Between 1962 and 1970, Jimmy Hughes only released three albums before retiring from music and withdrawing from public life. Why I hear you ask? The answer to that is quite simple, Jimmy became disillusioned that his music wasn’t being sufficiently promoted by Volt Records’ boss Al Bell, as well of becoming tired of touring and being away from his family. Instead, he took a job working for the US government making parts for nuclear power plants. After that, his only involvement in music was singing in his church choir. Sadly, Jimmy Hughes’ music never found the success of his cousin Percy Sledge. However, the three albums Jimmy Hughes recorded feature some excellent music. These albums were recorded for three of the best known record labels of the sixties Vee-Jay, Atco and Volt.

Someone who played an important part in Jimmy Hughes’ career was record producer Rick Hall of Fame Records. in 1962, Jimmy had auditioned for Rick Hall and he was so impressed that he recorded Jimmy’s debut single I’m Qualified, a track Rick had co-written with Quin Ivy. Before this, Jimmy’s only musical experience had been singing in the gospel quartet The Singing Clouds. This debut single was released on the Philadelphia label Guyden. After the single was recorded, Jimmy returned to his day job in a rubber factory,

Two years later, Jimmy and Rick Hall’s path’s crossed again, when Jimmy returned to Rick with a ballad he’d written Steal Away. The song based on the gospel song Steal Away To Jesus, was recorded in just one take. Little did Jimmy and Rick realize it, but this one song would help define the Muscle Shoals sound that become so hugely popular and famous. After recording the follow-up single Try Me, which reached number sixty-five in the US R&B Charts, an album entitled Steal Away was recorded. It was released in 1965 on the Vee-Jay label. On that album, are some of the first songs penned by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham.

After the release of his debut album, Jimmy toured with some of the great names in soul music, including Sam Cooke, Bobby Womack and Jackie Wilson. When Jimmy’s next few singles failed to build on the success of his first two singles, Jimmy was sidelined whilst Vee-Jay focused on acts like The Four Seasons and The Beatles. On the back of Jimmy’s cousin Percy Sledge’s successful classic single When A Man Loves A Woman, Rick Hall managed to get Jimmy a new deal for his label to be distributed by Atlantic. This coincided with an upturn in Jimmy’s fortunes. His next three singles on Fame, Neighbor, Neighbor reached number four in the US R&B Charts and sixty-five in the US R&B Charts in 1966, while I Worship the Ground You Walk On reached number twenty-five in the US Billboard 100. In 1967,  Why Not Tonight reached number five in the US R&B Charts and ninety in the US Billboard 100. Jimmy’s next single It Ain’t What You Got reached number forty-three in the US Billboard 100. It was 1967 that the album this article is about Why Not Tonight was released. After that, Jimmy only released one further album.

Jimmy’s third and final album Something Special was released on Volt Records in 1969. By now, Jimmy was disillusioned, having become fed-up being away from his family on tour. What didn’t help was his belief that Al Bell, who produced his album, hadn’t promoted his album sufficiently. He felt that other acts were being promoted much better than he was. His quote was he felt like the “low man on the totem pole,” described his feelings perfectly. After that, Jimmy decided enough was enough, and he returned to “civilian life,” after eight years in the music business. Although Jimmy Hughes career may not have had the longevity of his contemporaries, he produced three great albums. The second of those was Why Not Tonight, which I’ll now tell you about.

Why Not Tonight opens with the title track Why Not Tonight which opens with a combination of slow guitars, organ and rhythm section before Jimmy’s vocal enters. There’s a sense of sadness and longing in his voice as he asks how long will his girlfriend keep him waiting. Adding to the deeply sad and thoughtful sound are female backing vocalists whose voices rise in unison soulfully, against a slow, emotive arrangement that’s made up of piano, guitars and rhythm section. It’s a lovely slow song, full of emotion and longing, thanks to Jimmy’s vocal and the slow,  spartan arrangement.

