A forgotten legend, James Ramey, playfully dubbed “Baby Huey” after the cartoon character, was a soul and funk singer with a hell of a lot of promise. Known for his large frame (the dude was like 400 pounds), energetic live sets, and a powerhouse voice, Huey was signed by the godlike Curtis Mayfield to his Curtom Records label in 1969. There, Huey and his backing band, the Babysitters, worked on their debut record, but high tensions between Huey and the band (Curtis only wanted Huey, the Babysitters could take a hike) and Huey’s heroin abuse threatened to derail the whole operation. Sadly, Huey died in late 1970 of a heart attack at age 26. His debut album (or what he had completed of it), ironically titled, The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend, was quietly released to the public the next year but fell quickly into obscurity.
In the time since the record became a cult classic, remembered for Huey’s fantastic energy and character, as well as some real funky tracks. The record has had a considerable effect on hip-hop music too, as several songs from The Living Legend have been sampled and covered by many rappers in the decades since, including Ice Cube, A Tribe Called Quest, and Public Enemy. Most recently, The Roots and John Legend covered this very track for their 2010 collaborative effort, Wake Up!
Though Legend and the Mighty Roots Crew do a decent job on the song, they come nowhere close to the original. On “Hard Times,” Huey brings the house down, with those upfront horns and booming, wall-of-sound style. That break towards the middle of the track, where the vibes come in and the tension mounts, and Huey laments about the struggle and strife he’s seen, from being held up by a brother to sleeping on floors….it hits hard.
Ah, rest in peace, Huey.
Originally posted on my old Tumblr blog, Emaciated Wildebeest, on November 23, 2010 (I’ve been at this for a decade? GEEZE!).