Liner Notes – David Oliver

David Oliver

David Oliver – January 8, 1942 – June 6, 1982

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.

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.  I know we played it a lot on WJLB in Detroit.  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.

posted by hsp100

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.

posted by raresoulie

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.”

posted by wewillgetitback



# 1 - “A SONG FOR YOU”  (Donny Hathaway)  [original-Leon Russell]
(Honorable mention to Temptations’ version)
(Extra honorable mention to Rick Braun’s jazzy version)

# 2 - “I WILL SURVIVE”  (Chante Savage)  [original-Gloria Gaynor]

# 3 - “A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME”  (Luther Vandross)
[original-Dionne Warwick in '64 / popularized by Mavis Staples in '69]

# 4 - “LAY LADY LAY”  (Isley Bros.)  [original-Bob Dylan]

# 5 - “BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND”  (Stevie Wonder)  [original-Bob Dylan]

# 6 - “LOVE THE ONE YOU’RE WITH”  (Isley Bros.)  [original-Neil Young]

# 7 - “RESPECT”  (Aretha Franklin)  [original-Otis Redding]

# 8 - “ALL I DO”  (Kirk Whalum featuring Wendy Moten)
[original-Stevie Wonder]

# 9 - “DON’T YOU WORRY ‘BOUT A THING”  (Incognito)
[original-Stevie Wonder]

# 10 - “ALWAYS THERE”  (Special Effects)
[original-Ronnie Laws/also love the cover by Incognito]

Bonus Favorite:  “IT AIN’T EASY BEING GREEN”  (Ray Charles)
[original-Kermit The Frog]

Extra Bonus Favorite:  “FRIENDS & STRANGERS”  (Ronnie Laws)
[original-David Oliver]

Please note, all the above re-makes were written by the original recording artist except for “A House Is Not A Home”(written by Burt Bacharach & Hal David and covered by zillions) and “It Ain’t Easy Being Green”(written by Joe Raposo; no, Kermit did not write this song) and “I Will Survive”(written by Freddie Perrin & Dino Fekaris).  I’m struggling to restrain myself from writing the many anecdotes that come to mind behind these picks but this is just a list, not an essay.

These re-makes or Cover Songs, if you will, are just one man’s opinion… mine.  My favorites are no more credible than your list of favorites.  I’m sure you have your Top 10 (or 12) list and I’m also sure it differs from mine or at least the order isn’t the same.  What I like about my picks is that, to me, the cover artists took songs that were already great and totally re-defined them.  Even though I can’t deny it’s greatness measured in sales and radio airplay, I didn’t care for Gloria Gaynor’s version of “I Will Survive.”Not because it was a female anthem and I’m a male (is it just me or is it wild to know that it’s written by men, though), I didn’t care for that version because of it’s blatant Disco-ness.  But when Chantay Savage put a Funktified spin on her interpretation, I just wanted to say, “You go, girlfriend!”  Now, I can never listen to Chantay’s rendition less than 2 to 10 times per sitting.  Was this an anecdote?  I told you I was struggling to not tell any.

What are your favorites?  Post a comment and let me know what you like.  We’ll post some of your favorites on this Liner Notes blog.  Please let us hear from you.

Compare the Leon Russell and Donny Hathaway versions of, “A Song For You.” Leon jams this incredible song that he wrote in the live performance we found and Donny just takes Leon Russell’s song to a whole other stratosphere. I once played Donny’s version for a fellow singer.  She had never heard this song by either artist.  I cranked the volume up really loud so she wouldn’t miss any of the vocal and instrumental nuggets.  At the end of Donny’s rendition, big crocodile tears were running down her face.  Her words of explanation, “It was just so beautiful!”  Enjoy!

Yours musically,

Reuben Yabuku
Artistic Director
Buku Productions Theatre Company, Inc.



Thanks to everyone who emailed comments about our site and their Favorite Remakes.  We’re listing a few here but keep them coming, we want to know YOUR favorites.

  • Hey Ruben, I hope all is well!!…..GREATTTTTT web site….loved your musical choices. I did not know all of the history…quite informative!!!!  ~Carlson J.
  • How bout Never Can Say Goodbye by Isaac Hayes, originally done by The Jackson 5?   ~Jessica P.
  • For All We Know – Donny Hathaway / original (I think) Nat King Cole.   ~Annette L.
  • Luther Vandross & Cheryl Lynn – If  This World Were Mine – (Original – Marvin Gaye and Tammie Terrell)   ~George K.
  • Troop – All I Do Is Think Of You – (Original – Jackson 5)   ~Latisha N.
  • Aaliyah – At Your Best (You Are Loved) – (Original – Isley Brothers)   ~Lloyd D.
  • Diggin’ the music column each month.  I’m a huge fan of David Oliver and wondered why he dropped out of the music scene.  Now I know.  Keep up the good work!  ~John L.