Regrettably, The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend was a titular misnomer: months before its release, singer James Ramey had died of a heart attack at the tender age of 26. But what can't be argued was how this LP handily outlived the man who created it, more than a half-century later.
The Baby Huey Story, now available in a digital expanded edition with eight rare instrumentals as bonus tracks, remains a significant puzzle piece of the evolution of soul music's evolution as the '60s turned over into the '70s. Huey's extended, trippy instrumentation and larger-than-life stage presence recalled Sly and The Family Stone at their psychedelic peak. Its lead single, "Hard Times" became a cornerstone of hip-hop sampling in the early '90s, with acts like Ice Cube, A Tribe Called Quest and Ghostface Killah using its groove to propel rhymes.
Not to be ignored, either, are the presence of some giants of soul behind the scenes of the album. Curtis Mayfield, who signed Huey to his Curtom label at the insistence of a rising arranger named Donny Hathaway, penned three of the album's eight tracks, including "Hard Times" and "Running." Covers include an extended take on Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" and an instrumental version of The Mamas and The Papas' "California Dreamin'" dominated by flute. All in all, they're much brassier, a touch more in-your-face than Mayfield's solo material.
Perhaps what makes The Living Legend rise to its lofty title is the life present in these stunning songs. Listen closely and we think you'll agree.