Baby Huey & The Babysitters, 'Listen To Me', 1971
Info: The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend has been one of my favourite and most rewarding discoveries of the last few years, the definition of a mother-funky and uplifting album. Real name James Ramey, he was born in Richmond, Indiana in 1944, before his family moved to Chicago when he was 19 years old. Ramey played in various bands after relocating and in 1963 formed Baby Huey & The Babysitters with organist/trumpeter Melvyn "Deacon" Jones and guitarist Johnny Ross. The group played many local spots and slowly grew in popularity, all the while releasing 4 singles over a stretch of time including 'Messin' With the Kid' and 'Monkey Man' (not to be confused with the Stones version).
The band adapted quickly to the changing music scene around them which was going from bands in suits and ties to a more psychedelic feel in the mid to late sixties, Ramey himself grew out his afro and started wearing flowing traditional African garb, along with his 400 pound weight he became an even more noticeable frontman. The band moved on to Broadway clubs, the Thumbs Up venue in particular, and performed mostly cover versions alongside some originals. It was here that head of Curtom Records, Curtis Mayfield, saw them for the first time and wanted to sign Ramey up on his own without the band. Jones and Ross would still be involved in the recording process for their first album, but both left before it was completed, citing later their lead singers lazy nature and failure to turn up at sessions. Ramey had developed a heroin addiction along with an alcohol problem, and following a stint in a rehabilitation centre, went back on the drug, leading to a heart-attack at the age of 26 at the Robert's Motel in Chicago.
Baby Huey's legacy would last longer than he himself did however, with tracks such as 'Listen to Me' (above video), and more frequently, 'Hard Times', being sampled by many artists. 'Hard Times' was to be used predominantly by hip-hop producers from the late-80's onwards, such as Ice Cube, A Tribe Called Quest ('Can I Kick It?') and 90's one-hit wonders The Blueboy on their great track 'Remember Me'. Ramey has also been cited as the pioneer of freestyle rapping, regularly coming out with on the spot lyrics during the instrumental parts of songs when performing live, one such quoted by music writer Bob Mehr went; 'I’m Big Baby Huey, and I'm 400 pounds of soul. I'm like fried chicken, girls, I’m finger-lickin' good!'. The album itself was released posthumously in 1971, and while it was largely overlooked and ignored at the time, it is now considered to be one of the great unknowns of the 1970's. My favourite tracks are 'Listen To Me', the trumpet and organ-heavy 'Mama Get Yourself Together' and a really nice chilled out version of Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Going To Come', which has some great screeching vocals by Baby Huey. If you're feeling tired and have to reluctantly head out somewhere, stick on The Baby Huey Story and you'll be nicely pumped by the end of the second track.
1. Listen To Me
2. Mama Get Yourself Together
3. A Change Is Going To Come
4. Mighty, Mighty
5. Hard Times
6. California Dreamin'
8. One Dragon Two Dragon