Deep Dive: Baby Huey, THE BABY HUEY STORY – THE LIVING LEGEND
As you probably know, February is Black History Month, and as such, we’ve been commandeering some of our regular features and utilizing them to spotlight artists to commemorate the occasion. Today, we’re taking another Deep Dive, this time to check out the one and only Baby Huey, an R&B artist whose death at age 26 still has people wondering, “What might he have accomplished if only he’d lived longer?”
Born James Thomas Ramey on August 17, 1944 in Richmond, Indiana, the boy who would later become known as Baby Huey suffered from a glandular disorder which led to him weighing 350 pounds when he was 19. Thankfully, he had a sense of humor, which is why he borrowed his stage name from a giant animated duckling.
In 1962, Huey moved to Chicago and started a band with guitarist Johnny Ross and organist/trumpeter Melvyn “Deacon” Jones called Baby Huey and the Babysitters, who found enough of a fanbase for them to release a handful of singles that found local success. As the decade continued, the band evolved both musically and visually, taking their cue from Sly and the Family Stone. Regrettably, however, their focus was so firmly on their concerts that they never got around to recording enough additional songs to release a proper album.
That said, their concerts gradually became legendary in Chicago, so much so that in 1969 their agent successfully convinced Donny Hathaway to come see them perform, and Hathaway walked away so impressed that he talked Curtis Mayfield into seeing them the next night. The end result: Mayfield – who at the time was the head of Curtom Records – wanted to sign Baby Huey, which seems like great news right up until you discover that he only wanted to sign Baby Huey. Although the Babysitters were involved in the recording of Huey’s album, tensions were running understandably high in the studio, resulting in both Jones and Ross quitting before the LP was completed.
And now the story gets even more tragic: in addition to his existing medical problems, Huey developed an addiction to heroin and, on top of that, had also started drinking heavily. It was probably the combination of all of these factors that led him to top out at over 400 pounds, but the heart attack that took his life in a Chicago motel room before his debut album had even been released...? That was absolutely the drugs. (The coroner confirmed it.)
Produced by Curtis Mayfield, THE BABY HUEY STORY: THE LIVING LEGEND was released in February 1971, having been finished by Mayfield and Huey’s manager, Marv Stuart. It wasn’t a smash success, as one might expect, since the artist who recorded it wasn’t around to promote it and hadn’t yet made enough of an impact outside of Chicago to have caught the attention of a larger audience. Over the decades, however, the LP has become a cult classic, one which has a still-increasing fanbase amongst R&B and rap artists.
Give it a listen and do the same thing the rest of us have been doing since we discovered it: loving what we’ve heard and wondering what might’ve been.
For more information, click the buttons below: