Surface slowly formed over a long period of time as the group members met one another. Bernard Jackson moved from Stamford, Connecticut to live in New York with his cousin to pursue a music career. While touring the city, his godfather advised him to contact his nephew David Townsend who had been a former guitarist for the Isley Brothers. Meanwhile, Townsend was a part of the band Port Authority during the 1970s and met David Conley. Conley and Townsend wrote songs together and upon meeting Jackson, they formed a trio.

The trio was then signed as staff writers for EMI Music and wrote songs for groups such as New Edition's 'Let's Be Friends' and Sister Sledge's 'You're So Fine.' The trio then moved to Los Angeles and adopted the name Surface. Their song 'Let's Try Again' came to the attention of Larkin Arnold of Columbia Records who signed the group and released their first single, 'Let's Try Again' in 1986.

In 1987, the group released their self-titled debut album which featured 'Happy' which hit #2 on the R&B charts, and 'Lately' which hit #8.

Their follow-up album, 2nd Wave, was released in 1989 and packed some of the group's biggest hits. 'I Missed' reached #3 on the R&B charts, 'Closer Than Friends' was the group's first #1 hit, topping the R&B charts for two weeks, and 'Can We Spend Some Time' which reached #5 on the R&B charts. The album featured two other #1 R&B hits, 'You Are My Everything' which topped the charts for two weeks and the album's biggest hit, 'Shower Me With Your Love' which went gold, reached #1 on the R&B charts and #5 on the Hot 100. Thanks to the album's wealth of hits, it managed to go platinum.

In 1986, Jackson met with a friend Brian Simpson and recorded a demo tape ofa track he had written, 'The First Time.' He believed it to be a hit and hired a recording studio to get the best professional conditions for the track. AS the first single for the group's third album, 3 Deep in 1991, Jackson was right. The song was a big hit, going gold and becoming the group's biggest hit to date. It topped both the R&B and pop charts. The album continued on with 'All I Want Is You' which reached #8 on the R&B charts and helped the album go gold.

Townsend died in 2005 of unknown causes at the age of 50.