Jimmy Hughes CDs might seem like the proverbial London bus, in that you wait ages for one and then three come along in quick succession. But his repertoire for Fame and Volt is so highly regarded by the soul cognoscenti that too much Jimmy Hughes can never be enough. The two Kent volumes of Fame recordings are now joined by a third CD that covers Jimmy’s time with Stax subsidiary Volt, at the end of the 1960s.
Although his career never flourished on Volt like he and Stax hoped it would, the label released several singles and “Something Special”, a fine album which demonstrated that Jimmy was ready to take what he had achieved at Fame to the next level. Unfortunately the rise to superstardom of his labelmates Isaac Hayes and Johnnie Taylor, and the ongoing success of Stax stalwarts Eddie Floyd and William Bell, pushed him down the pecking order. When his first offerings failed, his career suffered. In a little over two years, Stax released just 13 recordings on Jimmy. But like so many other acts, he recorded far more than was actually released. In his case, the Stax ledgers show a possible 17 unissued sides, three of which exist in backing track form only. The remaining 14 all appear here for the first time. You will hear that they were not shelved owing to lack of quality. The songs are great, the singing even greater. Had he scored a hit with any of his issued material, it’s doubtful that so many would have remained in the can for as long as they have.
Stax recorded Jimmy at Sam Phillips, at Ardent, in the McLemore Avenue building and, most successfully, at Royal Studios where he cut six sides that are the equal of anything that would soon be cut there by O.V. Wright, Otis Clay, Al Green or any other member of the redoubtable Hi Records roster. But Stax had lost interest in Jimmy by the time of that session and the two sides that were issued got lost in the shuffle. With concentrated promotion, the others could have returned him to the top. Instead, when his final Volt single failed to chart, Jimmy called time on his career and retired – just like that.
“Something Extra Special” brings together all 27 of Jimmy’s Volt titles. Sadly it also brings the curtain down on Kent’s restoration to catalogue of every surviving Jimmy Hughes recording. It’s been my personal pleasure to have assembled and annotated the three CDs that we’ve put out, and to have helped to turn the spotlight back on to a somewhat neglected pioneer of Southern Soul. Jimmy might never have achieved the worldwide popularity of his contemporary Otis Redding or his cousin Percy Sledge, but this collection and its two predecessors prove conclusively that his relative lack of mainstream success was in no way due to lack of talent – or no soul.
By Tony Rounce