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WILLIE HUTCH SEPTEMBER 1973 INTERVIEW
THIS BROTHER'S WORKED IT OUT
MOTOWN'S PRESS release on Willie Hutch proudly quotes what Cash Box — the influential American music trade paper — said about his soundtrack to "The Mack" back in March. "Willie Hutch's "The Mack"," it says, "is quite possibly the best black orientated film music to date…" And whilst press releases are notorious for quoting things out of context, this is one occasion when everybody is seemingly in agreement.

In Europe, little or nothing is known about the movie and because Willie isn't a Curtis Mayfield or Isaac Hayes, exposure has been at a premium on the soundtrack album. So, let's put the record right straight away.

I won't go as far as to make a statement that I may regret afterwards but I cannot recall a soundtrack album that gave me more musical pleasure than this album. I haven't seen the movie but I now find myself in the position of looking forward to it — just to see if the musical moods that the talented creator has created match the moods of the film. I don't intend to actually review the album because it is reviewed elsewhere in this actual issue of B&S.

So, who is this young man who has stepped from relative obscurity to score the soundtrack to a full length movie?

Our hero lives in the city of his birth, Los Angeles, California, but he has lived eight of his 28 years in Dallas, Texas. It was in Dallas that he first became involved in music, singing with a group that he helped create during his teenage school years, calling themselves the Ambassadors. When he moved back to Los Angeles in 1963, Willie started involving himself more heavily in songwriting and singing.

He sang with a local group called the Phonetics and came to the attention of Lamont McLemore, who was one of the original members of the 5thi Dimension. Lamont liked some of the songs that Willie was writing — under his real full name of Willie Hutchison. This enabled Willie to join Soul City Records as a songwriter, artist and producer and in the 5th Dimension's early years, Willie was writing much of their material — including "California My Way", "I Just Wanta Be Your Friend", "Together Let's Find Love", and "I'll Be Lovin' You Forever".

As a recording artist, Willie had two releases on Soul City — "I Can't Fight The Power Of Your Love" and "I Can't Get Enough" — both of which were self-penned, though neither achieved any serious measure of success. During the same era, Willie wrote material for fellow Soul City recording artist, Al Wilson — including the beautiful "Who Could Be Lovin' You", as well as "Now I Know What Love Is" and "Getting Ready For Tomorrow", both 'B' sides on hits. He also penned material recorded by the company's owner, Johnny Rivers.

In 1968, Willie parted company with Soul City and shortly afterwards, the company folded. "I was primarily a writer in those days," Willie now recalls, "but I felt I wasn't getting my fair share as a recording artist. We parted on good and friendly terms but the company had, in my opinion, become orientated to certain types of singers and I didn't see myself fitting in completely with their plans."

Willie freelanced for a while, recording for Capitol and one or two other local Californian production companies, before he joined Venture Records as a producer. Venture was a subsidiary of MOM Records, their intended R&B arm and Willie was brought in to work with the Ballads. The group's biggest hit was a revival of an old Billy Butler record. "God Bless Our Love", which Willie co-produced with Jesse Mason. Willie wrote and co-produced — with William Stevenson "of Motown fame the 'B' side, "My Baby Knows How To Love Her Man".

Venture was quite quickly discontinued because of its apparent lack of commercial success and Willie formed his own publishing company, Mawil Publishing Company. The company's biggest credit was with "Let Yourself Go", the 'B' side to the Friends of Distinction's big hit, "Going In Circles". He then joined RCA, for whom he recorded and had released two full albums.

"They were completely different in concept," Willie explains, "with the first one, "Soul Portrait", being more like an Otis Redding style of approach. The second one, "Season For Love", was much more easy listening, like a Nat King Cole or Johnny Mathis.

"They both sold a little bit when they were released — that must have been in 1970, I would say. In fact, now that I've been a little successful, I hear tell that RCA is re-packaging them both to release over again. I'm happy because they do appear to have some commercial value. I liked them both at the time and when I've played them over since, they still sound good to me. The "Season For Love" one sold quite a few copies over the years, too, so some people must have thought there was something there.

