Wednesday, April 09, 2014

On the turntable: Baby Huey - The Living Legend.

I figured I will start doing semiregular posts about music I love, that inspires me or that I just for some reason find interesting and first out is a rather bigboned fellow that my friend Cheeta introduced me to some time ago. For some strange reason I had completely missed up on it before that.
It has been getting quite a few spins at my place lately and is perfect for anyone like me who sometimes like their soul served with a bit of funk. Or actually, "funk served with a little bit of soul" would probably be more appropriate in the case of Baby Huey.

Baby Huey, or as he was born in 1944 - James Ramey, moved to Chicago from his birthtown Richmond, Indiana when he was 19 years old in pursuit of a career in music. He started playing in several local bands and soon adopted the stage name Baby Huey, taken from the overweight cartoon film character with the same name. Apparentely he did not only suffer from a glandular disease which is what caused him to weigh in at about 160 kg but he also suffered from a real poor taste in cartoons. Nothing bad can be said about his sense of humour or self-distance though.

Nothing bad could be said about his ability to sing or his iconic stage presence (despite his size) either and by the late 60s Baby Huey had become one of the more popular live Chicago-artists, backed by some of his old friends who now went under the name of The Babysitters.
They had already released a few 45's in a more traditonal soul/R'nB-style, but lately started to move towards a more psychedelic funksound as was in style at the moment.
Pretty soon they became noticed by Curtis Mayfield (who I suppose need no introduction). He was impressed by Baby Hueys voice and stage persona and wanted to sign him to his label Curtom Records...but without The Babysitters. Therefore this album was to be released solely under the name Baby Huey, even though parts of The Babysitters did participate in the recordings.

Soon enough recordings were under way, with Curtis Mayfield himself as producer and it looked as if Baby Huey were set for true stardom - tipped by many to be the next new name in soul- and funkmusic.
Unfortunately Baby Huey had developed a heroin addiction by then. And on top of that a drinking problem. The already big man now weighed in at over 180 kg and had began coming late to gigs, rehearsals and recording-sessions. On his good days. At his bad days he didn't show up at all.

October 28 1970 Baby Huey was found dead from a drug-induced heartattack in his motel room. He was 26 years old and his first album was yet to be released...or even finished recording.

 Any album that has a photo on the backcover showing the artist wearing a fat guys dress while reading a picture cookbook in what appears to be his living room just has to be great. Right?

The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend was released in 1971 and consisted of most of the tracks that had been recorded in the sessions, as well as a few instrumentals about which it is unclear whether they are tracks that The Big Babe was meant to add vocals to before his passing or if they are just songs with session musicians that Mayfield added to get enough material for a full album.
Unfortunately, it is hard to promote an album when there's no artist around to tour anymore, and it was even harder in the days before the internet. The album didn't sell very well and was soon passed on to the thriftstore-crates of "forgotten soul and funk".

That is - until hip-hop and sampling came along. Suddenly artists and producers such as Ice Cube, A Tribe Called Quest and Ghostface Killah to name a few started digging up old copies of The Living Legend and using the powerful breaks, beats and horns in their own productions and the album is now considered to be a cultclassic.
 It is actually possible to find an original of this album...but it will cost you. Luckily, due to the cultstatus it has achieved today there are now reissues, such as my copy, that are more reasonably priced.

And what an album it is! This is album is pure gold from start to end. All the way from the full souly funk-assault of the opening track Listen To Me to the panflute-, horn-, and organ-laden instrumental ending called One Dragon, Two Dragon. Also worth noting is the cover of Sam Cooke's A Change Is Going To Come, where Baby Huey shows that he easily could have competed with some of the biggest names in soul-ballads had he only gotten the chance. And let's not forget the instrumental version of The Mamas & The Papas California Dreamin' . If that one does not get your groove on, nothing ever will. Or the live call and response-euphoria of Mighty Mighty (in which Huey shows that not only the music, but also his way of singing might have had some influence of certain rappers). And finally one has to mention Hard Times - probably the very reason those hip-hop guys jumped on this album in the first place.

Alright Huey - take us out!

Song of the day:
Baby Huey - Listen To Me

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