The Baby Huey Story
02. Mama Get Yourself Together 6:10
03. A Change Is Going To Come 9:23
04. Mighty, Mighty 2:45
05. Hard Times 3:19
06. California Dreaming 4:43
07. Running 3:36
08. One Dragon Two Dragon 4:02
Baby Huey: Lead Vocals
Producer – Curtis Mayfield
James Thomas Ramsey, aka Baby Huey, introduced himself on stage better than anyone else could have dared: "I'm Big Baby Huey, and I'm 400 pounds of soul." In the 1960s, he and his band, the Babysitters, played everywhere from the clubs of New York to private parties in Paris, but Chicago was where they were best known-- and where they called home. The band would play any gig that would have them during that time, from tiny blues clubs to cruise ships. As a frontman, Baby Huey was talented, flamboyant, and enormous-- anywhere from 350-400 pounds, topped off by a giant afro. Unfortunately, Huey died of a heart attack at 26 in 1970, and never saw his debut album released the following year. Since then, Living Legend has remained an obscurity, though its songs have long been embraced by hip-hop, having been sampled by everyone from Kool Herc to Eric B and Rakim to Ghostface.
This Water Records reissue keeps the album's original running order intact, and adds no extras. Living Legend is a spare effort by today's standards: eight songs, two of them covers-- one of which is among the record's three instrumentals. However, Living Legend showed Huey and the Babysitters stretching themselves in ways few soul artists of the time did.
The Babysitters were a full band with a horn section that could take psychedelic detours without losing their tightness or funky feel. They were the perfect foil for Huey, who brought it all together with undeniable stage presence and an earnest tenor that was compared to Otis Redding (which rings true if only for their powerful delivery). Listen closely, and you can hear the ravage of excess in his raspy crooning, before he leaps into the highest registers with a squeal that's equal parts James and Arthur Brown.
Produced by the legendary Curtis Mayfield, three songs he also penned make up the meat of the album. "Mighty Mighty" is a raucous funk shuffle, including handclaps and crowd noise that give it the feel of a backyard throwdown, with little girls piping in at Huey's invitation while he praises Walgreen's turkeys and Thunderbird in his proto-rapping. Its gaiety is infectious and almost overwhelming. The "Hard Times" arrangement seems almost restricting for Huey's voice and character, but we have to thank Mayfield for handing him the tune-- it's the record's most memorable melody, and Huey's version is superior to Mayfield's own. "Running" adds warbling electric piano and guitar to Mayfield's melodic funk, the most lamentable example of what the Babysitters could have achieved if Huey had lived to record another LP.
And while the band out-performing Mayfield on his own songs is no small feat, the two covers on Living Legend are, for lack of a better phrase, utterly bonkers. Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Going to Come" begins clunkier than Cooke's version, but one inhuman screech from Huey and the horns kick in and the band dials it up. When the song passes the seven-minute mark (and it eventually stretches past nine), Huey breaks it down and channels the experimentation of his youth into a sermon on "space odysseys" and "funny-lookin' cigarettes." The other cover is an instrumental version of the Mamas and Papas' "California Dreamin'", which straddles the line between smooth flute jazz and The Funky 16 Corners.
With very few original songs, Baby Huey and the Babysitters might come off as nothing more than hired guns. Even if that's so, their lone LP proved them versatile and talented as hell. It's a shame that no reissue has rounded up Huey's extraneous 1960s singles, but soul fans will be overjoyed that this record is finding wide release.
The Baby Huey Story is a unique record in every regard. First off, it’s a rare mix of psychedelic soul, deep funk, blues-rock and proto-rapping in both live and studio settings.Secondly, the record was the only release by the group and it was produced by Curtis Mayfield on his own Curtom label.
And more significantly, it was a posthumous tribute released in memory of the larger than life James Ramey aka Baby Huey. A tragic spiral into drugs and alcohol may have robbed the world of a burgeoning performer at age 26, but his record has standed the test of time. Although it was largely ignored by the mainstream at the time, it found new life being lauded and sampled by Hip-Hop heavy hitters such as Ice Cube, Pete Rock, Public Enemy, Rakim and A Tribe Called Quest. Baby Huey and the Babysitters were a band in the vein of Sly and the Family Stone. Ramey’s stage presence could not be ignored and it was the emotion,blood, sweat and tears he poured into his interpretations and compositions that put the band over the top. They had a lot of succcess on the live circuit but had not hit the studio yet when famed signer Donny Hathaway (under marvelous talent lost too soon) saw them live and insisted that Mayfield attend the following night. They were signed to Curtom but could not finish their sessions before Baby Huey’s addictions caught up to him.
However, in a way the post-humous release which focuses on Baby Huey the person and not the character (Ramey chose the name from the cartoon character in a self-deprecating humerous way) brings even more of the listeners to the struggles, trials and tribulations expressed in the songs. Hard times is the perfect example since the hard as nails opening break is matched only by the honesty of the lyrics and the cadence of the delivery picks up with the hard funk tempo and never let’s up. Baby Huey and the Babysitters made my favorite type of soul : raw, uncut,emotional soul and that’s what you gt on this album whether it be covers (California Dreamin, A Change is Gonna Come) completely transformed by the group’s psychedelic tinge or personal compositions like Runnin (fakin jax samples for you beatheads).
I described this album as unique because every song is a gem that stands on its own and whose sequence and construction is completely original, much like the Baby Huey himself. You don’t need Huey’s monologues and heart wrenching howls to feel the man’s formidable presence throughout the album, all you need is to make sure to get this classic record in your collection and discover what a true larger than life artist can create in a limited amount of time and how one amazing LP can shine brighter than a whole discography.