David Oliver – 1977 – Jamerican Man
Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations set the mode in the early 60′s for the falsetto tenor in contemporary R&B. Every outstanding falsetto-voiced singer would be compared to Eddie. In my book, such a comparison is a high compliment.
David Oliver ranked extremely high on that list but, unfortunately, he didn’t stay with us long enough in the music business and in life, to overcome this comparison.
A1 What Kinda Woman 4:59
A2 Love So Strong 3:31
A4 Friends & Strangers 4:59
B1 Let’s Make Happiness 4:37
B2 Munchies 5:08
B3 You And I 5:00
B4 Playin’ At Bein’ A Winner 4:35
Most known for his R&B hit, “Ms.”, David Oliver came into my existence in 1977 with his first album, Jamerican Man. “Ms.” was a solid R&B hit for this virtual unknown. His glass tenor voice had everybody scrambling to figure out who this was if it wasn’t Eddie Kendricks or Phillip Bailey of Earth Wind & Fire; whom he sounded more like to me. Confusing us a bit, this LP was also released under the self-title, David Oliver. Jamerican, meaning Jamaican-American, is a reflection of David’s American citizenship and Jamaican parents; that’s why he wanted this title to stand but Mercury Records begged to differ. He grew up in Florida and began singing in earnest in high school. After college and a stint in the Air Force, David sang with a racially-mixed group, Five Days & Three Nights. Hmmm! I wonder if the Five Days was in reference to the White members and the Three Nights in reference to the Black members? That would be my retro-thinking guess. The group put in a bid with Motown but when they didn’t get the coveted contract, they disbanded. David beat around for a while until landing Wayne Henderson of the Jazz Crusaders as the producer of his first album. Not a bad hookup. Jamerican Man was David’s most notable out of four releases from ’77 to ’80. The other album titles are Mind Magic, Rain Fire and Here’s To You.
Not only is the Jamerican Man album confused because of the two titles released for the same album, the fact that David Oliver released “Friends And Strangers” before Ronnie Laws did, is also a misunderstood fact. When most folk think of the song, we think of Ronnie Laws’ rendition. It’s rare when the more famous interpretation of a song is the instrumental one; Dave Grusin also recorded and popularized the song to jazz fans. The fact is, David Oliver wrote the song with Ruth Robinson and William Jeffreys, and it appeared on his debut album before Ronnie Laws or Dave Grusin. The problem is, David Oliver’s version was barely played. So when Ronnie Laws released “Friends And Strangers” in that same year, his version was a hit; even on R&B radio stations. Since Ronnie’s version got more airplay, it overshadowed the fact that David Oliver released it first. I always assumed Ronnie Laws wrote it and David Oliver covered his song. I’m sure many of you made the same assumption.
David Oliver’s passing went almost unnoticed. He was still struggling to make his mark when his life came to an abrupt and unexpected end. It’s been said he died in his sleep of a seizure. It’s just so sad that such a talented young man with a potentially blinding future was taken so early in his life and career; just five years as a solo recording artist releasing four albums in three years. Even sadder is how David Oliver is one of those truly gifted performers that many wonder, “What ever happened to him,” only to find out that he passed away; and that’s why the music stopped. With Black media outlets in greater abundance today, we get better pronouncements of entertainers’ deaths but back in 1982, either you caught the radio deejay mentioning it the day of or you might have never known unless you sought out the information.
David Oliver left us with three songs that should keep him in our hearts forever; “Ms.”,“Friends & Strangers,” and the one I’m going to end this article with. On his second album, Mind Magic, he recorded a beautiful ballad that reminds me an awful lot of Earth Wind & Fire’s Phillip Bailey. This song was missed by many but the true, died-in-the-wool David Oliver fans caught it. It’s the only song I remembered from this LP. Though it wasn’t his last recording, it’s very appropriate that David Oliver’s last song to receive any attention is a song that sounds like it’s dedicated to all his loyal fans?
Enjoy, “I Wanna Write You A Love Song”.
As a bonus here is his 2nd album Mind Magic including the gem“I Wanna Write You A Love Song”.