It’s all too easy to muddle up Fred Hughes, best known as a Chicago singer despite recording in Los Angeles, and Freddie Hughes who spent all his time on the West Coast. I’ve been as guilty as anybody in that regard in the past, to my shame, so I’m hoping to make amends with this short piece on Fred.
He was originally from Arkanas but by the early 60s he was in LA gigging with his own band, the Creators. He was “spotted” by writer/arranger/producer Richard Parker, who was A & R chief on the West Coast for Vee Jay records. Fred joined the label roster in 1965 and immediately hit the big time with the melodic swaying dancer “Oo Wee Baby I Love You” which reached the dizzy heights of no 3 in the Billboard charts. Much better to my ears though is the excellent R & B flip “Love Me Baby” which features a good many of Fred’s lovely falsetto phrases.
The follow up “You Can’t Take It Away”, just like the earlier smash, had a strong touch of the “Motowns” about it, and likewise was a huge seller, reaching no 12 later on in 1965. As ever for me the flip is twice as good as this. My Heart Cries Oh is a lovely tuneful Parker beat ballad which has a really committed Hughes vocal – love those gritty touches he delivers. Vee Jay issued this track again as the flip to his final 45 for the company, the pounding Detroit styled “Don’t Let Me Down”. That this failed to make into the charts says more about the collapse of the label than anything else.
Out of the ashes of Vee Jay, Exodus arose, owned by the same people, Jimmy and Vivian Bracken. Hughes made the transition too, and cut a couple of 45s for them, again under Parker’s direction. “I Keep Tryin’” is a northern soul delight, thanks yet again to its Detroit style, but the flip is another beauty. We’ve Got Love has a delicious easy beat to it, and a super “open” arrangement, plus the benefit of another fine Hughes performance. Both sides of his second Exodus single are uptempo numbers of little distinction sadly.
When Exodus failed, Hughes went to Chess records in Chicago for a spell which saw two 45s released on Cadet. These tracks were produced by Gerald Sims, and although Hughes remained in fine voice, the songs simply weren’t up to Parker’s earlier standard. The best was probably Hughes’ own “Baby Don’t Go” but it lacked the sparkle necessary for a hit.
He then followed Parker again, to Brunswick this time, for the final stop of his career. Carl Davis produced all the material he cut for them, with some occasional help from Eugene Record of the Chi-Lites. The arrangements by Willie Henderson, Sonny Sanders and Tom Tom Washington were right up to date, full of funky rhythms and wah wah guitars. Hughes’ own “Baby Boy” went into the top 30, and the similarly styled “I Understand” went top 50. His final 45 for Brunswick was a frantic “In My Time Of Need”. The company collected all his singles tracks for an album, titled “Baby Boy” after the first hit. As well as these tracks there were covers of rather less interesting songs like “Son Of Hickory Holler’s Tramp” and “San Francisco Is A Lonely Town” plus a recut of the song that started it all for him “Oo Wee Baby I Love You”.
Hughes doesn’t seem to have made any more records after this – but he was good singer and really deserved his successes.
Oo wee baby I love you / Love me baby ~ VEE JAY 684 (1965)
You can’t take it away / My heart cries oh ~ VEE JAY 703 (1965)
Don’t let me down / My heart cries oh ~ VEE JAY 718 (1966)
I keep tryin’ / We’ve got love ~ EXODUS 2006 (1966)
Walk on back to you / As long as we’re in love ~ EXODUS 2009 (1966)
Come home little darlin’ / Can’t make it without you ~ CADET 5579 (1967)
Love is ending / Baby don’t go ~ CADET 5616 (1968)
Baby boy / Who you really are ~ BRUNSWICK 55419 (1969)
I understand / Oo wee baby I love you ~ BRUNSWICK 55439 (1970)
Don’t let this happen to us / In my time of need ~ BRUNSWICK 55446 (1971)
Baby boy ~ BRUNSWICK 754157 (1970)