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David Hudson: Married to His Music - Interview 1993

Originally published in our printed magazine issue 6/1993

For a truly talented Southern-style soul singer David Hudson has been allowed to record awfully few albums during a music career that started a way back in the '60s in his hometown Atlanta, Georgia. So far there are only two solo albums, To You Honey Honey With Love, released on the T.K. Records' subsidiary label Alston in 1980, and the 1987 Willie Mitchell produced Nite & Day album on Mitchell's Waylo label. In addition, there's the Memphis Soul Review album which was released in 1989 and features, besides David, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay, Lynn White, Willie Mitchell and the Memphis Horns.

Today David is anxiously waiting for the release of his third solo album.

”We are in the studio now working on a brand new album to be released on Willie Mitchell's Hi label. He's the producer and I wouldn't have it any other way. On the new album I've co-written four songs. Pops (Willie Mitchell) has co-written all of the songs. Among the other writers on the album are William Brown and Willie Mitchell's grandson, Archie Mitchell. All the songs are originals, this time we're not going to do any covers.”

“As to the different types of material, we're mixing it up. We're doing some ballads, because that's really my stronghold. We're doing some uptempos, we're doing a song that's dealing with poverty and homeless and hungry people. So the album's going to be very interesting. I think more interesting than both my previous albums, because we're now travelling down as many avenues as possible.”

If the new album is going to be better than the previous ones, we're in for a treat, because both To You Honey, Honey With Love and Nite & Day were critically highly acclaimed sets. In fact, To You Honey Honey With Love introduced in 1980 a singer so mature that many people at the time and since have suspected that there must have been lesser-known earlier recordings by Mr. Hudson. David denies this.

To You Honey Honey With Love was the very first record I ever made. Before that I had sung background vocals for other people but never on a record.”

287 SONGS TO GET A DEAL

The record deal with the T.K. company did not happen overnight, though. In fact, according to David, it took no fewer than 287 songs and a lot of hard work.

”I was working at a club in Miami called Jell-O-Way Lounge. Willie Clark was Betty Wright's producer who had been following my career during the time that I was in Miami. And what happened was that we got to talking and I started hanging around the studio and I recorded 287 songs before they released the `To You Honey Honey With Love' album.”

”You see, I was desperate to get a record deal and whatever it took to get it done I was gonna do it. Anything they gave me to sing I would sing it, and it just so happened that Willie Clark and Betty Wright got Henry Stone and Steve Alaimo to take a listen to some of the stuff I had recorded and they were amazed that in 20 to 40 days I had done 280-odd songs. They gave me a shot but they were still sitting on the record Honey Honey until one afternoon Betty Wright and I had a talk and she promised me that she'd go to the studio and have them release the record and thank God it happened. So that led up to the album.”

GOSPEL-SINGING PARENTS

David had arrived in Miami from Atlanta in 1974 after the death of his mother, who must count as the earliest influence on David's singing.

”My parents were spiritual singers. My mother sang gospel, my father was a gospel guitarist. Actually I was born in Atlanta on my mother's birthday, so I guess that's why I have this beautiful look”, David laughs but does not disclose which year this happened.

”I prefer not to tell my age because I don't want to be put in a category where I would not like to be. But I'd say I'm very experienced”, he adds jokingly.

Instead of gospel, David himself chose to make his career in the secular but still closely related field of soul music.

”I've done some things in the church but I couldn't deal with this shouting and fainting and stuff and I didn't understand the total perspective of gospel material. But I recall my parents' saying when I was younger that if people don't came to the church then take the church to the people, so I consider my type of singing is soothing people the same way they would do in the churches except that I don't go round taking up a collection. It's all about trying to help people fix whatever's bothering them for the 25, 35 or 45 minutes that I am performing.”

In fact, David sees soul music as something of a middle ground between blues and gospel.

”I don't do blues. I look at blues as being sad. Where I come from, it's about crying out for love, and loneliness and a lot of pain. And then I look at gospel as talking about love constantly, you know you're talking about worshipping the Father. So I combine the two of them together and I come away with soul, you know, because I'm singing about a little of both of those, but I'm not just in one area. I would never label myself as a blues singer and I would hate to be written up as a blues singer, because that's not what my show is about. It's very energetic and it's very exciting.”

The early musical influences at home were both gospel and more secular singers.

”I was raised by one parent which was my mother. My father left us when we were younger. But God bless his soul, he's deceased now and I love him and I don't understand what happened. I guess it's one of those things. Nevertheless, my mother kept our house filled with music, mostly gospel music, you know, that would keep the family together.”

”The first singers I fell in love with were James Brown, Otis Redding, Joe Tex, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and the Highway QC's. These are the people that I remember hearing every week in my home and they'd inspire me, and Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole. Till I got a little older, a little wilder and started listening to Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and people of that nature. But those were the people that I think groomed David Hudson to sit back and, I guess like a kid watching sports say `I wanna be an athlete like Michael Jordan!, I was inspired by these people.”

LITTLE DRUMMER BOY

David started his career as a drummer, with a little help from his elder brother who was and still is a professional guitarist.

