(Born 25April/04, Sealy, TX-10Jun/09)
by Bill "Porkchop" Proctor
|He lived to be 105!
I owe my many years of friendship with Huey to Tiger Haynes (of Plink, Plank and Plunk, The Three Flames, The Broadway WIZ, plus many films and character parts on television). My wife and I took a Bermuda cruise in 1978 partly because an Ink Spot group were the entertainment offered on board. On the cruise we met Tiger. He was on leave from the Wiz, and we just seemed to hit it off. Stayed in touch after the cruise via letters and when he became aware of my obsession with the Ink Spots, he contacted Huey about writing to me. Finally met Huey the way we usually meet the greats of days gone by- at a memorial service in NYC for Tiger in 1994. After the service we courted our elderly gentleman friend for the remaining hours before flying back to New Hampshire.
We still keep in touch although he did move back to his "roots"
in Houston. In fact, he used to call every Mother's Day with a special
message to my wife. Yes, music does break down certain barriers better
than any other art form that I am aware of.
Would say that Huey's career began in 1925 playing banjo for Frank Davis' Louisiana Jazz Band in the Houston area. He had to change to guitar by 1933 with Texas Guinan's Cuban Orchestra in Chicago. By 1933 he was with Jesse Stone, the composer of "Shake, Rattle & Roll."
In 1935 I find him doing studio work with Richard M. Jones and his Jazz Wizards with four Decca cuts- "Bring It On Home To Grandma, Blue Reefer (Tin Roof) Blues, Muggin' The Blues, and I'm Gonna Run You Down." Still in Chicago in 1936, he joined Lil Armstrong for studio work that produced "Or Leave Me Alone, My Hi-De-Ho Man, Brown Gal, Doin' The Suzie Q, Just For A Thrill, and It's Murder" on the Decca label.
The Ink Spots recorded two of these tunes later, incidentally. He was the assistant arranger and conductor for Zilner Randolph with the WPA Concert and Swing Band in the late 30's. Randolph actually was the composer of at least one tune from the Lil Armstrong session.
In 1939, he joined Fletcher Henderson at the Sunset Cafe in Chicago replacing John Collins. Soon after, Fletcher brought him to New York. Unfortunately, Fletcher had to disband that group about 1940/41 after which Huey worked with Johnny Long's gig band. He then joined "Father" Hines to play with such notables as Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Parker, old Dizzy Gillespie and others. This band was eventually taken over by Mr. B. Musicians of the Swing Era tend to move around, and by 1944 Huey had formed his first trio that "lived" at the Three Deuces Cafe on 52nd Street in the city.
While playing at the Three Deuces Cafe in March of 1945, Huey was approached by Bill Kenny to join the Ink Spots. Regular guitarist Charlie Fuqua was in the Army, and Bill wanted Huey to replace Bernie Mackey who was filling in for Charlie. Huey told me that he and Herb Kenny joined at the same time and first appeared at the Paradise Theater in Detroit (the Ink Spots appeared there 29Mar-5Apr/45). He also said that Bill Kenny only wanted him to comp, not do the opening vamp, and add vocal support to the group. The Spots had not recorded anything since February of 45, and the new line up turned out "I'm Gonna Turn Off The Teardrops and I'll Lose A Friend Tomorrow" on 10/2, "The Sweetest Dream and Just For Me" on 10/3. They also did "Keep On The Sunny Side" which was never released, but a test pressing survives. Fuqua returned unexpectedly one night (on 26 Oct/45 at Glenn's Rendevous, Newport, KY) to take over his spot, which ousted Huey.
Bebop was catching on in 1946 and Huey did 2 studio sessions with Fats Navarro, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Al Haig, Gene Ramey and Denzil Best. Quite a change from the mellow "comping" with the Ink Spots, but Huey was a versatile artist who could do what they wanted for this style.
We find him in the Snub Mosley Band in England, 1952 entertaining the armed forces, and in Korea & Japan, 1953 with the Huey Long Trio on USO tours. Somewhere along the way he did some studio work with the Ravens. By the mid 50's he went to Los Angeles City College majoring in music with aspirations toward teaching, but only stayed for a few semesters. before he returned to New York.
After the ultimate break up of the original Ink Spots where Charlie Fuqua formed his own group, and Bill Kenny continued for a while with substitutes before doing a solo act, there suddenly sprouted many groups performing and recording as the Ink Spots. Deek Watson was responsible for some of these "spin-offs" that contained many artists with no connection to the original group. Huey was in one of these groups along with Orlando Roberson of fame with the Claude Hopkins Orchestra, Adriel Mac Donald who actually replaced Herb Kenny in the original group, and Walter Springer. They went into the Brookbound Lodge in CA on a handshake, and remained there for 2 years or so. Needless to say, they must have had quite a following in order to stay in one location for so long.
I think that Huey finally became home sick for New York, and departed with his pianist.
Here he devoted his time to teaching the intricate chord melody style that is so beautiful. Wish I was proficient enough to grasp it.
He moved back to Houston around 1996 in order to be closer to his family, but tragedy struck him with the death of a son he was planning to live with. He has very devout beliefs that no doubt helped him to settle in Houston. If you ever go to Houston, be sure to visit the Ink Spots Museum that is run by his daughter, Anita at 117 East 20th Street, Houston TX 77008, 713-677-9736. She sells photos, tapes, and guitar courses. Duke Ellington coined the phrase "Music Is My Mistress," but I feel that my friend Huey Long personifies it more aptly than any other musical icon today. Huey passed away on June 10, 2009 in Houston.
HUEY AT 101 YEARS
Revised - 12June/09