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THEO HUFF

THE CROWN PRINCE OF SOUL REVIVAL


Theo Huff at the Porretta Soul Festival, photo courtesy of Dave Thomas

  At the Porretta Soul Festival in Italy on a Friday night, July 24th, a young soul singer from Chicago named Theodore Huff hit the stage and kicked his set off with a rousing version of Who’s Making Love.  He proceeded to his own recent hit song, It’s a Good Thing I Met You, before turning to Johnnie Taylor’s repertoire again on the swinging Cheaper to Keep HerTyrone Davis’ hit Turning Point followed and Theo ended his set together with David Hudson singing Last Two Dollars, made famous by... Johnnie Taylor.

  On Sunday evening, Theo delivered – besides It’s a Good Thing I Met You – a mesmerizing soul ballad called Running out of Lies (originally on Johnnie’s 1976 Eargasm album) and for the closing 10-minute blues jam session for his solo spot he had chosen Cicero Blake’s Dip My Dipper.  Theo: “This is my second time in Porretta.” Theo first captivated the audience here a year ago, in 2014.

THE SENSATIONAL SOULFUL SIXTIES

  Theo was born in Chicago on July the 10th in 1988, which makes him 27 years old today.  “My mother helped motivate me to come into music business.  She saw something in me that I didn’t see myself at the time, when I was seven-eight years old, so she gave me that love to keep on doing it.  I’m really grateful for her.” 

  “I can honestly say that we were a little poor, but – God is good – we made it through on the West Side of Chicago, in North Lawndale.  I was working at an early age, and everybody was trying to do everything to make it, but I never lost the love of music.  That’s what kept me going through it – even the bad times.”

  “When it comes to my singing, I started off in church (Walls Memorial CME Church), and from church I started taking part in different talent shows.  That’s when I met Mr. Jimmy Tillman.  He was a professional drummer and also he was my music teacher at Westinghouse Area Voc High School.  He took me under his wings and told me a lot about the music business.  He started putting me in talent shows and I won each one... except for one, because I didn’t participate in it, because I was in another talent show the same day.” 

  Besides singing, Theo plays guitar a little bit, “but I’m still learning.”  Apart from conventional talent shows, he took part in Open Mic Nights shows.  “I started out at the age of fourteen.  I made a name for myself around Chicago, Milwaukee, Indiana...  That’s when I started to travel.  I became a performer and entertainer, while I was in school, but they groomed me to get better, when I got out of school.  When I was in school, I had a job.  I used to work for a taxi company, worked in a restaurant and also did cleaning up, so I always kept me a job.”  Theo finished the Lincoln College of Technology in auto body training in 2007.

  “Jimmy Tillman put me on the next level, and he introduced me to a beautiful woman by the name of Jackie Taylor.  She played in the movies Hoodlum, Barbershop 1 and 2 and Cooley High.  She taught me a lot about business and performing.  I soaked up the knowledge that they gave me, and that’s what I use today.”

  Jackie is also actress in the Black Ensemble Theater (www.blackensembletheater.com), where at the age of fourteen Theo first played in The Sensational Soulful Sixties.  “I was doing Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and David Ruffin.  That live play was a hit form.  That Sensuous Seductive Seventies was the show after the Sixties.  In the 70s show I was playing Al Green.  The 60s show ran for almost three years straight.  It was Chick Rodgers and a lot of other good artists in it.  I was in the Howlin’ Wolf play about two or three years ago.  A guy by the name of Rick Stone, who played in the movie called Cooley High, was the star of the show.  He played Howlin’ Wolf.  He’s a very, very good entertainer.  I was just blessed enough to work with him.  Right now I’m working majority of time on Theo Huff, and when the theatre calls me I go back and forth to work with them.”


Theo Huff and Heikki, photo courtesy of Dave Thomas

THE SCOTT BROTHERS BAND

  A Chicago doowop group called the Elpeccios was formed in 1957, and it changed its name to the Masqueraders a year later (not to be confused with the Dallas, Texas, soul group).  In the line-up of Howard, Walter, Charles and Tommie Scott - and Ike Hickman and Howard Taylor – the group cut its first records for Formal and Joyce Records in the early 60s.  Later they became known as the Scott Brothers Band.

  “The first time I worked with the Scott Brothers Band, I was about 19-20 years old.  They helped me a lot.  They enhanced my show.  The guitar player still plays for me.  His name is Kenneth “Hollywood” Scott.  He’s the nephew of Walter Scott and the son of the legendary Buddy Scott.  I was very thrilled and blessed to be able to be around musically talented family like that.  Back in the day they used to play behind Tyrone Davis.  Hollywood Scott became the band leader, and they named the band the Platinum Band.  So the Platinum Band was different from the Scott Brothers Band.  They played behind Tyrone for 26 years all the way to his death.”   Today the Platinum Band works a lot with Otis Clay, too.

  At different points in different line-ups they were also known as the Scott Brothers World Band, Howard Scott and the Scott Brothers Band, Howard Scott and the World Band, Walter Scott and the World Band... “They’re brothers, and when Howard takes a break, Walter steps in.  Today my regular band in Chicago is the Platinum Band.  Every blue moon I perform with Ronnie Hicks’ band, but 90 % of time – Platinum.”


