David Townsend

Singer with the soul trio Surface


David Townsend, singer, songwriter and producer: born 1955; died Northridge, California 26 October 2005.

Developed on US radio in the early Eighties, the "quiet storm" format helped launch sophisticated soulful singers such as Luther Vandross, Alexander O'Neal and Anita Baker, as well as groups like Atlantic Starr, the SOS Band and Surface. Surface - Bernard Jackson, David Townsend and David "Pic" Conley - scored three No 1s on the American R&B charts with the smooth ballads "Closer Than Friends", "You Are My Everything" and "Shower Me With Your Love", the last of which also reached the Top Five in the pop charts in 1989.

Surface proved popular with UK soul fans, first charting with "Falling In Love" (1983) and "When Your 'Ex' Wants You Back" (1984), and then with "Happy" (1987) and "The First Time" (1991). With high production values and lush harmonies, Surface paved the way for Nineties vocal groups like Boyz II Men and Blackstreet.

Born in 1955, David Townsend was the son of Ed Townsend, a singer and songwriter who wrote and produced "Let's Get It On" with Marvin Gaye in 1972. David Townsend showed an interest in music from an early age and could soon play an amazing array of instruments, including the guitar, piano and synthesiser.

After finishing college in the mid- Seventies, he joined the Isley Brothers' backing band before forming a group called the Port Authority with Conley, another proficient singer and musician. They found a kindred spirit in Jackson and decided to form a song-writing partnership, which flourished as they became staff writers at EMI Music.

Having placed songs with New Edition, Gwen Guthrie and Sister Sledge, they began recording some of their own compositions. Calling themselves Surface, the trio issued "Falling In Love" and "When Your 'Ex' Wants You Back" on the disco label Salsoul.

Although they achieved club success, Townsend felt Surface could have gone a lot further on a bigger label. In 1985, he went down to Mississippi to visit his father, who was building a recording studio there. Townsend senior pulled a few strings to get Surface a contract with Columbia. Crucially, they convinced the label to let them carry on recording at the Lab, the 24-track studio they had built in Conley's living room in New Jersey.

"Let's Try Again", their first Columbia single, was only a minor hit, but "Happy" reached No 2 on the US R&B chart and No 20 on the pop listings in 1987, and Surface's eponymous début album sold steadily. 2nd Wave, their 1989 follow-up, saw the trio become staples of the quiet storm urban radio format with "Closer Than Friends" and the rather sugary "Shower Me With Your Love", a Bernard Jackson composition, which crossed over to the pop charts. "You Are My Everything", their next single, featured Regina Belle as guest vocalist and replaced her solo recording of "Baby Come to Me" at the top of the R&B charts.

Even better, Townsend and Conley co-wrote and produced "Don't Take It Personal" for Jermaine Jackson, which took over from "You Are My Everything" at the top of the R&B listings and also made the British charts. The Surface songwriting and production team were now considered as serious rivals to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis or L.A. Reid and Babyface. In 1991, they released the album 3 Deep which spawned the silky, sultry singles "Can We Spend Some Time", "All I Want Is You", "Never Gonna Let You Down" and "The First Time", which topped the US pop charts.

However, Townsend and Conley opted to concentrate on their songwriting and production work and helped Aretha Franklin record the album What You See Is What You Sweat in 1991, while Jackson went solo.

Surface reunited in 1999 for the album Love Zone and had just announced a return to live appearances when David Townsend was found dead at his home.

Pierre Perrone

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea