It is with a heavy heart that I pass along the news of the passing of Pookie Hudson. Chances are you have no idea who this man was. He wrote one of the greatest songs of the Rock N' Roll era. I was honored to meet this wonderful person and see him perform before he passed and I have never forgotten it.
JAMES "POOKIE" HUDSON, SPANIELS' LEAD, DIES AT 72
R&B Veteran Wrote "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight"
James "Pookie" Hudson, the founder and lead singer of the influential
1950s rhythm and blues vocal group the Spaniels, died Tuesday,
January 16, 2006, at his home in Capital Heights, Maryland. He was
72 and had been ill with metastatic lung cancer.
Born in Des Moines, Iowa on June 11, 1934, Thornton James Hudson
moved to Gary, Indiana at the age of 2 and grew up in the city. He
began singing locally in church choirs before being approached by his
Roosevelt High classmates, bass Gerald "Bounce" Gregory and second
tenor Willie C. Jackson, to appear with them in a Christmas-time
talent show in 1952.
The three soon added first tenor Ernest Warren and baritone Opal
Courtney, Jr. and rechristened themselves the Spaniels. In the
spring of 1953, the group signed with Vivian Carter and Jimmy
Bracken's new Vee Jay label where their first release, the
bluesy "Baby It's You", reached #10 on the national R&B charts after
being leased to the more established Chance firm.
The quintet's signature tune, "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight", was
recorded on September 23, 1953. "The only song that they (ever) made
us do was 'Goodnight, Sweetheart.' We didn't want to do that,"
Hudson recalled. "I wrote 'Goodnight, Sweetheart' about 1951, '52.
I was going with this girl named Bunny Jean Davis. I would go to her
house and I'd stay until her mother got tired of that. She
said, `Look, son, your mama might not care about you being out after
12 o'clock, but she didn't mean for you to be here after 12 o'clock.
So I had to leave. I used to walk home from her house, and as I
walked, I put 'Goodnight, Sweetheart' together. We just did it for
the fun of it. I took it to the group and they put it together. But
we never thought it would be a song. They made us do it. We went
into the studio at 9 o'clock one night and we didn't get out until
the next morning at 9 o'clock doing 'Goodnight, Sweetheart' 'cause we
really didn't want to do it! But we ended up doing it and the rest
"Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite" (Vee Jay had to switch it
to "Goodnite" due to the threat of legal action from the publishers
of the Noble-Campbell-Connelly standard, "Goodnight Sweetheart") was
issued in March of 1954 and debuted on Billboard's R&B chart in May,
remaining there all summer. The record peaked at #5, spending 16
weeks on the chart. Opening with Gregory's "do-do-do-do-do" bass
line, it was a well-polished, first rate performance with a creamy,
quixotic lead vocal from Hudson. "Goodnite" would go on to become an
R&B standard, closing countless dances and record hops over the years.
No less than eight pop artists churned out cover versions of the song
in the spring of 1954, led by the McGuire Sisters, who hit #7 on
Billboard's pop charts while the original peaked at #24. "White
radio stations didn't play black records then," Hudson
explained. "They played white artists, and so we were limited to the
black audience and black stations. There are a lot of people who are
under the impression that the McGuire Sisters first
recorded 'Goodnite, Sweetheart'."
Despite a string of influential and successful recordings
including "You Painted Pictures", "You Gave Me Peace Of
Mind", "Everyone's Laughing", "You're Gonna Cry", "Stormy Weather",
and "I Know", extending into 1960, the Spaniels, who underwent
various personnel changes over the years, failed to reap the
financial rewards due them.
As a solo artist, Hudson recorded several singles in the early 1960s
including "I Know, I Know", backed by the Imperials, which reached
the lower rungs of the national pop charts in May of 1963. Hudson
and a revamped Spaniels group returned to the best seller lists
with "Fairy Tales" in 1970, and frequented oldies shows throughout
the country. In 1960, Hudson relocated to Washington, D. C., and
later lived in Philadelphia before returning to Gary in 1979.
Over the years, the Spaniels went to court on numerous occasions in
an effort to collect owed royalties. "I never lost the rights
to 'Goodnite, Sweetheart'," Hudson explained. "They tried not to pay
me for it, but I finally got a lawyer that killed that. Hudson, the
group's principal songwriter, regularly received songwriting
royalties from his compositions, including "Goodnite, Sweetheart,
The Spaniels and many of the vocal groups of the 1950s have a right
to be angry and bitter over their treatment by record company
charlatans. Despite the wrongs of the past, Hudson made his peace
with Vivian Carter. "I was a little angry for a while. They had
been having the hog and I was on welfare, and they were living off my
talent. But as I got older, I realized when you hold grudges you
only hurt yourself. You take away your life trying to worry about
something or hope that something happens to somebody else. So I went
to the nursing home and me and her sat down and talked. She forgave
me and I forgave her."
In February, 1991, Hudson the Rhythm and Blues Foundation honored the
original Spaniels with its' Pioneer Award. Along with a plaque, the
group received a check for $20,000. Hudson, Ernest Warren, Opal
Courtney, Willis C. Jackson, and Gerald Gregory reunited for the
occasion, motivated four of the original members to regroup. With
Billy Shelton replacing Warren, the Spaniels traveled to England for
a week that year. "It was great," Hudson remembers. "You talk about
kids, they were 24, 23 (years old). They knew all the words, they
knew the songs. Some of them could hardly speak English. They were
from Japan, all other countries."
In 1992, the group was inducted into the United in Group Harmony
Association Hall of Fame and returned to England for additional
appearances. Despite the number of personnel changes over the years,
the key to the Spaniels successful sound, the dynamic interplay
between Hudson and Gregory amidst a strong harmonic background,
remained intact for 45 years. The pair last worked together at a
UGHA event in New Jersey in November of 1998. On February 12, 1999,
Gregory died of brain cancer at the age of 64.
In his last years Hudson worked tirelessly to keep the Spaniels' name
in the limelight, often working with a quartet of newer members based
in the Washington, D. C. area. They appeared together in the hugely
successful 1999 PBS-TV concert show, "Doo Wop 50" and a 2005 follow-
up, "Doo Wop Vocal Group Greats Live". Hudson's life and career were
also featured in several books.
"I ain't gonna slow down until they start throwing the dirt in my
face and say, 'you're through'," Hudson declared recently. Diagnosed
with a rare form of cancer in 2004, he underwent chemotherapy and
radiation treatments and briefly returned to performing before
falling ill again in the fall of 2006. "All of the people who wrote
to me, prayed for me, donated, and thought of me through my illness
were so important. I really appreciate it."
(c) 2007-Todd Baptista- All Rights Reserved.