Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Cargo Full Of Love And Devotion

When I first thought to review the careers of both The Hues Corporation and George McCrae (see next/separate post), I had no idea that there would be a strong connection between the two artists, other than the fact that their biggest hits were similar in nomenclature.

During 1969, songwriter Wally Holmes had the idea to form a black vocal trio.  His original idea was to call the group the Children of Howard Hughes, in reference to the reclusive millionaire.  Not unexpectedly, legal issues meant the Howard Hughes name couldn’t be incorporated into the group’s name.  Holmes put on his thinking cap and came up with a good compromise - the Hues Corporation.  The group’s original line-up comprised a friend of Holmes, Bernard Henderson, female vocalist H. Ann Kelly (who they discovered at a Los Angeles talent show), and Karl Russell who responded to notices that Holmes had placed in southern California record bars.  The vocal chemistry wasn’t quite right, so Russell was soon replaced by Fleming Williams, and the Hues Corporation was open for business.

Initial tenures at various Los Angeles clubs failed to attract much notice, but the group gained a profile and following during a stint of shows in the lounge of the Circus Circus Club in Las Vegas.  Word of mouth led to record label talent scouts checking out the balance sheet of the Hues Corporation, and RCA liked the numbers they saw, signing the trio to a recording contract.

Holmes arranged for the trio to work with producer John Florez (produced Friends of Distinction) on their debut album, to be titled ‘Freedom For The Stallion’ (US#20).  The title track single, ‘Freedom For The Stallion’ (US#63), made little more than a ripple in the lower reaches of the Hot 100.  The Hues Corporation’s debut album looked set to be declared insolvent when RCA executive David Kershenbaum went to one of the trio’s shows in Los Angeles.  One song in particular went over very well with the audience.  Penned by Wally Holmes, ‘Rock The Boat’ was one of ten tracks that had been laid down for the debut album.  The song had been consigned to the backwaters of the album’s grooves, but had been selected by Holmes to receive special production treatment from New York producer Tom Sellers.  He came up with the idea to apply a slight reggae edged back rhythm, to make the track more danceable.  Originally H. Ann Kelly was to handle the lead vocals, but that honour eventually went to Fleming Williams.  Despite doing a sterling job on the track, Williams was soon after replaced by Tommy Brown, therein missing out on some of the credit he was due for his role in the Hues Corporation story.

RCA soon released ‘Rock The Boat’ as a single, six months after the source album had been released and had all but disappeared.  Released in February of ‘74, initial interest in ‘Rock The Boat’ was sluggish, but then it came to the attention of several high profile radio stations in New York City.  It notched up sales of over 50,000 and was packing dance floors across the city.  Within a few weeks ‘Rock The Boat’ had debuted on the Hot 100.  Six weeks later the track had sailed to the top and replaced Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Sundown’ at the toppermost of the Hot 100 (US#2 R&B, OZ#18/UK#6).  ‘Rock The Boat’ held sway at #1 for just one week, before sailing downwind on the charts, replaced at #1 by George McCrae’s ‘Rock Your Baby’ (see separate post).  Stylistically the song was somewhere between R&B and early disco music.  In fact, ‘Rock The Boat’ is credited as one of the seminal cornerstones of the evolution of disco music in the mid 70s - along with the likes ‘Rock Your Baby’, ‘TSOP’ by MFSB and the Three Degrees, ‘Love’s Theme’ from Love Unlimited Orchestra, Barry White’s ‘Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe’ and Carl Douglas’ ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ (see separate post), all of which charted during 1974.  The song was later covered in 1983 by U.S. vocal group Forrest (UK#4/OZ#18 - they had a further hit in 1983 with ‘Feel The Need In Me’ - UK#17).

The follow up album ‘Love Corporation’ (US#147/ R&B#40) failed to build on the profit’s generated by ‘Rock The Boat’, but did yield a #15 R&B hit with the title track.  1975’s ‘Rockin’ Soul’ album (R&B#20) yielded a Hot 100 top 20 hit with the title track (#18/R&B#6/ OZ#71/UK#24) but the fortunes of the Hues Corporation were quickly dwindling.  They made one final incursion into the Hot 100 with 1977’s ‘I Caught Your Act’ (US#92), but it seemed few were willing to catch the trio’s act anymore.  With the movement they helped kick start, disco, in full swing and generating dance group after dance group, there was no room in the mix for the Hues Corporation, and the trio disbanded late in ‘77.

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