The tempo increases with I’m A Man of Action written by Jimmy himself. Rasping horns combine with an organ, rhythm section and guitars, while Jimmy’s voice is strong and joyful. Behind him, the arrangement is quicker and fuller, with bursts of braying horns, a driving rhythm section adding drama, guitars and a wailing Hammond organ completing the chugging arrangement. Together, they combine to produce a faster, uptempo slice of sixties soul, featuring a joyous vocal from Jimmy and an equally, joyful arrangement, made all the better with the addition of rasping horns and punchy rhythm section.

I Worship the Ground You Walk On sees the tempo drop again, with a dramatic, emotive arrangement accompanying Jimmy’s deeply moving, besotted vocal. Rasping horns, piano, chiming and guitars combine with a slow rhythm section that provides the track’s heartbeat. The arrangement is laden with drama, thanks to short, sharp bursts of horns sitting atop the arrangement while Jimmy’s passionate, heart-rending vocal demonstrates how he could throw himself into a song, and in the process, bring the track to life. What really helps his vocal is Rick Hall’s arrangement. A slower tempo and looser, style with space left within the arrangement works perfectly. Add to that, Jimmy’s vocal and the result is a hugely moving track.

Neighbor, Neighbor was one of Jimmy’s hit singles reaching number four in the US R&B Charts and sixty-five in the US R&B Charts in 1966. There’s a real bluesy sound and feel to this dance-floor friendly track. The track has an old-fashioned sound featuring an upright bass, blazing horns, chiming guitars and drums accompanying Jimmy’s quicker swinging vocal. It’s a track that swings along, horns at the heart of the track’s success and Jimmy telling his neighbor that what goes on behind his door is his business, nobody else’s. Of the tracks on the album so far, this is easily the best, thanks to the tempo, style and lovely old-fashioned sounding arrangement.

Slow spacey drums, tambourine and guitars combine with Jimmy’s vocal, which is accompanied by backing vocalists at the start of It Was Nice. Their addition is a masterstroke, and it’s almost call and response they sing with Jimmy. Behind them, the tempo is slow, with a brief burst of horn cutting in, while guitars, rhythm section and tambourine complete the line-up. Jimmy meanwhile, sings about being deeply in love, almost infatuated by his lover. As a result, there’s a sense of bliss and joy in his vocal. This is the second of the three songs written by Jimmy on the album, and originally, it was the b-side of Jimmy’s 1965 single Goodbye My Lover Goodbye. Although maybe not single material, it’s a little gem of a track, with another joyous vocal from Jimmy and sympathetic arrangement by producer Rick Hall.

The second side of the original album is another Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham penned track, Slippin’ Around With You. This album was one of the first to feature songs by two men who’d become one of the most successful songwriting partnerships, Penn and Oldham. One of Rick Hall’s talents was being able gather around him a group of hugely talented writers and musicians. They were the latest writers to arrive at Fame and provided four tracks for Why Not Tonight. This is a quicker track, with flourishes of piano, bursts of blazing horns, driving rhythm section and female backing vocalists uniting soulfully before Jimmy’s quick, powerful and emotive vocal enters. During the track, the tempo is quick, space is at a premium in the arrangement which drives along a melange of horns, piano guitars and rhythm section accompanying Jimmy jubilant vocal. Although the track has the perfect Northern Soul tempo, it was his another Fame artists Art Freeman, whose version that gained popularity of the Northern Soul scene. However, Jimmy’s jubilant version would still go down well on many dance-floors today.

Bells chime as Midnight Affair dramatically and slowly reveals itself. It’s a tale of late night assignations sung and played slowly, with a piano, brief bursts of horns, chiming guitars, organ and slow, drama laden rhythm section that accompany Jimmy’s pleading, desperate vocal. Like the previous track, it’s a Penn and Oldham song, although a very different one. Of the two, I much prefer the drama and almost desperation in Jimmy’s vocal, set against a slow, dramatic and moody arrangement. It’s a track with a strong narrative that Jimmy brings brilliantly to life. 

