The hits kept coming including versions of 'Candida' (that features on this compilation in addition to the previously unissued Jamaican mix) and 'Cecilia', alongside the inspiring 'Free The People', 'Who's Gonna Be Your Man', 'Are You Ready' and 'Now You See Me Now You Don't'.

While working with Leslie Kong, Bruce was approached to sing with the Inner Circle and agreed to join the up and coming band. the group rehearsed on a university campus where the father of Inner Circle's founders, Ian and Roger Lewis worked. The brothers had enrolled the singer to perform alongside Michael 'Ibo' Cooper, Willie Stewart and Stephen 'Cat' Moore, who later found fame in the Third World Band. This embryonic Inner Circle featured Bruce on lead vocals and led to the singer's first encounter with Herman Chin-Loy, who had made a name for himself as a local selector for the Lotus and Spinning Wheel discotheques. The uptown selector saw potential in the singer and financed sessions for 'Then Came The Heartbreak', on which Bruce performed as Jamaica's Elvis Presley, 'We Can Never Go On This Way'. and his celebrated version of 'Rain'. Bruce had discovered the latter tune on the flip side of a Jose Feliciano single and originally performed it live with Inner Circle before recording it with Herman's resident producer, Geoffrey Chung.

Soon after these sessions, Herman decided to open a record shop and asked Bruce where he felt it would be best located. Bruce suggested Half Way Tree and through a loan from Herman's brother opened the now famous Aquarius record shop. The name was inspired by the fact that both Bruce and Herman were Aquarians and just prior to launching his pop career the singer managed the store. Meanwhile, Herman sent the master tape of 'Rain', (the song that launched Bruce's pop career), to Trojan in the UK. Bruce White and Tony Cousins took charge of the session and enrolled Tony King to overdub orchestral accompaniment to appease the play list panel at the BBC. the result was a beautiful piece of Pop Reggae that quickly gained national radio exposure and nudged the song to a respectable number nineteen on the UK pop charts in May 1971. In the wake of the crossover success, the aforementioned White and Cousins arranged for the singer to fly to the UK to promote the single, signing him to their own management company in the process. The pair had formed the Commercial Entertainment booking agency in the sixties, handling artists such as Status Quo and the suitably named Average White Band, before concentrating on Jamaican acts.

They had also diversified into record production, working under the joint mantle of Bruce Anthony and it was in this guise that they produced the singer on a number of sides, including 'One Big Happy Family' and 'Heaven Child', which were licensed to Trojan and issued together on a 7" single in July 1971. the latter was among six Bruce Anthony productions on the singer's debut album, 'Rain' (TRL 23), the others being 'Make Love, Not War', 'Finders Keepers (Losers Weepers)', 'You Are The Best', 'We Can Make It' and the instrumental by the Pyramids entitled 'Stingo'. The remainder of the LP was comprised of recordings for Leslie Kong and Herman Chin-Loy, cut prior to his relocation to London.

The popularity of the album spurred the air to arrange Bruce to record several more tracks including the wonderful 'Songs Of Peace' and 'You Are The Best', which along with 'We Can Make It' from the 'Rain' LP were issued on the first ever Trojan maxi-single (TRM 9000), issued in February 1972, complete with a pictured sleeve. Around this time, the singer also performed 'Rain' and 'The Bitterness Of Life' at the Alexandra Palace, with both renderings featuring on Trojan's Live debut album, 'Reggae Party Volume One' _THL 172). Whether there was an after party at Chalk Farm is unclear, but the performers certainly gathered for a group photo and Bruce can be seen amongst some of Reggae's finest on the cover.

Meanwhile, around the Spring of 1972, Bruce White and Tony Cousins launched Creole Records, to whom they promptly signed Bruce, along with fellow Jamaican ex-pats, Desmond Dekker, the Aces, Winston Francis and Dave Barker to the fledgling company.

To launch their new Rhino imprint, White and Cousins selected a song Bruce had written some years before - 'Mad About You'. The song was recorded in November 1971, a time when the UK populace were experiencing the three-day week and upon his arrival at Chalk Farm Studios, in-house sound engineer, Vic Keary, reminded Bruce that due to the politicall power struggle they only had two hours to record the track before the lights went out. Owing to the time constraints the session recommenced on the next day when Bruce recorded his vocals. In his interview, the singer re-called the events that led to that, some say, galling parrot sound:

"Then Tony Cousins took this cup and started doing this stupid voice and they decided to put that on. After that, they put vary-speed on it. If I knew then what I know now, I'd have sued him for affecting my moral rights, because I never wrote the song with that intention - it became embarrassing for me, although it was a big seller. EMI who were doing the distribution for the record had just moved at this time and could only press 18,000 copies, although it still went straight to number nine in the charts. But they couldn't press enough records, so it never went to number one. It went on to sell millions of copies - it was a big hit all over Europe, but I couldn't wait for the record to stop selling, cause I was so embarrassed by it."

