THE EMOTIONS: Happiness Is...
By David Nathan
July 1976, Interview conducted in person in New York City.
“Happy days are here again for Wanda, Jeanette and Sheila. They learned a lot from the quiet times and that knowledge is serving them well now that they’re back in the limelight…”
Wanda, Jeanette and Sheila Hutchinson are happy. They have every reason to be. As The Emotions, they are finally on the verge of happening in a big way.
After seven years with Stax Records (the group stayed until the expiry of their contract in January 1975), the three sisters are perched to break through on account of their new link-up with Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire and subsequently, Columbia Records.
Over the years with Stax, the girls had built up a strong following in the r&b field with such hits as “So I Can Love You” (their debut smash), “Show Me How”, “Put a Little Love Away” and “My Honey And Me” but that elusive crossover record seemed to escape them. Wanda relates how the Emotions found themselves with a CBS recording contract, a debut album for the label and participating in Earth, Wind & Fire’s current mammoth six-month national tour of the States.
“Our father and manager, Joe Hutchinson Sr., had been negotiating with various companies after our contract with Stax expired in ’75. Through a friend of his, Maurice (White) had heard that we were free for our contractual commitments and he remembered us from our days as gospel singers. “We later learned that he was really fan of the group – he’d collected all our Stax albums and was familiar with our harmonies. You can imagine that we were both surprised and excited to learn that he knew all about us!”
Maurice’s interest in the group came at a time when he was about to begin producing independently himself and the Emotions provided him with the opportunity. “Naturally, we were thrilled.” says Wanda. “Having Earth, Wind & Fire playing on the sessions, having the album and now being on tour – just like a dream come true! We actually began recording the album (“Flowers”) last September at Paul Serrano’s studio in Chicago – which is Maurice’s hometown as well as ours. We’d actually started rehearsing material that he sent us some two months before that in Charles Stepney’s basement in Chicago.”
“What was so good was that Maurice asked us if we had any songs we’d written ourselves. Naturally, we expected that he’d be writing all the material – so we were particularly pleased to find that he wanted us to suggest songs too. In fact, as you’ll see, we have a total of five songs on the album which we wrote amongst ourselves.”
Wanda says that working with Maurice “felt so good – it was almost as if we’d been working together forever. It was impossible for us to make comparisons between working with him and working at Stax. It’s like all the ideas that we had have been used one way or another and he allowed us a great deal of freedom.
“Just to indicate to you how fantastic the man is, he started writing “Flowers” whilst we were still recording and it seemed almost as if it took just a day for him to complete it – he said that being around us provided the inspiration. Naturally, we’d heard about Maurice’s spiritual outlook and philosophy on life and we found him to be just a truly beautiful person to work with.”
Recalling the trio’s years at Stax, Wanda said: “Of all the people we worked with there, I think Isaac Hayes came closest to really getting the Emotions’ sound over. He really found our slot. He knew where we should be going and where we were coming from.
“But we only worked with Isaac (and David Porter together) for about a year before he went out there on his own after his success with “Hot Buttered Soul”. After that, we worked with a lot of different people – Homer Banks and Carl Hampton (whose writing is really fine), then we did some things with David Porter, with Al Jackson and, towards the end, with Al Bell – but those things were never released.”
Commenting on the company’s demise, the lady stated: “Naturally, we were all disappointed towards the end. We’d made friends with a lot of people there and it wasn’t necessarily their fault that things went down the way they did. But the whole Stax period was a learning experience for us.
“You can only appreciate the good times after you’ve had some bad times and we learned a good deal in terms of audiences, and so on to get us ready for now. Also for a time, the focus wasn’t really on girl groups. It’s coming around now what with Labelle and the Supremes also coming back into their own. I feel that in 1977, the focus is going to be even stronger, once the disco thing settles down to a particular pace.”
The Emotions “definitely have a preference for ballads. Our name alone has much to do with that. On fast songs you can only really feel the beat – whereas ballads can get over.” The girls agree that their present tour with Earth, Wind & Fire is the biggest they’ve undertaken. “We’re playing bigger places than we’ve ever played before. Concerts with 50,000 out there at one time! Yes, we’ve had to arrange our act differently. We have to get the audience ready and warmed up for what’s coming on next.”
Jeanette recalls: “On the first few shows, we had a few reservations – but once we got out there, it was fine. Maurice gave us some particular ideas about what to expect and we found that playing big concerts is really not as big a nut to crack as we had anticipated.”
Sheila feels that her career “is a way of getting over a message of reality. There is more happening out there than any one person can see and life can be looked at in so many ways. My philosophy in life is based on love, peace and inspiration and over and above that, a close relationship with The Creator.
“I want to relate to it all and to relate our message to everyone. We want to say more than just ‘baby I love you’ There’s a place for that but there’s also a place for so much more. She confides that “we thought we’d been forgotten! But we’ve been to places where people remember us from our Stax days and they’re right in there with us. Then, of course there are all the new audiences we’re being exposed to through our tour with Earth, Wind & Fire.”
Jeanette says that she sees the future of the group “as becoming more and more involved. Eventually, we want to be in a position of being able to produce ourselves. We have a total of twenty years of experience in entertainment – we started out as a gospel group when we were very young. And we all feel that in the next five years we’re going to see the fruits of our past labour come to bear. think that our being a family has helped tremendously – it’s made it a lot easier on us because we’re all close.”
The three young ladies have every reason for being confident about the future. ‘We’re trying hard to really appreciate the experiences we’re having now. Yes, it’s just like dream come true for us because we never thought it would happen like it has. “For sure, we want to work with Maurice in the future because he seems to complement us perfectly. But right now, we’re concentrating all our efforts on the new album and the tour.”
The tour itself has inspired the girls to write a song – “Love Is What’s Happening” which may well turn up on their next album. “We feel now that with Maurice and CBS behind us, we’re working on a whole new and different level and it’s the best thing that could ever happened to us.” There’s no question about that and fans from the days of “So I Can Love You” will easily echo the sentiments of the ladies and agree that the Emotions are totally deserving of all the recognition which is now coming their way.