Once again, I have to thank the Acid Jazz movement for introducing me to the music of a man whom I consider one of the most talented, interesting, inspiring yet underrated artists in the history of Soul music. I think it was around 1992, and I was a big fan of Galliano, a group signed to Gilles Peterson’s Talkin’ Loud label. My adventures in oldschool Soul and Funk had just begun and I was still primarily listening to the hip sounds that were coming from London in those days.
Galliano’s debut album In Pursuit of the 13th Note left a big impression on me, and I was diggin’ my way through dusty crates filled with used Funk records from back in the 1970s, looking for the tracks that Galliano had sampled for their first album. One of my first discoveries was Hal Singer’s Malcolm X, a groove used for the hypnotic lyrical hurricane Stormclouds gather. I also found that Galliano took the beat and repetitive guitar lick from Freddy Robinson’s Off the Cuff and dubbed it over with the lazy afternoon poetry of Coming on strong.
Then a friend of mine hipped me to a Soul singer on Curtom Records. “Listen to the track All because of you,” he said. “Galliano ripped that beat for Welcome to the Story”. He gave me a brand new best of compilation with the title There’s more where this came from by an artist called Leroy Hutson. I had never heard of the guy before, but I immediately connected with the subtleness of his music. I especially fell for the song Lucky Fellow, a lengthy ballad with an irresistible groove lingering on its bottom. I actually knew the track – London based artist and producer Snowboy and vocalist Noel McKoy had recorded a version of this track for Acid Jazz Records, which I dug (years later I told both Snowboy and Noel how much this track meant to me). But of course it was the original version of this song which got me even more excited. I was hooked immediately.
The following year, I moved to the United States and began my quest of searching for every single album Leroy Hutson had released. The first one that I found was simply titled Hutson, and it included Lucky Fellow. I also learned more about the artist. Leroy Hutson had first recorded with the Nu-Tones back in the 1960s, and had also released a few 45s as part of the duo Sugar & Spice. In 1969, he was a student at Howard University in Washington, DC, and his roommate was another aspiring musicians with the name Donny Hathaway. Both guys quickly became friends, roommates and then collaborators. Hutson co-wrote Hathaway’s biggest hit The Ghetto, which he later recorded himself.
Around the same time, Hutson met Curtis Mayfield, who hired him as vocalist for his group The Mayfield Singers. But in 1971, when Curtis pursued his solo career, Hutson replaced him as lead singer for the legendary Impressions. After recording just one album with the group (Times have changed), Hutson scored a contract as solo artist and producer for Curtom Records. In the following years, he recorded seven solo albums for Curtom and produced and wrote for other acts like The Natural Four, Linda Clifford, The Voices of East Harlem and Arnold Blair. But unfortunately, after his last solo album Paradise, which was released in 1982, he seemed to have disappeared.
In 2004, when I started my Soulpower organization and dedicated my career to bring long forgotten Soul and Funk acts back on European stages, I immediately began searching for Leroy Hutson. But no matter where I looked, it seemed as I always ended up in a dead end street. Once again it was my friend Toby Walker of www.soulwalking.co.uk, who had already hooked me up with Gwen McCrae and RAMP, who made it happen.
Sometime in November 2004, I got an email from Leroy Hutson. “I heard you are looking for me,” he wrote. I couldn’t believe that I had finally found him, or more accurately, he had found me. We began corresponding on a regular basis, exchanged ideas, thoughts, experiences. He told me a lot about how he created his music and the challenges he faced over the years. And finally he agreed to come to Europe for some shows, so I booked some gigs at Jazz Cafe in London. Unfortunately, plans changed when Leroy decided to first finish his new album before returning to the stage. We stayed in touch, and Leroy emailed me new tracks once in a while, and I felt very humbled that he’d ask me for my opinion. I guess he knew that I was a die-hard fan, but what he may not have known is that he has so many die-hard fans out there today. If you feel his music, then you feel it all the way. For me, his music soothes me like almost no other. It just makes me happy, no matter where and when I listen to it. I have no idea what his secret is, and I don’t really care as long as its working. If I had to throw out all my albums and only get to keep ten, most likely half of them would be Leroy Hutson albums, either his solo records or of the artists he produced, like the Voices of East Harlem (don’t get me started!!)
When I teamed up with my friend Andrew Felty last month to co-host Richmond’s weekly radio show Midnight Soulstice on W-RIR 97.3 fm, I knew who I wanted as our first guest on the show. Leroy was happy to do it, and since he had recently released his new album “Soothe you – Groove you”, the timing was perfect.