Coupled with the sublime 'Save The People', the immensely catchy 'Mad About You' promptly gained national airplay and climbed to the number 9 spot in the UK charts in the summer of 1972.

The singer's early Creole sessions also resulted in a number of tracks that unbelievably make their debut on this collection, namely 'Lord I'm Ready', 'Now That I'm A Man', 'Love Thy Neighbours' and a remake of 'Long About Now'. As to why these recordings were not deemed worthy of release first time can only be attributed to the high quality of Bruce's work during this period.

Yet despite this, Bruce's follow-up 'Coming On Strong' c/w 'Crazy People' flopped commercially, leading Bruce White and Tony Cousins to persuade the singer to record further novelty tunes, such as 'Tickle Me', 'I Like Everything About you', 'I'm In The Thick Of It' and 'Don't Walk In My Footsteps'.

Creole also released his second album collection, 'Bruce Ruffin' (SRNO 8001) that featured his pop debut 'Rain', along with the majority of his Rhino releases and new titles, 'Colourless World', 'A Little Today A Little Tomorrow' and 'While There Is Life'. Creole also re-released 'I Like Everything About you' c/w 'I'm Depending On You' and the mawkish 'Little Boys And Little Girls', while leaving 'What Can I Do' and 'What's The Matter Now' in the can. Sadly, none of Bruce's released efforts improved his profile in either the Reggae or Pop charts.

In addition to the aforementioned bonus tracks, our compiler has unearthed a number of master tapes that have been gathering dust since 1973. On these were the preciously unreleased 'One People', 'My Mind Is Leaving My Body', 'Stop Living In A Dream World', 'Country Life', 'What About The Children', 'Isn't It good To Know' and 'It Don't Worth My While', along with a couple of soul funk workouts, 'Two Sides To Every Story' and 'Uppity Up, Y'All'. I am sure you'll agree that these tracks demonstrate the soulful style of Bruce's vocals and concur with the journalist Davitt Sigerston who was inspired to hail him, 'the best black singer in Europe'.

In 1976, Bruce was reunited with Dave Barker, who had been performing as Dave Collins since joining Creole, and Aaron 'Bobby' Davis from the Sensations. Contrary to expectations the trio did not revive their hits with the Techniques, but performed 'inna soul style' as Chain reaction. Bruce and the group's biggest hit was a scrumptious ballad 'Never Lose Never Win', which was also the title of their debut album. The group released three albums in total and even relished a US chart placing.

Around the early eighties, Bruce decided to focus on his songwriting talents and was promptly employed by a subsidiary of Marshall Cavendish. At this time some of his songs were picked up by RCA whose managing director was so impressed with what he heard that he signed Bruce on a three-year contract. As a sideline the singer formed 'Smash Music', which quickly prospered, partly because it handled the publishing rights of songs attributed to the British TV celebrity, Dennis Waterman. In addition to his achievements in the UK, Bruce also discovered a profitable niche in the European market.

In 1981, spurred by the poor financial returns most performers saw after embarking on their careers in the music business, he decided to study law, but despite gaining the appropriate qualifications to become a practicing lawyer, he decided to act as a legal consultant. And, if my conversations with various Reggae singers over the years are anything to go by, he is highly regarded in these circles.

By the new millennium Bruce had embraced Islam and became known as Hashir Abdullah. Around this time, Trojan compiled the first retrospective look at his career - the now deleted 'Rain - The Best Of Bruce Ruffin 1967-1971' (CDTRL 449), which featured his performances with the Techniques and the Shades alongside his early solo work. This compilation complements that first nostalgic look at his career and in so doing features a multitude of bonus cuts, released for the first time ever, aptly demonstrating that there is more to Bruce than that one song.

So let's cut the chatter and spin the platter 'cos he's still coming on strong.

STEPHEN NYE

Long About Now (1969 Version)
Dry Up Your Tears
I'm The One
Who's Gonna Be Your Man
Cecelia
The Bitterness Of Life
O-o-h Child
Candida
Are You Ready
Free The People
Now You See Me Now You Don't
Then Came The Heartbreak
We Can Never Go On This Way
Rain
One Big Happy Family
Heaven Child
Make Love, Not War
Finder Keepers, Losers Weepers
Song Of Peace
You Are The Best
We Can Make It
Mad About You
Save The People
Coming On Strong
Crazy People
Tickle Me
I Like Everything About You
I'm In The Thick Of It
Don't Walk In My Footsteps
I'm Depending On You
While There Is Life (There Is Hope)
Colourless World
A Little Today (A Little Tomorrow)
Little Boys And Little Girls
Candida (Jamaican Mix)
Rain (Live Version)
The Bitterness Of Life (Live Version)
Lord I'm Ready
One People
Now That I'm A Man
Love Thy Neighbors
Long About Now (1971 Version)
What's The Matter Now
What Can I Do
My Mind Is Leaving My Body
Stop Living In A Dream World
Two Sides To Every Story
Country Life
What About The Children
Uppity Up, Y'All
Isn't It Good To Know
It Don't Worth My While
John And Judith

Trojan
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