Huff, Theo #176 [English]

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Theo Huff. Photo: Mike Stephenson

Interview of this very young Chicago based soul/blues singer by Mike Stephenson took place in Chicago in June 2011 at the singers South side home. Many thanks go to Jim Feeney for arranging the interview.

It all started when I was in High school when I was five years old I was actually living with my grandmother at that time and I always had a gift for sounds I used to make bows, glasses anything around me to try and beat the drums with and that’s how I knew I wanted to do something with music but I just didn’t know how I was going to get it out. From that I started singing from church as well from the age of five at 200 S. Sacramento it’s called Walls Memorial CME Church and I was singing with Walls Memorial Choir. I was born in Chicago July 10th 1988 on the West side of the city. I am a very fast learner and caught up fast with the sounds around me and I took that and I was creative with it. When I got to fourteen I started doing talent shows and there was a guy named Jimmy Tillman he is a great drummer and has played behind Jimmy Reed and Willie Dixon and others he helped me and groomed me with the knowledge of music because he was my music teacher at Western House High school. I appeared at High school talent shows I would sing gospel and r&b and blues and I started off singing Sam Cooke and his ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ that was the first song I learnt.

I like rap and hip hop but my heart is in blues and r&b as there is a message there in the music. The first time I got on the stage and sang r&b a lot of people stereotyped me as they thought I was going to do rap. After that I started to have different crowds coming to see me. I was inspired by Sam Cooke, Tyrone Davis, Bobby Rush, Johnny Taylor, B.B. King and many others. When I got with Jimmy Tillman he introduced me to Jackie Taylor from the Theatre Of Black Ensemble she is a professional actress and she took me under her wing and she taught me how to improve my stage performance and I still do shows with her from time to time. My number one pusher from day one is my mother and she helped me get out of that shy mode I thank her for doing that.

My career developed in the theatre at the Black Ensemble Theatre my first major play was ‘The Sensational Soulful Sixties’ and I imitated artists like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Sam and Dave and David Ruffin. It was a very powerful story about people who put the fire into soul music. I was very happy to do something like that. I was in that Black Ensemble Theatre ever since I was fourteen and I’m still involved with it up to now. That is still my home. The Black Ensemble Theatre is a group that helps young people when they get into trouble at school and teaches them the art of music and you would be surprised how many kids love music and that keeps them out of trouble because a lot of people are taking time out to help them. That music pretty much saved my life and I was blessed enough to be involved with it.

I started hitting every open mic night in Chicago all over Chicago which helped promote me and people liked what I was doing and that helped connect me to certain people and some started to book me on shows. I did some shows at The East Of The Ryan in Chicago with the Scott Brothers band. That family took me under their wing and showed me how to improve on my music and music directing and I was blessed to be in that circle with them. Cicero Blake, Stan Mosley, Otis Clay and Bobby Rush, Garland Green have all helped me and I had the priviledge to open up for Gene Chandler and then Denise LaSalle and also Willie Clayton at their shows in Chicago. I’ve opened up for Sir Charles Jones in St. Louis. I mixed with Millie Jackson and I’ve watched each one of them and learnt from each one of them and made it the Theo Huff style.

I play anywhere where they pay me. One of my favourite clubs in Chicago is The Touch Of The Past in Bellwood and another is Lee’s Unleaded Blues but my main goal is to get established at Buddy Guy’s club. I have a regular band that I work with. I have two separate bands that I work with. I also have The Masheen Company with Ronnie Hicks support me sometimes and I also have The Platinum Band support me as well and sometimes Walter Scott And The World Band.

I have a CD out called ‘Now Is The Time’ and how that happened was I was doing a show with Howard Scott and he introduced me to Rick Lucas and he was interested in me and liked the way I perform and work the stage so we got to talking and he helped me put out my CD and he produced it and wrote some of the numbers on there. I’m definitely trying to reach out to young people to get into this music. It is starting to work as I see in some clubs mothers bringing their sons just to see me. I’ve had some young folks say that they are inspired by me and I have brought two young guys that told me that up on stage with me to sing as this is what happened to me people helped me. Latimore wrote a couple of songs with Rick Lucas for me called ‘It’s A Good Thang I Met You’ and ‘Lush For Love’ and they are on the CD and he played the keyboards on those numbers. The CD was recorded here in Chicago at a studio owned by Jim Sims. I was very honoured to be helped by these people who are behind the scene such as Paul Richmond, Hollywood Scott and I’ve learnt from each and every one of them. I wrote some numbers on the CD ‘Crush’ and ‘Don’t Waste My Time’ and me and Rick Lucas wrote ‘I Want You Back’. I wrote ‘Crush’ when I was at High school when I had a crush on a girl and I didn’t know how to tell her so I put it in a song. I’m still writing songs about the things that happen to me.

The CD has helped get my name known better and some labels are starting to show an interest in me such as CDS Records. At the moment I have to work a day job as well as playing music. I work in a warehouse doing manufacturing saw blades and such things.

This music needs young people to keep it going as some of the established artists are getting on in years and blues and soul is here to stay. I learnt how to work the stage from the Black Ensemble Theatre they train you how to sing and dance at the same time so I took that and put it in my shows. I’m trying to get my music out in the Southern states of the US. Chicago needs an r&b radio station and so many people want that in Chicago as our music struggles to get exposure. I’m starting to learn how to play the guitar just to pick some chords as my main thing is vocals. Playing the guitar would help me with my writing.

Taggar: Southern soul, English

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