Friday, December 12, Midnight Soulstice will present The Leroy Hutson Special, and Leroy will join us on the show. Whether you are a fan of Leroy Hutson or just a fan of good music, make sure to not miss this broadcast. It’s gonna be very special, so I hope you’ll turn in:
When: Friday, Dec 12, 11 pm – 1am EST (that’s 4 am the the next day in England and 5 am in Central Europe)
Where: Live stream on www.wrir.org or 97.3fm in Richmond, VA
Rolling Stone magazine recently characterized LeRoy Hutson as “the best-kept secret of Seventies soul”. Throughout his long and illustrious career he has graced us with a body of rich musical work: a treasure trove of sophisticated soul, mellifluous melodies and insightful lyrical poetry. All one has to do is go back and take a listen to songs like the incomparable “Lucky Fellow” or the messages contained in the tone poem “I Can’t Stay Away.” recall and reflect the romantic and sensual sensibilities of songs like “In The Mood” and “Love To Hold You Close” and you the listener will be whisked away to witness the full degree of an individual full of undeniable talent and musical passion.
An accomplished keyboardist and arranger, Hutson has a soulful tenor voice that is both pure and crystal clear. His love for rhythmic underpinnings and plush orchestral strings are more than apparent, taking us all back to a time when music was oh so lush and so real!
A native of Newark, New Jersey, two of Lee’s closest confidantes were singer-songwriters Curtis Mayfield and the incomparable Donny Hathaway. He met both gentlemen while a student at Washington’s D.C.’s prestigious Howard University, a period of time for Hutson that would be a turning point in his life both socially and professionally. On campus at any given time one could find Roberta Flack, Herbie Hancock, Donnie Hathaway, saxophonist Tyrone Washington, Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen or any number of talented musicians and artists.
“My decision to go away to college turned out to be the single most important thing I have ever done in my life,” reflects Hutson. “It colored everything else that’s happened to me from that day to this. Initially, I didn’t enter college with music in mind. I originally wanted to become a dentist, but made the decision to change my major, and eventually received a special talent scholarship to enroll in the School of Music. “College was a most incredible time and a most incredible experience.”
It was during this collegiate experience that Hutson and Hathaway, who were roommates for a while, co-wrote the socio-political musical gem titled “The Ghetto.” The song went on to become a signature hit for Hathaway and continues to be in recurrent rotation on radio stations around the world.
In the seventies, an opportunity of a lifetime occurred when Hathaway recommended that Hutson replace Curtis Mayfield who happened to be leaving the renowned vocal group The Impressions. Lee was no stranger to being in singing groups since he was a member of the four-man vocal group the Nu-Tones while a teen in Newark, one-half of a duo called Sugar & Spice, and along with Donny Hathaway a member of The Mayfield Singers—a group put together on the Howard campus by Curtis Mayfield.
“I used to listen to the Impressions with awe like everyone else during that period. Their harmonies were just so unique. I was always fascinated with great harmonies, and the idea that I would be taking Curtis’ place was overwhelming. It wasn’t like I was fearful or anything, but I looked at it as a wonderful opportunity.”
Hutson left the Impressions in September 1973, but continued to record for Curtis’ Curtom Records label. He released some seven memorable albums. Among them were the seminal “Hutson” album (which featured the aforementioned “Lucky Fellow,” “Cool Out” and “All Because of You”) and the critically-acclaimed debut “Love Oh Love” album (featuring the hit track “So In Love with You.”). Hutson also charted with his albums “Hutson II,” “Feel The Spirit,” “Closer to the Source,” “Unforgettable” and a number of Best of Collections that have been re-released and re-packaged over time.
Upon leaving Curtom, Hutson released another album titled “Paradise” while signed to industry veteran Dick Griffey during a short stint at Elektra Records. But when asked his favorite of all the albums he’s recorded, Hutson ironically states, that he really hasn’t recorded it yet. In the running though, is his forthcoming CD tentatively titled “2Nites The Night”, through his own independent label, Triumph Records. “I’ve been working on this album for the last two years,” the musician states, “and I’m really excited about it. It is uniquely me. I’m incorporating some new sounds, some sampling and utilizing a lot of the new technology that allows me to play much of the music myself without having to have other musicians interpret what I hear in my head.”
In support of the new album, Hutson is prepping for a Worldwide tour, where he will be playing in such places as Hamburg, Amsterdam, the UK, and more, but U.S. fans and people the world over continue to support and discover his music. “I feel very fortunate to have friends and fans all over the world, he says. But I’m starting this tour overseas because that’s where a great deal of my audience is.”
Another on-going career benchmark for Hutson is that many of today’s hip-hop artists are constantly sampling his music. . One of the most prominent samples recently came through rapper T.I.’s Top Ten record “What You Know About That,” taken from the song “Gone Away,” written by Hutson and Donny Hathaway, on a tune they composed for Roberta Flack. The T.I. 2006-released CD has sold more than 1.5 million copies in the U.S. alone.
Other artists who have sampled Hutson’s work are Too Short (who scored a Top Ten R&B/Rap hit with “The Ghetto”), Erykah Badu , Paul Wall, Snoop Dogg, Memphis Bleek, Bone, Thugs N Harmony and the list goes on.
Throughout his prolific career, LeRoy Hutson has rewritten the rules as to what the consummate artist can and should be. He continues his legacy with “Soothe You – Groove You” and upcoming album “2Nites The Night”. With a sound that is an unwavering beacon of truly passionate soul, and songs that are both profound and personal, Hutson has made his mark on musical history and continues to represent all that is grand and classic in the soul and smooth jazz traditions.