Baby Huey, The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend (1971)
By the time The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend was released in 1971, its title was a misnomer. Based out of Chicago for his short career, James “Baby Huey” Ramey himself died late in 1970, succumbing to a cocktail of heroin and alcohol addiction. He was 26 and had a heart attack. His producer, none other than Curtis Mayfield, set about compiling The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend and released it in 1971 on his own Curtom Records to minimal fanfare at the time, but the album has held up to decades of scrutiny as a classic of heavy funk and soul, moving beyond simple James Brownisms as Ramey‘s band tears into the upbeat jam of “Mama Get Yourself Together,” which follows opener “Listen to Me,” on which Ramey digs into screams that could only fairly be called “face-melting.” In a quick 41 minutes, The Baby Huey Story is told in its entirety, but it’s the best argument around for keeping Ramey‘s legend alive.
Also the only argument. While reissues have attempted to feign some manner of original presentation over the years as Baby Huey‘s cult has grown, The Baby Huey Story remains the only Baby Huey release in earnest, and while its organ-laced take on Sam Cooke‘s “A Change is Gonna Come” and funkified swing on Mayfield‘s hard times and The Mamas and the Papas‘ “California Dreamin'” don’t leave much to be desired, it is worth speculating what Ramey might’ve been able to contribute to soul had he not died so young. “Mama Get Yourself Together” and closer “One Dragon Two Dragon” are original compositions, both using expansive instrumentation, horn sections, mellotron keys, percussion, organ, electric guitar, and though both are instrumentally-focused, they present Ramey as a bandleader of considerable presence and potential. In the context of The Baby Huey Story, they deepen the soulful agonies of “A Change is Gonna Come” (you can hear the pain in the spoken and the sung parts) and the fat, fuzzed-out bass of “Running,” but it’s just as easy to imagine Ramey pushing his own songwriting forward on subsequent releases. We’ll never know.
It’s mighty mighty. Hope you enjoy.
So I have a job interview on Wednesday, which is an interesting development. Having been unemployed for over a year now and not by choice, I feel like I’m ready to get on to something new. Gonna buy a suit and give it an honest shot. We’ll see how it goes, but don’t expect too many posts on Wednesday one way or another. The place is like an hour away and I anticipate a good amount of fatigue one way or another when the interview is over. Not that I’ll be running laps, but you know what I mean. It’s hard work being human, and I haven’t done it in a while.
This week, huh? Wow. Roadburn already feels like a year ago, a distant time out of time, but I feel like the emotional benefits of having gone have carried me back into “real life” — as much as this is and that isn’t — better than I could have hoped they might. I’ve been feeling good this week, in other words. While I’ve been tired, and barely able to keep up with what’s happening around me, musically and otherwise, I think back to being at the 013 and I look out the window at the beginnings of Spring here in Massachusetts and it doesn’t seem so dire. I wound up catching the right train. Things work out.
I may or may not have an interesting project in the works for the months to come. I know that’s very vague, but I want to make note of the development if only for myself, to sort of mark the calendar, and I’m full-on believe-it-when-I-see-it mode, but there’s stirrings in a cool direction and I’m hopeful the planets align in my favor. Ducks in a row, pages bound and all that.
Man this Baby Huey record smokes.
Thanks all for checking in this week. Next week, reviews of Enslaved and Wo Fat and hopefully Lamp of the Universe. Monday is a full-album stream from The Atomic Bitchwax, and I’ll have premieres as well for Arenna and Apostle of Solitude of one sort or another as the week goes on. Busy as ever. Hoping to see Sun Voyager this weekend in Boston as well. Might get a podcast up for Wednesday too, since I won’t be around. Certainly plenty of new stuff to feature.
Have a great and safe weekend. I hope to catch you back next week, and please check out the forum and the radio stream.