After his experience with RCA, Willie sold his publishing company to the 5th Dimension. And he almost immediately came up with the concept for "I'll Be There", a song that took the Jackson 5 away from their familiar style and into a ballad vein — successfully because the record sold several million copies, topping the American charts in the latter months of 1970. It opened the door to Motown for Wilfie and he crept in. He also co-wrote "How Funky Is Your Chicken" on the "Third Album" for the J5.

When G. C. Cameron left the Spinners to go solo, Willie was chosen to produce his first sessions and they brought forth G.C.'s two biggest hits to date, "Act Like A Shotgun" and "What It Is, What It Is", both Willie Hutch original compositions.

His other contributions towards Motown during his two years with the company have included two songs written for the new Miracles' album; vocal arrangements for the Jackson 5 Christmas album; vocal arrangements and songs for sessions with Michael Jackson; recent sessions with Junior Walker. Two of the more outstanding moments during that time have been with new group, the Devastating Affair and with Smokey Robinson during work on Smokey's all-important first solo album.

"The Devastating Affair could be huge," Willie considers. "They are a cross between the Jackson 5 and the 5th Dimension, a sort of soul-gospel group but with enough flair to get over to the big time. There are five in the group, all young adults in their very early 20's — two girls, three guys." We shall have the opportunity of seeing this group when they tour here with Diana Ross during September.

The work with Smokey has perhaps been Willie's second most important break of the past year, "I considered it quite an honour," Willie admitted, "and it was certainly a great thrill. I was completely elated when he asked me to work on the whole album. You see, I had originally been asked to cut a couple of the original tracks but Smokey was so happy that he asked me to work on the whole album with him. Man, he was so easy to work with, it was really a great experience for me."

Smokey obviously is happy with the results because the back of the sleeve for the album, "Smokey", bears a picture of Willie and these words: "A very special thanks to Willie Hutch for contributing to this album his fantastic talents as a record producer."

Willie's 'contribution' was mainly in laying down the rhythm tracks so that Smokey could put his vocal down. Then Willie was instrumental in adding the horns and strings, too. "But in my eyes, it was totally 50/50 because although Smokey's involvement was mainly in the vocal tracks, we played off each other's creativity. Now, we're about to start work on the next album together."

All of which brings us round to Willie's own career as a solo artist. And that conveniently brings us to "The Mack". How did Willie land the plum job of scoring the movie?

An old friend, Eddie Theodorou, who manages the Sisters Love—yes, Willie was also the writer and co-producer of Sisters Love's big U.K. Soul hit, "Mr Fix-It Man"—heard that a movie company was looking for someone to do the score to an upcoming movie. The information had come about because he had managed to get Sisters Love featured in a spot in the movie already. Eddie immediately called the film director and told him in glowing terms about Willie.

The director man was obviously impressed by Willie's track record as a writer and producer and arranged for a special screening of the movie for Willie's benefit. Willie went straight home and composed the main theme and it was this foresight that gave him the edge over his competitors. Eddie has since become Willie's manager.

What is a 'mack"? "Well," a puzzled Mr Hutch began, "I was led to believe it was a word used in England for a street hustler. That's obviously not right so I guess I'll stick with the street hustler part! It's not like some of the other black movies because "The Mack" deals with dope and all the other things — but negatively. It's not even a happy ending sort of movie because everyone gets killed in the end. Now we are hoping to start work on the score for the sequel."

It's also worth noting that as well as singing on the soundtrack, Willie also composed every song, produced and arranged the whole lot — and, just for good measure, he also plays guitar on the album, too! The background singers, incidentally, include Carolyn Willie, so recently with the Honey Cone.

The initial single release on Willie for Motown was from the album, "Brother's Gonna Work It Out" and it climbed to the top ten of the American soul charts. It has just been released in this country. Meanwhile, a follow-up single from the soundtrack — "Slick" — has been released.

And, just a day or two before I spoke to Willie, he had just completed hs first studio album for Motown. "It's a love album basically," Willie explained, "and it's my chance to say something. I wrote all of the songs myself, too. It's something I've wanted to do for years, where I can create from day one, from complete scratch. You might have noticed — I'm very happy with it!"

The tracks on this album will include "I'll Be There", "California My Way", "I Wanna Be Where You Are" and a beautiful ballad entitled "I Just Wanted To Make Her Happy".

It's fairly obvious that Willie Hutch knows where he is headed — he is one brother who has most certainly worked it out for himself.


  
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