One of the brightest stars in the uptown soul firmament, Tommy Hunt, has just been celebrated by Ace’s Kent Records on a new collection filled with rare and previously unheard material. The Complete Man: 60s NYC Soul Songs follows up the label’s The Biggest Man with a second dip into his recordings for New York indie Scepter Records as well as Capitol, Atlantic, and Dynamo.
Born in 1933 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tommy Hunt’s family settled in Chicago during his formative years. But difficulties plagued him. He served in the U.S. Air Force but went AWOL after receiving the news of his mother’s terminal illness. He spent time in jail for his desertion, but returned to Chicago with hopes of a brighter future. There, he first pursued singing as a career. With his group The Five Echoes, Hunt recorded for the Chance, Sabre and Chess labels; soon, he was deputized to fill in for a recently-drafted member of The Flamingos. Hunt was with the group for their biggest hit, the 1959 revival of “I Only Have Eyes for You,” and its success gave him the ammunition to seek a solo career. Luther Dixon signed Hunt to Florence Greenberg’s Scepter label in 1960, and “Human,” the original B-side of his very first 45, went Top 5 R&B. Hunt worked with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as well as Ed Townsend, Dixon, Bacharach and David at Scepter; for the latter team, he introduced the supremely sad “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself.” Hunt moved to Atlantic in 1965, and the next year went to Capitol before reuniting with Dixon at Dynamo. He also recorded with Jimmy “Wiz” Wisner and Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams there.
Hunt’s deep, resonant voice could hold its own against the plush orchestral backdrops of strings and horns which so frequently enhanced his records – quintessential slices of “uptown soul.” The Complete Man begins with his one-off singles for Atlantic and Capitol. At the former label, he teamed with writer Van McCoy and producer Carl Davis in Chicago for two dramatic, sublime slow-burners, “I Don’t Want to Lose You” and “Hold On.” At Capitol, Al Cleveland and Jimmy Radcliffe supplied him with the insistent promise “I’ll Make You Happy,” while Cleveland also penned the funky, brassy flip “The Clown” with Dorothy Campbell, Arthur Crier, and Gerald Perkins. Another A-list team, arranger Bert DeCoteaux and producer Marvin Holtzman, helmed the session – but like the Atlantic tracks, the single inexplicably went nowhere.
A clutch of newly-discovered Scepter recordings are at the heart of this collection including ballads (Dixon and McCoy’s insinuating, impassioned “Lonely for You,” the breezy, Sam Cooke-esque “One of These Days” and lightly Latin “Who You Gonna Thrill Tonight”), uptempo stompers (“Never Love a Robin,” also recorded at Dynamo by Barbara and Brenda), and everything in between (the spare “What’s the Matter Baby,” also by Dixon and McCoy, the doo wop-influenced “Girls Are Sentimental”).
Another upbeat dancer, “The Pretty Part of You,” has previously appeared on an Ace/Kent anthology but never before on a Tommy Hunt CD. Some lesser-known Scepter recordings are also reprised here, such as the swinging “Work Song” and other tracks which veer from the classy soul/R&B template like the boisterously jazzy R&B of “You’re So Fine,” jumpy “I’m with You” (with its barrelhouse piano) and the majestic, string-drenched pop ballad “The Door Is Open” from the team of Helen Miller and Freddie Scott. “Son, My Son” is another unusual, decidedly non-commercial cut, with Hunt taking on a gentle tone for the earnest ballad of paternal concern. Tony Bruno’s “How Young Is Young” veers from quiet to bombastic, with Hunt navigating each turn with aplomb.
For Dynamo, Jimmy “Wiz” Wisner arranged the booming title track “A Complete Man” and Hunt’s fine 1968 remake of his signature “Human,” a bit looser than the original (dropping its prominent choir and adding an up-front organ) but no less moving. At Dynamo, Hunt’s versatility was fully tapped on tracks like the torrid “Searchin’ for Love” and Jerry Williams’ raucous “Searchin’ for My Baby (Lookin’ Everywhere),” not to mention an R&B-inflected cover of John Barry and Don Black’s Academy Award-winning film theme “Born Free” and Ervin Drake’s inspirational “I Believe,” a most fitting conclusion to this collection.
The accompanying 20-page booklet features biographical liner notes by compiler Ady Croasdell, and Nick Robbins has done a customarily fine job remastering. The Complete Man is available now at the links below!
- I Don’t Want to Lose You (Atlantic 2278, 1965)
- Hold On (Atlantic 2278, 1965)
- I’ll Make You Happy (Capitol 5621, 1966)
- The Clown (Capitol 5621, 1966)
- Lonely For You (rec. 1964, previously unreleased on CD)
- The Pretty Part of You (rec. 1964, rel. Kent LP 069. 1987)
- Never Love a Robin (Dynamo 101, 1967)
- The Work Song (Scepter 1231, 1962) (*)
- What’s the Matter Baby (rec. 1962, previously unreleased)
- One of These Days (rec. 1962, previously unreleased) (*)
- Who You Gonna Thrill Tonight (rec. 1962, previously unreleased)
- And I Never Knew (Scepter 1236, 1961) (*)
- Human (from Dynamo LP DS 8001, 1968) (*)
- Searchin’ for Love (Dynamo 110, 1967)
- The Complete Man (Dynamo 110, 1967)
- Searchin’ for My Baby (Lookin’ Everywhere) (Dynamo 113, 1967)
- I Need a Woman of My Own (Dynamo 113, 1967)
- You’re So Fine (from Scepter LP SLP 506, 1962)
- I’m with You (Scepter 1261, 1963)
- The Door Is Open (Scepter 1226, 1961)
- How Young Is Young (Scepter 1275, 1964)
- Girls are Sentimental (rec. 1962, previously unreleased)
- Son, My Son (Scepter 1252, 1963)
- Born Free (Dynamo 124, 1968)
- I Believe (from Dynamo LP DS 8001, 1968)