4. "What REALLY happened when Ruffin stole Edwards' mic (book excerpt)" In response to In response to 0
Because of their backlog of concert dates that had been booked before Ruffin’s firing, Norman Whitfield had to wait until October to get Edwards into the studio, giving him more time to assimilate. As a stopgap, Motown on July 16 released a tepid, year-old Whitfield- Barrett Strong ballad intended as fodder on the Wish It Would Rain album, “Please Return Your Love to Me,” featuring Eddie on lead. For the B-side, Whitfield called the four Temptations in only days after Ruffin was given his walking papers and cut “How Can I Forget,” with Paul getting a rare lead. (Marvin Gaye would cover the song two years later.) That the Tempts’ brand was so strong was proven by the underwhelming record going to No. 26 pop, No. 4 R&B.
Out on the road, meanwhile, word spread fast that Ruffin was out and the unknown Edwards in, and promoters who fretted that some fans would return tickets were assured when almost no one did, either because, as Otis always said, no one was bigger than the group, or simply out of curiosity about the change. What’s more, new bookings went on apace. Still, not everyone in those houses was so supportive. At some stops, cries of “Where’s David?” rang out from the crowd.
The real trial for Edwards, and the group, came on July 9, 1968, at a show in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, a gig promoted as his “official” debut. By now, he had gained confidence and the confidence of the other Tempts. The act reflected the post-Ruffin sensibility. For the last few years, one of their trademark props had been a microphone stand with four built-in microphones so as to allow the “backup” Temptations more free movement. Useful as it was, it had also created the image that with Ruffin they had been less a quintet than one plus four—not incidentally, Ruffin had designed the contraption. But now the stand was out.
But was Ruffin? Motown, in its press releases, had played it cute about him, saying exactly what Ruffin had told Edwards, that he had “left the group,” without any further explanation or even whether he would be back at some point. If this was a sop to David, it was also a stimulus for him not to go away quietly. At Valley Forge, this became clear when Don Foster, standing in an aisle in front of the circular, revolving stage, saw a cobralike figure coming down the aisle, headed straight for the stage. When he stepped in his way, Foster saw the man’s face illuminated by the stage lights.
“David!” he said. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
The answer came in the form of hard openhanded slap across his face, the sound of which was drowned out by the music and crowd noise. Thrown back on his heels, Foster could not stop Ruffin from bounding in one long stride onto the stage, just as Edwards was breaking into the lead vocal of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” He had just finished singing, “I know you wanna leave me,” when Ruffin took the microphone from his hand and completed the refrain: “But I refuse to let you go.”
For a split second, no one knew quite what to do. The Temptations shuffled on, tried to act nonchalantly. Foster began frantically calling security. Then, as the audience recognized the shadowy figure as David Ruffin, a festive mood grew in the hall. What no one knew was that Ruffin had bought his way into the arena and laid low until he could choose the moment he would make a grand entrance—or re-entrance, since that was what it appeared to be. Indeed, after Ruffin had stolen the microphone, Edwards pretty much ceased to exist. Awkwardly, he floated over to the other Tempts and tried to blend in with them on the background vocals, albeit with no microphone to sing into. Otis, Melvin, Paul, and Eddie didn’t blink, but did glance at each other with a collective “what do we do now?” look—though Eddie, who had begun voicing the idea that Ruffin should be taken back, was unable to stifle a grin, as if greatly enjoying the manic moment as much as the crowd did, judging by all the howling and whooping during the song.
Ruffin had pulled it off so deftly, so quickly and fluently, that it sure did seem to demonstrate that he was still a Temptation, that he really had just taken a sabbatical until he was ready to resume his famous role. This notion was reinforced by Edwards not fighting to hold on to his microphone. In fact, the recreation of this scene in the 1998 Temptations miniseries, which shows him being forcibly stripped of the mike and then stalking around the stage, humiliated and wearing a scowl, is perfect nonsense.
“That’s not the way it was,” Edwards insists. “David didn’t need to rip the microphone from my hands — I _gave_ it to him. I wasn’t upset, I was happy he was there. My dream was always to sing with David Ruffin, and that night I did.” He laughs. “Even if no one could hear me.”
Neither were the other Tempts particularly aghast. Another piece of movie nonsense was that they chased after Ruffin when the song was done, wanting to tear him limb from limb. Or that Ruffin begged them to be reinstated before being carted off by security. In reality Ruffin left the building on his own as the show continued. The entire episode was that quick—almost as quick as the way Otis dealt with it in his memoir, calling it “a stunt.”
Today, he goes on, “Yeah, we took a little dramatic license to make flow. David was just trying to get back in the group and that was his way of proving his point, because of the crowd reaction. It was just so David, so crazy. It was funny in a way.” Don Foster wasn’t laughing. After the show, there were red welts in the shape of Ruffin’s fingers branded on his face. When he came backstage, he was steaming. “If he ever puts his hands on me again, I’m gonna kill him!” he told Otis.
Foster is no less adamant today, saying, “I would have killed him, too, if he tried slapping me again. It was at the point where I was gonna get him taken care of by the Mafia folks who hung out at the Copa.” If Foster is only semi-serious about that, very serious indeed was the Ruffin situation. “I knew that wasn’t a one-shot deal,” he goes on, “that he’d do it again, because David was a junkie in many ways, a drug junkie but also an attention junkie. What he’d gotten at Valley Forge was like a fix, and he’d be back for more.”
He was right. Ruffin repeated his “guest” pop-in/pop-out appearances at three other Temptations shows over the following month, and even though Foster put local security on notice to be on the lookout for him at every venue, David, as stealthily as a commando, outfoxed everybody. It became something of a running subplot, with fans in each town craning their necks during the shows to see if they could see Ruffin either hiding or slithering through the aisles. He was so canny that he found ways to navigate around Foster and house security people, switching his entree from “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg ” to “My Girl” or other songs. Foster could only watch and do a slow burn as Ruffin sang his song and vanished. His only recourse, he determined, was not to sic security on him, as that would cause a furor among the fans, but to prevent him from getting to the stage, which would require additional security. Toward that end, he called Motown president Ewart Abner — Gordy had made himself chairman — and told him, “I need some help out here!”
As Foster explains, “David was desperate and blitzed on coke, and he had guns and his people had guns. I had to fear the worst.”
Ribowsky, Mark (2010-09-14). Ain't Too Proud to Beg: The Troubled Lives and Enduring Soul of the Temptations (pp. 186-188). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.