Baby Huey is one of the forgotten stars of 70’s soul, mainly because he died in October 1970 and it wasn’t until much later on, when his music was discovered by the hip-hop community that he gained any sort of acknowledgment.
Named after a 1950s cartoon duck, the ironically-monikered Huey was massive in every way – he was massively overweight (between 25 and 28 stones (or 350-400 lbs if you’re that way inclined), he wore his hair in a massive afro, he had a massive voice and used it to create massive tunes. He was a massive drinker. He even had a massive heroin addiction to go with it all.
He came to the attention of Curtis Mayfield and signed to his Curtom label. Mayfield became something of a mentor to him and gave him the songs that would make up the A and B sides of his first single. Mayfield also suggested he get rid of his band The Babysitters, forever stuck in a mid 60s Motown rut. Curtis wanted Huey to expand (no pun intended) his sound towards the more politicised, psychedelicised sound of the times, which, sacked band or otherwise, he achieved. Huey’s tunes are packed full of riffs, refrains and drum breaks galore. Huey liked his music to ebb and flow, bringing the band down so he could throw in a social commentary or two, before letting the band soar in a riot of bass and brass. His songs regularly stretch out beyond the 6 minute mark and (I’d wager) are a sampler’s delight.
First single Mighty Mighty Children is a one-chord groover, held together by stabbing Blaxploitation brass, wah-wah ripples and pseudo live vocals. Mighty indeed.
Mighty Mighty Children (Part 1)
Here’s Listen To Me, Baby Huey’s 2nd (and final) single release. A stone cold lost classic, it‘s terrific! Beginning with a taught guitar riff and Huey’s big voice careering between balls-out soul belter and Is It Real Or Is It Memorex glass-shattering falsetto, it fairly gets carried along on a tidal wave of trumpets and electric keys, clattering cowbell and ‘Have Mercy Brother!’ soulful paraphrasing. I think you’ll like it;
Listen To Me
On the other hand, Huey’s version of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come is downbeat, treacle-thick and just shy of 10 long minutes. By the end you’ll be praying that a change is indeed gonna come. His wee spoken word part reminds me of James Brown or Isaac Hayes – all social conscience dressed up in occasionally trippy echoed sound effects. Settle in for the ride…
A Change Is Gonna Come
Most of these recording didn’t come out until after Huey was dead. An album, The Baby Huey Story was released to general indifference in 1971 and quickly forgotten about. My tracks come from the 1999 CD reissue that’s probably since been quickly forgotten about. You could do worse than track it down.