Jimmy Hughes – 1967 – Why Not Tonight?
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Rip, research and review by Bac
Posting & additional info’s by Nikos
‘Why Not Tonight?’ is a full-fledged Southern Soul masterpiece!
Seminal southern soul from Jimmy Hughes – a classic Fame production from the early days of the Muscle Shoals scene – and definitely the kind of work that set the tone for countless imitations to follow! Jimmy Hughes sounds even better here than in his first batch of recordings for Fame – more carefully composed, and a bit less rocking overall – really hitting that sublime spiritual undercurrent that defined the sound of southern soul for the 60s! Production is by the legendary Rick Hall – who wrote tunes on the record, along with Dan Penn, Linden Oldham, and even Hughes himself. There’s not a bit of filler on the record, and all the tracks are great and titles include the hit “Neighbor Neighbor“, plus “Why Not Tonight“, “I Worship the Ground You Walk On“
A1 Why Not Tonight 2:58
A2 I’m a Man of Action 2:13
A3 I Worship the Ground You Walk On 2:25
A4 Neighbor, Neighbor 2:36
A5 It Was Nice 2:35
B1 Slippin’ Around With You 2:48
B2 Midnight Affair 2:27
B3 It’s a Good Thing 2:24
B4 I’m the Loving Physician 2:19
B5 I Stand Accused 2:31
Jimmy Hughes is a very good example of the Muscle Shoals Area Sound: little-known, ambivalent and difficult to keep alive. But he has some different details that they characterize his sound. Hughes release a LP every two years and Why Not Tonight? is no exception. He begins with Steal Away (Vee Jay Records) in 1965 and ends with Something Special (Volt) in 1969. Three records with three different labels.
It’s an excellent work, there is not doubt on this, but let me be, in this case, a little pickier.
The record starts with the title track ; the song is good and a classic one, with a big Gospel influence, but to me, there are some less interesting details : the guitar is not very good and the sensation is that the song is too long.
“I’m a Man Of Action” is really a better song to me. Written by Jimmy Hughes himself, it has a perfect mix of an unusual drum pattern with and excellent R&B sound, a very interesting refreshing own style. It possesses an attractive « savoir-faire » that he repeats in the songs « Neighbor, Neighbor », « It Was Nice » and in a lesser extent, in « I’m The Loving Physician » ( the last two written again by the artist himself).
It’s here we find a more confortable Hughes, with less connections with the gospel sound and where he let go, showing us his best face. His songs are better sung, there’s more audacity, and the result is much more interesting.
It’s surely the treasure to discover in this album ; a not common mix and an unlimited quantity of resources to exploit.
Jimmy Hughes is an excellent songwriter. He defends his song with credibility, he sings with better predisposition and the result is awesome. It’s really less interesting when he tries to mix with the Gospel Sound (the Tom Dowd intervention would have improved the global result of the album for sure).
Hughes only recorded one more album after this one, and the sensation is that we lose the opportunity to enjoy more of one of the most interesting voices of the R&B and Soul. I’m sure he would have recorded excellent Lp’s if he had continued with this so little explored blend that he was the master, is clear in this record.
Hughes, a cousin of Percy Sledge, was born and raised in Leighton, Alabama, close to Muscle Shoals. He began singing in a gospel quartet, The Singing Clouds, while at high school. In 1962, he auditioned for record producer Rick Hall at his FAME Studios. Hall was impressed, and recorded Hughes on a song, “I’m Qualified”, that Hall had co-written with Quin Ivy. The record was leased to the Guyden label in Philadelphia, but was not a hit. Hughes returned to his day job at a rubber factory, and began singing secular R&B songs in local clubs.
Early in 1964, he returned to Hall with a powerful ballad he had written, “Steal Away“, partly based on the gospel song “Steal Away to Jesus”, and recorded the song in one take, backed by the studio rhythm section of Terry Thompson, David Briggs, Norbert Putnam and Jerry Carrigan. Hall and his friend Dan Penn then promoted the record around radio stations in the South, and it rose to # 17 on the Billboard Hot 100. The record has been cited as “a prototype not only for subsequent great soul singers such as Johnnie Taylor and Al Green, but also would help define the signature Muscle Shoals sound. On the basis of Hughes record, Hall signed a national distribution deal with Vee-Jay Records for his FAME label. Hughes’ follow-up record, “Try Me”, reached # 65 on the Hot 100, and he recorded an album, Steal Away, released on the Vee-Jay label, which included the first songwriting collaborations between Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. He also toured with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Bobby Womack and others.
Hughes’ next few singles were unsuccessful, as Vee-Jay Records diverted their attention to The Beatles and The Four Seasons, and then folded. However, in 1966, after the success of Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman”, Hall negotiated a new deal for his label to be distributed by Atlantic Records. Hughes returned to the charts with “Neighbor, Neighbor” (# 65 pop, # 4 R&B), “I Worship the Ground You Walk On” (# 25 R&B), and “Why Not Tonight” (# 90 pop, # 5 R&B), before moving to the Atlantic label itself with “It Ain’t What You Got” (# 43 R&B, 1968).
Early in 1968, Hughes moved to Stax Records, where his recordings were issued on the subsidiary Volt label. His first record for the label, “I Like Everything About You”, reached # 21 on the R&B chart, but later records were less successful. At the time, Stax was undergoing a major reorganisation with new management and new artists. Although his records, including a 1969 album Something Special, were produced by label boss Al Bell, Hughes later stated that he felt like the “low man on the totem pole” at the label, and became frustrated by what he saw as a lack of promotion. He also tired of touring and being away from his family, and in 1970 gave up recording and performing. He retrained, and got a government job making parts for nuclear power plants in the Tennessee River Valley, in later years only singing as a member of the congregation of his local church in Leighton.
You can also enjoy his 3nd final LP “Something Special” in our back pages here.