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Baby Huey - Living Legend: The Baby Huey Story

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Artist: Baby Huey

Album: Living Legend: The Baby Huey Story

Label: Water

Review date: Jan. 30, 2005

A wreck, dying, Baby Huey recorded his only album in 1970 at the age of 26. Documentation eluded Huey, a veteran performer with a heroin habit and a super tight band called the Babysitters. His death of a heart attack cut short what might have been a fine career, and relegated Living Legend: The Baby Huey Story to rarity/novelty status. Huey and the Babysitters were a modern marvel, alchemizing ribfest blues disasters and Curtis Mayfield ghetto requiems into psychedelic R&B epics. Best not to dream that this album encapsulates their much-heralded live show, which took place anywhere that obliged them (incl. cruise ships); more likely it's a product of Huey's fantastical and variegated musical vision and producer Mayfield's desire to cram that vision onto two sides.

A la Hendrix, Baby Huey heard potential for compatibility between soul and psychedelic rock (could the Babysitters have evolved into something like Parliament/Funkadelic?) but never progressed beyond testing the waters. "Running," written by Mayfield, is the furthest he got.

Huey contended with the mightiest soul shouters, and was among the rawest, belting unrestrained blood-curdlers that dissipated under blasts of echo. In fact, most of the (ample) astral/mind-bending quotient is in Huey's exclamations, verbal and nonverbal, which do get fairly surreal. For example, a loose, nine-minute interpretation of "A Change is Going to Come" (Sam Cooke) is augmented by a rant about smokin smokin smokin smokin and a little space odyssey once-in-a-while, punctuated by a shout out to Jesus, enervated at last by headlong gutteral screams. Some call this proto-rap, but then again that's been said of everyone from Dolomite to Dylan. (There is, though, something to the lineage; "Listen to Me" was sampled by Erik B. and Rakim on "Follow the Leader.")

A couple instrumentals show off the Babysitters’ mechanical unity: "California Dreamin'," an oddly appropriate cover with flute, and the haywire dance cut "Mama Get Yourself Together." "Hard Times" and "Mighty Mighty," each Mayfield-penned, top them all. The funk is harder, more "'72," and Huey's confluence of shouts and rants sticks sharpest in a milieu of brevity.

Such a strange record, too bad there was no time for a follow-up. Alas, the story ends early.

By Ben Tausig

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