Wednesday, August 29, 2018

“Blackberry Jam” by Leroy Hutson

R&B artist Leroy Hutson dropped this smelly funk groove back in 1976. This is pure uncut funk with all the groove essentials: tight horns, poppin’ bass, hot beat, nasty guitar licks and funky clavinet.  And some badass synth work further deepens the funk. The track also boasts a killer bridge.

“Blackberry Jam” was written, arranged and produced by Hutson. It was a single from his 1976 album Hutson II. It charted at #82 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. Some of the players on the track included Reggie Gillerson (bass), Cordell Carter (drums), Stephen Harris (guitar), Michael Harris (trumpet), James Hirsen (keyboards—ARP Odyssey), Bill McFarland (trombone), Jerry Wilson (tenor saxophone), and Hutson himself was working the clavinet.

Hutson is one of soul music’s most underrated and underappreciated artists. Rolling Stone magazine once characterized him as "the best-kept secret of Seventies soul.” The multitalented singer/songwriter/producer/instrumentalist was a member of various vocal groups around his native Newark, NJ in the ‘60s. He got his first taste of chart success with the 1970 socio-political song “The Ghetto,” which he co-wrote with soul great Donny Hathaway, who was his Howard University roommate.  The track—which peaked at #23 on the  U.S. soul charts and climbed to #87 on the pop charts—is now considered a classic and one of the definitive messages songs of that era.

At Howard, Hutson was also a member of the vocal group the Mayfield Singers, which was put together by music legend Curtis Mayfield. The group consisted of Hutson, Donny Hathaway and June Conquest. The Mayfield Singers were known for their rich, soulful, choir-like vocal work. They released several tracks on Mayfield’s short-lived indie label Mayfield Records. The group even got the opportunity to perform at the legendary Apollo Theater in New York City. Despite the group’s strong vocal talent, their records failed to chart.

Nonetheless, Hutson’s affiliation with the Mayfield Singers opened up a great new musical opportunity for him. He was tapped to replace Curtis Mayfield as the lead singer of famed soul group the Impressions in 1971.  The Impressions recorded two albums during Hutson’s two-and-a-half year tenure with the group and scored two moderate hits on the R&B charts: “Love Me” (#25) and “This Loves For Real (#41).  He left the group in 1973 to pursue a solo career.

Hutson wrote, produced and arranged his first solo album, Love Oh Love, which was released in 1973 on Custom Records. The album showcases Hutson's strengths as a ballad writer and vocalist; the bulk of it is made up of beautiful R&B ballads. In addition to the great ballads, the album boasts strong cuts like “Time Brings on a Change” a haunting message song in the vein of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield’s work.  The song features a dynamic string arrangement, a brooding bassline and stellar vocals.

The album’s two singles charted on the low end of Billboard’s R&B singles chart: “Love, Oh Love (#75) and “When You Smile” (#81). Hutson played percussion, synthesizer (ARP) and electric piano on the album. He brought in a talented group of musicians to handle the rest.

Hutson continued to record topflight music throughout the ‘70s and landed a few more hits, including the lush disco track “Feel the Spirit,” which charted at # 5 on Billboard’s disco charts and #25 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. And the irresistible sweet-soul love song “All Because of You” peaked at #31 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. In all, Hutson released seven solo albums in the ‘70s, and all were released on the Custom Records label.

Hutson’s musical output in his solo work slowed down considerably in the ‘80s. He only released one solo album in that decade—Paradise, which was released on Elektra Records in 1982. It’s a solid collection of jazz-laced mellow jams and quality funk grooves. It was his only release on the Elektra label.

In addition to his own material, Hutson has worked as a writer/producer for artists such as Roberta Flack, the Natural Four, Linda Clifford, The Voices of East Harlem and The Next Movement.

Hutson's music has been sampled by a slew of artists, including Erykah Badu, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Too Short, T.I., Wiz Khalifa, The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Pete Rock, UGK, Adagio!, Young Jeezy, Memphis Bleek and Paul Wall.

Last year, he released the 19-song compilation Anthology 1972-1984 on Acid Jazz Records, a label based in East London. In February, Acid Jazz reissued the albums Hutson and Hutson II. And in May, they reissued two more of Hutson’s albums: The Man! and Closer to the Source. The label also released a four-part online documentary titled Leroy Hutson – The Man! It was directed by Lee Cogswell and produced by Mark Baxter. Watch it here.


Hutson II is available at Amazon on CD and vinyl

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