It’s A Good Thing is the third in trio of Penn and Oldham tracks on side two. The track had been influenced by the music of The Impressions, whose music was hugely popular at this time. However, Jimmy pulls out a great vocal on this track, which is accompanied by an equally great Rick Hall arrangement. Backing vocalists open the track, bringing to mind the sound of The Impressions. They give way to bursts of horns, rhythm section and guitar, before Jimmy’s vocal. His voice is full of emotion as he sings about love, and wanting to be in love with a woman who doesn’t love him. Behind him, dramatic horns, cut in, while the backing vocalists almost serenade Jimmy, their voices the perfect accompaniment to his. Although people have said the song was influenced by The Impressions, I prefer to say that Jimmy was paying homage to them, on this excellent Penn and Oldham track.

Jimmy the lover man enters stage left on the far from subtle, somewhat salacious even concupiscent I’m the Loving Physician. Quick, soaring guitars, rhythm section and short stabs of horns accompany a boastful vocal from Jimmy. He’s joined by swooping female backing vocalists, who accompany Jimmy’s quick, confident vocal, while guitars and rhythm section drive the arrangement along. To me, it’s a good enough track, but lacks the lyrics lack the quality of the previous three tracks on side two. Maybe they’ve a lot to live up to, having been penned by Penn and Oldham. However, both the vocal and arrangement are good, it’s just the lyrics let the side down somewhat.

Why Not Tonight closes with I Stand Accused written by Jerry and William Butler with Curtis Mayfield. This is a trio of big names collaborating so much is expected of this composition. It doesn’t disappoint either. From the slow, emotive introduction that sees backing vocalists, a wailing Hammond organ, chiming guitars and the rhythm section accompany one of Jimmy’s best vocals on the album. It’s laden with emotion and feeling, with Jimmy’s sadness and regret almost tangible, because he loves a woman whose in love with another man. Behind him, Rick Hall’s arrangement is perfect for Jimmy’s vocal. Like the vocal, it has sound full of sadness and emotion because of the combination of the Hammond organ, chiming guitars and rhythm section. Add in the backing vocalists, and you’ve the complete package, the perfect backdrop for Jimmy’s vocal. This is a hugely emotional and quite beautiful track, one of the album’s highlights and perfect to close the album with.

Listening to Why Not Tonight?, it seems incredible that the album wasn’t a much bigger success. Jimmy Hughes has an excellent voice, and is one of the unsung heroes of soul music. His music deserved to be heard by a much wider audience, and it’s understandable that having recorded such an excellent album and failing to receive the commercial success it deserved, he became disillusioned by the music industry. On Why Not Tonight he had everything going for him. Great songs written by hugely talented songwriters like Penn and Oldham and the Butlers, Jerry and William with Curtis Mayfield, plus two he wrote himself, He was backed by some of the best musicians of the time, the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and had Rick Hall one of the best producers, producing the album. Despite all of this, the album wasn’t a huge success. After this album, Jimmy recorded just one more album Something Special, released on Volt. It wasn’t a commercial success, and wasn’t helped by what Jimmy saw as a lack of promotion, Jimmy quit the music industry. By then, he was tired of constant touring and being away from his family. Instead, he returned to “civilian life,” turning his back on music, apart from in the church. This was the music industry’s loss. That day, music lost a hugely talented singer and songwriter, someone who had so much more to offer musically. Thankfully, all three of Jimmy’s albums are now available on Kent Soul. Why Not Tonight can be found on Why Not Tonight? The Fame Recordings Volume 2. Steal Away The Early Fame Recordings is the first in the trio of rereleases, with Something Extra Special The Complete Recordings featuring Jimmy’s final album and the rest of the music he recorded for Volt. As usual, Kent have produced three excellent compilations, which allow those who want to hear Jimmy’s music either again, or for the first time, the opportunity to do so. So go on, treat yourself to three CDs’ of music from one of soul music’s unsung heroes. Standout Tracks: Why Not Tonight, I Worship the Ground You Walk On, It’s A Good Thing and I Stand Accused.


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    1. Jimmy Hughes : Why Not Tonight? (1967) | Mr. Moo's What Da Funk

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