The Spaniels' great 'Pookie' Hudson left us five years ago

10/12/2012, 4:17 p.m.
"When you kiss me baby, oh, you make me feel so good. Well, I know...
Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B

"When you kiss me baby, oh, you make me feel so good. Well, I know I love you baby, baby cause I should..."-

The Spaniels, "Baby, It's You" (Vee-Jay Records, 1953)

Five years ago, on Jan. 16, 2007, the great James "Pookie" Hudson-the best lead singer in original Black rhythm and blues-passed away at 72. Over the last 16 years of his life, we became close personal friends and he inspired my 1995 authorized biography, "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight: The Story of the Spaniels."

Known far and wide simply as Pookie, he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004, and music organizations provided financial help for his treatment. The Clifton, N.J.-based United in Group Harmony Association, run by the late Ronnie "I" Italiano, led the way.

Hudson had resumed performing with the legendary vocal group after undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. He made a special New York appearance on Oct. 21, 2005, at Queensborough Community College in a doo-wop and oldies variety show sponsored by Chief Osceola Townsend and his National Alliance of Native Americans.

Billed as "A Tribute to Pookie Hudson of the Spaniels," the show was hosted by famous DJ Bobby Jay of WCBS-FM, who was the dynamite bass man of the Laddins and later with the Teenagers. Jay warmly and lovingly introduced Hudson from the stage.

Two weeks earlier, on Oct. 8, 2005, in my hometown of Milwaukee as my wife Susan looked on from the wings, I was privileged to introduce Hudson with the original Spaniels in "The Ultimate Doo-Wop Show" at the venerable Pabst Theater. I loved it.

On Jan. 21, 2007, I took part in a two-hour radio tribute to Hudson and the late Gerald Gregory, the Spaniels' matchless bass singer, on Ken Held's "Doo-Wop Shop" live on the Internet via WLVJ-AM in South Florida. In 1989, Held and I talked by phone on his show, prompting a call from Hudson, which led to my authorized biography of the group.

In recent years, Hudson's most notable national gig was on December 1999's PBS telecast of "Doo-Wop 50," marking 50 years of original Black rhythm and blues. Jerry Butler's introduction bespeaks how he was revered in the R&B community.

To wit: "This man, who is going to head this group, is the prototype of Aaron Neville. He is the original ice man. He is unbelievable. So join me for one of the real legends of doo-wop and any other music you can think of. Welcome Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels."

Hudson burst forth at 19 in 1953 with the Spaniels' haunting "Baby, It's You"-still R&B's finest record. His silky smooth voice set the standard for male group lead singers.

I first met Hudson on Feb. 21, 1991-proclaimed by Mayor David Dinkins as "Rhythm and Blues Day in New York"-when the Spaniels received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. We got together again June 8, and finalized plans for the book prior to the "25th Royal Doo-Wop Show" at Radio City Music Hall, where my wife Janice and I watched the Spaniels wow an almost all-white audience.