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

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