To many, they defined the term "one hit wonder," but The Hues Corporation is more appropriately remembered as an act that helped define 70s pop and soul via one of that decade's truly great hits. "Rock the Boat," was not only one of the most infectious, likeable singles of the 70s, it was a song that kept The Hues Corporation -- in multiple lineups -- performing for more that thirty years.
The Hues Corporation came together in Santa Monica, California in the late 60s. The group, consisting of St. Clair Lee, Karl Russell and Ann Kelley, was put together with the help of songwriter Wally Holmes. With a sense of irony, they named their trio after billionaire Howard Hughes (but with the spelling changed to avoid legal problems). After a few minor recordings and a track in the Blacula movie soundtrack, Russell was replaced by Fleming Williams (from my hometown of Flint, Michigan), who took over as lead singer.
By 1972 The Hues Corporation was a regular sight on the Las Vegas club circuit, when they were signed by an executive from RCA Records. Their 1973 RCA debut single, "Freedom for the Stallion," was a moderate pop hit, but it was the follow-up, the monster "Rock the Boat," that created the band's lasting legacy, shooting to number one on both the pop and soul charts. It was an exquisite pop song, incredibly hooky and with a fine lead vocal by Fleming and harmonies that went on for days. It also boasted a new, danceable sound that became a forerunner to the disco beats that would arise soon after.
Unfortunately, after the chart-topping hit, the trio went to the same well again with the follow-up, "Rockin' Soul," a virtual carbon copy of "Rock the Boat," taking some of the steam out of their young recording career. Williams then left the group, with Karl Russell returning.
The act had a couple more minor hits with "Love Corporation" and "I Caught Your Act," but by 1978 their recording career was over.
Interest in the group’s past success led to St. Clair Lee assembling a reconstituted Hues Corporation (with Bruce Glover and Elaine Woodard) to perform around the world in multi-artist oldies shows. The group continued until Lee’s 2011 death.
Though the Hues Corporation will ultimately be remembered for a single hit, what a hit it was. “Rock The Boat” still sounds fresh decades after its release, allowing this talented trio to live on.
By Chris Rizik