Because you can never have too much Teddy Huffam (big h/t, Grigs):
I wasn’t sure about the details of the clip, so I asked around a bit for some help. A friend of mine replied:
This is from Live In Orlando - Teddy Huffam and the Gems. For a period of time in the late 80’s /early 90’s, Teddy and the Kingsmen appeared together quite a bit. Big crowd draw. They did separate sets then a joint one or, more often, Teddy would, near the end of his set, bring Anthony out to play piano, etc. until they were all on stage together. Teddy was probably as good with an audience as Hamill and, when you got them both on the same stage it was amazing. They would competitively switch out stage control, song to song, each building on the previous… live band required and they both had ‘em and they totally knew each other’s material and could change anything at anytime during a song. That was truly an art unto itself that no longer exists in our genre.
On one level, this kinda thing just has to be enjoyed: Burger is so young … Foxy’s piece is so bad … Huffam is so in command, the way he bends the song to his voice and takes possession of it stylistically – or, in his words, turns this southern gospel standard “a little black.”
More than a little, I’d say, but not a lot, either. That is, it’s the hybridized nature of the arrangement that’s fascinating to me. Huffam declares the song “a little black” almost before it gets started, but that remark says less about the opening bars and more about the need for a black singer to manage the expectations of a largely white evangelical audience, put them at ease even as he telegraphs to them that while this won’t be entirely unfamiliar, it won’t be straight-ahead sg either.
At any rate, there’s no great black gospel influence at work in the introduction. The rhythm is laid down in fairly conventional southern gospel style. True, it’s much slower than the Kingsmen would normally take the tune (the dazzling bass guitar lines keep the beat moving along, and prevent the pace from slackening), but “slow” doesn’t come in just one color. Rather, it’s Huffam’s particular way of singing behind, ahead of, and around the beat that largely accounts for the song’s feeling “a little black.” Notice also that the three voices added in the chorus never join the lead to harmonize in a traditional southern-gospel ensemble (as some key passages of the choruses do in more traditional sg arrangements), but sing only contrapuntal BGVs that echo the lead.
At the same time, the song is many ways classic white gospel in the style the Kingsmen immortalized. Skip ahead to around 3:28 and listen through to around the 3:38 mark and you’ll hear how just as the tune has picked up into double time and you’re ready for the ending to blow the gates wide open, everything gets dialed back: the rhythm returns to quarter time, the voices reduce their dynamic levels by half, the instruments back way off. This now-classic move builds enormous tension and anticipation, and Huffam has the natural-born showman’s sense of how to milk each line and note for maximum suspense – leaning forward a little, as if to suggest listen closely, friends, or you might miss the best part. Fat chance. This is a Kingsmen song after all … but still … I leaned in just a little, anyway.
All of which makes the ending of this particular song pretty disappointing. It’s as if the hybrid styles and approaches canceled each other out. Black gospel songs typically achieve their ultimate dramatic effect through long rubato endings wherein improvised vocals spool out elaborate freestyle runs and scats around the tonic of the chord, usually established by a choir or set of background vocals. On the other hand, white gospel, as we all know, relies on delayed harmonic resolutions and flamboyantly staggered endings that don’t so much prolong the final bars of the song as suspend musical time and fill the space with vertiginously resolved dissonances. Here, we get neither, as if no one really knew what to do … and so the song just sort of stops. But thanks to YouTube, Teddy lives on.
PS: Does anyone else think Huffam looks a little like the actor who plays Clay Davis on The Wire?Email this Post