”I owe a lot of credit to my oldest brother who lives now in Baltimore. He plays guitar with a gospel group. I started out being a drummer and every gig my brother would get, he would make sure that he worked with this group twice before he make sure I do something with the group. He would always look out for me, so I owe him a great deal of credit for that. Other than that, there are five of us, three boys and two girls, but out of the five of us there are only two of us that are into the music industry.”

”I was a drummer in my high school band. The first group that we started out with, my brother and I, was called the Citations. After that we had a little band called Prince Anthony and the Nasty Stuff. I left and got to a group in Carlton called the Wrecking Crew and that led me to Miami.”

Gradually drumming gave way to more and more singing.

”I sang from when I was nine years old till I turned thirteen without getting paid. The reason was that I was just doing something I enjoyed doing and getting paid was not important to me, I had no bills to pay, I had no responsibilities. So every night I would go out my mother would put five dollars in my hands to make sure I was covered for and didn't have to worry about anything.”

”But when I became thirteen I opened a show for Johnnie Taylor and the Bar-Kays at a club called The Paladium in Atlanta and the Stax recording company had sent some scouts out, Tom Nixon and Joe Bridges who had a group called the Temprees who were on the We Produce label with the Stax recording company. I had a meeting with them backstage and they invited me to go to Memphis to sign with Stax. I went but the deal didn't go through. I guess I was too desperate looking for Willie Mitchell and Al Green”, David laughs referring to his two musical idols.

”That was the first offer that I had from a recording company. And after that point on I began to start getting paid for my performances.”

SWEAT, TEARS AND STUFF

Still it took long years on the road before David was finally able to get his first album deal with T.K. and Honey Honey.

”The Honey Honey album required a lot of sweat, tears and stuff, but overall it was well worth it. The title song, `Honey Honey', and `I Must Have Your Love' were two of my favourite songs on the album. I was going through some very difficult times with a female in Miami at the time we were recording `Honey Honey', and `I Must Have Your Love' was during the same period, so the concept of both songs tells the lady `Look, whatever I did I apologize for it, give me another chance and try to understand because I'm trying to learn how to live, being in this business and dealing with rolling with the punches, and coming home and being the man you expect me to be'. And I'm not a good person when it comes to expressing my feelings wordwise but I know that once I get a microphone and a band I can tell it like it is”, David chuckles.

After the T.K. empire collapsed at the start of the 1980s David first decided to stay in Florida.

”I made a move from T.K. Records to a small Florida label and did a cover song over the Bee Gees song `How Could You Mend A Broken Heart'.”

THE SECOND AL GREEN

When that didn't work out, he packed his bags and first moved back home to Atlanta in 1984 but then decided to try his luck in Memphis with Willie Mitchell, the legendary owner of the Hi label and the man who made his name as the producer of the classic Al Green hits of the early '70s.

”It took me three and half years to get Willie Mitchell to listen to me. I had portrayed Al Green since 1971. The first time I heard Al Green he had a record out called `Back Up Train'. We were riding in a car and my brother said `You gotta learn that song!' I said, `Man, who is that?' `Man, he's bad, his name is Al Green.' I said, `Man, I don't want to do this.' And then Al came back with `I'm Tired Of Being Alone', and I said, `It's O.K., they've got something going on. Who's the producer?' `Willie Mitchell, the man who did `20-75'.”

”So I started doing all the Al Green material. I studied it four months, and when I came out, they started calling me little Al Green, because I portrayed all of his songs. Not so much trying to copy him but to get myself recognized, because I was a nobody at the time and no one was going to take me into the studio to record me. But I knew that if I sounded that close to anybody, somebody had to listen and say `Hey, maybe this cat's got something going. Can he sound like anybody else?' And then I would start doing Stevie and all these other things, the Otis Reddings and the Smokey Robinsons.”

All the previous 15 years' experience of doing Al Green material were needed in the mid-80s before David was finally able to convince Willie Mitchell that he was a singer worth producing.

”After I met Willie Mitchell we did the song `Just A Feeling', which was a cover song he had released before he and I got together. The record didn't do that well, but it was a song that meant a great deal to him, so I went into the hotel that night and learnt it and then into the studio and cut it.”

”So the next day he was so hyped about it that he said `O.K., now you catch the plane to go back to Atlanta'. I said, `What are we going to put on the B side, an instrumental?' He said, `Oh, God. We didn't do but one song.' I said, `That's right'. So I always used to carry a satchel with all my songs in it, because I felt that was my life, and if anything happens to my house or something, I'd still got my songs.”

”He asked me to come and sit down to the piano with them, and he started playing some chords. It was a ballad. We didn't have the title then, but I had been working on a song called `Let's Get Back Together' and I pulled out about six different songs, before we hit upon that particular song and he said, `That's the song'. So we spent about an hour at his house arranging the song, and the next morning about 9.30 we were in the studio laying the tracks and about twelve midday we had finished up the 45. So that was my first single with Poppa Willie, and from that point we went ahead and did the album.”