NOW IS THE TIME

  “My very first recording was Now Is the Time.  That was my first CD.  Jim Sims and Hollywood Scott laid the tracks for me.  They released it in 2014, and the producer of that CD was me and a guy by the name of Rick Lucas.”  The CD was released on Rick’s label, Blast Records, which is the same company that released David Hudson’s recent album, Feels So Good (http://www.soulexpress.net/davidhudson.htm).  The CD was cut at Jim Sims’ studios, at River North and Tanglewood Studios, where Jim had earlier worked with Willie Clayton, too.  Initially Howard Scott introduced Theo to Rick Lucas.

  This 12-track CD contains as many as eleven ballads and mid-tempo songs, and only one track, She Rocks Me in Her Cradle, can be described as an uptempo, easy dancer.  Theo wrote two songs, the slow and bluesy Crush and an aggressive mid-tempo beater called Don’t Waste My Time.  He also co-wrote with Rick a swaying soulful ballad named I Want You Back

  Rick himself wrote a poignant ballad and a single release titled So Called Friends.  His other contributions include a touching downtempo song named Who You Been Listening To and the melancholy I Don’t Want to Get over You.  Picking up the tempo, three mid-paced compositions - Now Is the Time, I Need some loving tonight and Since You Started Touching Me – were also Rick’s creation.


Theo and Heikki, photo by Juhani Laikkoja

  “Benny Latimore and Rick Lucas wrote It’s a Good Thing I Met You for me.  I was very thrilled to be able to work with them.  It’s a blessing to meet different people that can help you gain knowledge, to go to the next level.  I would say that’s the best song for me on the set.”  This easy and catchy floater is the same song that Theo delivered twice at the Porretta festival.  On some tracks Theo vocally bears a resemblance to Johnnie Taylor and Tyrone Davis, but on certain songs Willie Clayton is the first singer that comes to your mind.


R&B SINGLES

  “My new CD is called R&B Singles.  It’s got all the five tunes that they’re playing on the radio.”  Three tracks on R&B Singles (www.jango.com/music/TheoHuff) – So Called Friends, It’s a Good Thing I Met you and I Need Some Lovin’ Tonight – appeared already on the Now Is the Time CD.

  Wet Pannies is a mellow and almost hypnotic slowie.  “Paul Richmond, my producer on the second project, and a guy named Marzette Griffith wrote the tune for me.  Marzette is a great singer as well (www.marzettegriffith.com).  He sings with the Chi-Lites now.  He said ‘I got a song for you.’  ‘What’s the name of the tune?’  ‘Wet Pannies.’  ‘I don’t know about this’, but when I started listening to the tune, something was different than I’ve ever done before, and I loved it.  It’ll catch your attention, a good groove.”  It was released on PMT Records.  “PMT stands for Paul, Marzette and Theo.  Paul Richmond produced Tyrone Davis, Willie Clayton, the Manhattans...  He’s phenomenal.” 

  The second new song, a punchy and slightly bluesy romp called Just Enuff Rope was released this July, and again it was written by Marzette and produced by Paul, who was also in charge of the music.  The song and the interpretation have a lot of Al Green feel to them.  This time the record label was called RGH Records – Richmond, Griffith and Huff.  “The sales are pretty good.  My thing is that I’m just trying to keep soul music alive in the USA, because Tyrone is gone and Johnnie Taylor is gone.  I have experienced working with Mel Waiters and now he’s gone.  Johnnie Taylor’s son, Floyd Taylor, was a great friend of mine.  So I’m the man of next generation, trying to keep it alive.”

  Normally these days, musicians of Theo’s age would turn to rap or hip-hop, but Theo perseveres at genuine, traditional soul music with a heavy leaning to Southern soul.  “It has a good message and I can relate to it.  But I’m versatile, as far as r&b and soul are concerned.  Some people try to put me in blues category.  I can sing blues, but I’m not really a blues singer.  But I’m very honoured and grateful that a lot of people listen to me and Theo Huff fans all around the world are supporting me.”

  “My own favourites of those, who have passed and gone on, are - no question - Tyrone and Johnnie Taylor... also Bobby Blue Bland.; among those that are alive now, I would say Anthony Hamilton and R. Kelly, just to name a couple.” 

  “I do majority of my gigs here in Chicago, but I’ve been travelling as well.  I’ve performed in Detroit, Michigan, Alabama and other areas. Here in Chicago they love rhythm & blues and blues.  I can reach all different kinds of crowds.  I try to keep it in the middle - r&b, blues and soul music.  I just love what I do.  I love music.  I want to be a motivation for a younger generation, for it to learn about the history of our music - like Sam Cooke, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters – so that they’ll be able to take the basics and to go on and make a career, if they want to do this”.

The release party of Theo’s second full-length CD will take place in Chicago on November the 13th – http://theohuff111.wix.com/thuff.

(Interview conducted on July 24, 2015, at the Porretta Soul Festival; acknowledgements to Theo Huff, Mike Stephenson, Robert Pruter, Juhani Laikkoja and Dave Thomas).

© Heikki Suosalo





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