70s Music

The Hues Corporation – “Rock the Boat”

Introduction to the Hues Corporation

The Hues Corporation
American disco group The Hues Corporation in 1970. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Hues Corporation were an American soul/pop/disco act known for their #1 1974 hit “Rock The Boat,” which were one of the earliest disco hits. They started out in their career as three singers and three side musicians. 1972 was an eventful year for the band when a big break came – they were asked to appear in the movie Blacula, as well as record a handful of songs for its soundtrack. Later on they were signed to RCA Records, where they released the first single “Freedom For The Stallion” which turned out to be a modest success.

The follow-up single “Rock The Boat”, however, became a massive hit in 1974, leading to its highest peak of the Hot 100 that year as well as a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (R.I.A.A). Their subsequent singles – “Rockin’ Soul”, “Love Corporation” and “I Caught Your Act” went nowhere near the achievement as “Rock The Boat” did, although they became a big hit on the dance and R&B charts. The Hues Corporation split up in 1978, but got together again in the 1990s as interest in the disco genre re-ignited.

The Hues Corporation’s early showbiz career

Artists St. Clair Lee (born Bernard St. Clair Lee in 1944), Fleming Williams (born in 1943), and Hubert Ann Kelley (born in 1947) formed the Hues Corporation in Santa Monica, California in 1969. The group also had three side musicians: Joey Rivera (previously from the Checkmates), Monti Lawson and Bob “Bullet” Bailey. All of their three sidemen later formed their own act called Goodstuff.

They used to be the opening act for many stars, including Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Glen Campbell, Milton Berle, Flash Cadillac, Ike Turner and Delaney Bramlett. Their group devised their name “Hues Corporation,” a play on the word “Hughes Corporation.” This denoted the group’s African-American lineage.

 

 

Soundtrack work on the film “Blacula,” and their first album “Freedom for the Stallion”

The Hues Corporation’s big break came in 1972 when they were invited to record three songs for the soundtrack of the blaxploitation film Blacula: “There He Is Again,” “What the World Knows,” and “I’m Gonna Catch You.”

Through their work in the film, the Hues Corporation signed a recording deal with RCA Victor. They released their first single on that label, “Freedom for the Stallion,” written by renowned artist Allen Toussaint. The single was also the title track of the band’s first LP, released in 1973.

“Freedom for the Stallion” was a a minor pop hit, at #63. It fared much better on the adult contemporary chart, at #9.

 

 

“Rock the Boat” – a signature hit

Freedom for the Stallion‘s next single was “Rock the Boat,” written by Wally “Waldo” Holmes who also penned some of Blacula’s songs. The song gave the Hues Corporation their biggest hit. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974. It also went to #2 on the R&B singles chart, #12 adult contemporary, #5 dance and #6 on the British chart. With its danceable tune, “Rock the Boat” is considered one of the first-ever disco hits.

In the wake of “Rock the Boat”‘s success, some personnel shifts occurred with Tommy Brown replacing Fleming Williams.

The success of “Rock the Boat” brought the album Freedom for the Stallion to #20 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and #59 on the Billboard black albums chart.

 

Later career, disbandment and reunion

In the wake of “Rock the Boat”‘s success, some personnel shifts occurred with Tommy Brown replacing Fleming Williams.

The success of “Rock the Boat” brought the album Freedom for the Stallion to #20 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and #59 on the Billboard black albums chart.

In 1974 the Hues Coporation released their sophomore effort Rockin’ Soul, which featured its title track as a single. It went to Billboard top 20 at #18, and #5 on the dance chart, and #6 on the R&B singles chart. It also went to #6 on the UK singles chart.

Their following efforts seemed clear that they were having difficulty in duplicating the success of “Rock the Boat.” Another change in the lineup occurred, with Brown (who had earlier replaced Williams) leaving and Karl Russell taking his place.

From their following singles “Love Corporation” and “I Caught Your Act,” it is clear that the band was losing steam, so to speak. The Hues Corporation disbanded in 1977. They got together again in the 1990s as interest in the disco genre re-ignited

Original group member Fleming Williams died in 1998, and founding member St. Clair Lee passed away in 2011. Although that they had no more major hits during their heyday, at least they left one great legacy to the music industry — their classic hit “Rock the Boat.”

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