PLATINUM DREAMS

David says he still feels very proud of the resulting Nite & Day album but at the same time hopes the new one will be an even bigger commercial success.

”I'm hoping the album we're cutting now will be the album that'll go platinum. I mean if it's going to go gold, I'm not complaining, but I hope to see this album go platinum with us, because I don't know if Pop's going to retire or what he's going to do, but I would like to go down to history with his name being a part of David Hudson's career. Because if anybody can help me to get to where I'm trying to get to, I believe Willie Mitchell is the man that can do it.”

There has been some speculation about how active Mr. Mitchell, who turned 65 this year, is today recording-wise. According to David, he is still very much in the business.

”Pop's still recording regularly. The Staple Singers have been to his studio lately, as has Charlie Wilson of the Gap Band and the Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. So the doors are still open for people to come and record.”

TEAMWORK IS WHAT IT TAKES

For the fact that he himself has been able to record so few albums during his long career, David partly blames the record industry and partly himself.

”I haven't been recording albums constantly, because I realize in this business nobody tells you anything. It's a dog-eat-dog world. I heard this when I was younger, I didn't understand it but I had my own interpretation of it, and it was that if I know everything I don't need any help from anyone. And I've come to realize that's a nasty cliché to me for this industry, because no one can make it by themselves, for no man is an island. It takes a package, it takes part of everybody, like my show is no good without the band. Without my band doing their job and my manager doing his job or my agent doing his job, then David Hudson is not about anything, even though I can sing and perform. It takes a mixture of everybody to play their parts for this thing to go off properly.”

Like most artists, David says he prefers singing live to singing in the studio with just the red light on.

”It's a big difference. I mean in the studio it's more or less make-believe, but then again you get the opportunity in the studio to correct mistakes that you can't correct on stage. For instance, if you mess up a song a thousand times you'll get the opportunity to correct it. But once you do a live performance you don't get but one shot, so it's a big difference.”

”I prefer live entertaining but I also love recording, because the records and the CD's and the cassettes and the videos reach areas and places that David Hudson will probably never get a chance to get to, and before I get there people will have an idea what I look like and what I sound like with the records. But I love performing live, because there's nothing like being on stage with hundreds or thousands of people that are screaming and cheering on and they're smoking cigarettes and drinking but they're having a ball and there's no violence involved, it's relaxation. You know, it soothes to the nerve, and that's what I thank God for blessing me to have to share with the world.”

WRITER AND PERFORMER

Besides his singing ability, David has increasingly been able to share also his song-writing skills with the world.

”Lately I have begun to write songs not just for myself. Thanks to the touring I've met some people that I've always read about, and I have written songs for them whereas before I never got a chance to meet them. So I would sit back and I would observe their style of singing and I would have a conversation with a friend about a situation he is having with someone or maybe a personal problem that I'm having, and I would try to write it down into the best 3-minute story I can without it sounding boring, or too sad, or too direct. So song-writing for me depends on the mood.”

When deciding to do somebody else's song, David says he looks for four basic things.

”The drums, the bass guitar, the chords the keyboards are playing and the story that's being told is what captivates me.”

As far as rap music storylines are concerned, David finds most of them interesting, too, although he admits that big and bad gangsta rap is certainly not to his taste.

”I don't have anything bad to say about rap. I think it's a great poet direction for the younger generation. However, I do disagree with some of the rappers when they start mudslinging females or when they constantly talk about violence. I have kids, and I don't want them to portray that part of the rap thing, but a lot of rappers are doing some positive things, like MC Hammer I think is a great poet for rapping. I might go back a bit. The Sugarhill Gang was a great rap group for me, Kurtis Blow was cool to me, The Fat Boys was cool to me. Like I said I have nothing really bad to say against the rappers until they start slinging mud with their music and then I think they are taking the contents out of what it's supposed to be.”

Talking of kids, David is happy to report that his son is carrying both his father's and especially his grandmother's singing tradition.

”I have a son in college, which I'm very grateful and thank God for. His name is David James Hudson Jr. and he's doing fantastic. He's majoring in business administration, but he's also a singer with an accapella group that consists of six guys. They do a spiritual like thing. They don't do any r&b, they don't do any jazz, it's totally praising the Father. I've been honored to have a son to do that.”

MUSIC NEVER HURTS

Meanwhile David has now moved back home to Atlanta and is now planning to settle down in more ways than one.

”I've been active touring but I'm also trying to build a family. I'm in the process of getting married. If everything works out fine, it'll be my first time of getting married.”

You see, up to now David says he's been married only to his music.

”I call my music my wife because she never hurts me, you know, every time we are together we bring joy to people's hearts and a soothing sound to their ears, and that's the greatest thing I can have. Mostly when I meet females and they ask me whether I'm married, and I say `Yes, I'm married to my music', they go like `What does this guy mean' but the concept of it is just that I love music so much, that it's the only way I can look at it.”

For anyone who has had the pleasure of both watching David perform live and listen to his recordings it is easy to see that Mr. Hudson indeed is a man who loves his music – passionately.

Text: Pirkka Kivenheimo





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