Gerald Gregory would be leaning over Pookie's shoulder with that deep voice. He'd shake the room. Thornton James Hudson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1934 but the family moved to a housing project in Gary, Indiana, when he was two. He acquired the nickname of Pookie because he would regularly soil his trousers, a name that unfortunately stayed with him. His relations included Fats Waller and Josephine Baker and he became immersed in music at a young age, loving the vocal harmonies of the Ink Spots.
He sang in church and in his late teens he was singing in clubs as part of the Three B's, their repertoire being bop, ballads and blues. He experienced racism at a young age, giving this example, The swimming pool was used by white kids from Monday to Thursday and by blacks on Friday. Before the whites could swim again, it had to be drained and refilled. A teacher at Roosevelt High School asked him to form a group for a Christmas show and he was so pleased with the results that he formed a close harmony group with himself as lead vocalist, Ernest Warren (first tenor), Opal Courtney Jnr (baritone), Willis C. Jackson (baritone) and Gerald Gregory (bass).
When Gregory's wife joked that they sounded like a bunch of dogs, they became the Spaniels. Vivian Carter and Jimmy Bracken, the owners of a local store, Vivian's Record Shop, borrowed $500 to convert a garage into a recording studio. They could spot talent and the first two releases on their Vee Jay label, in July 1953, were "Roll and Rhumba" by Jimmy Reed and "Baby It's You" by the Spaniels. "Baby It's You", written by Hudson and Gregory, was taken up by Chance Records, who released it nationally and it made the R&B Top Ten. Carter became the group's manager and soon they were touring the United States. When Hudson was walking home from a girlfriend's house, the idea for "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" came to him.
The Spaniels recorded the song in 1954 and it might have been a million-seller had it not been covered by a white group, the McGuire Sisters. The song crossed over to the country market with a version by Johnnie and Jack. The DJ Alan Freed closed his rock'n'roll show every night with the Spaniels' version and, when they played the Apollo Theatre in New York, they stole the show from Big Joe Turner. They appeared in Las Vegas but had to be housed with black residents as none of the hotels would allow them to stay there. "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" may be an innocent song, but Hudson was to have a complex love life. He married a 15-year-old girl when he was 20 and, over the years, he was to marry five times and father seven children.
He had to beat off the advances of LaVern Baker, who was "too pushy" for his tastes. He talks frankly about himself in the 1994 biography of the Spaniels, Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight, by Richard G. Carter. The book explains how he was cheated out of his songwriting royalties and describes his fondness for illegal substances.
Hudson admits that he might have had more love affairs, but "when all you're thinking about is another puff of that cocaine, you ain't thinking pussy". The Spaniels had further successes with "Let's Make Up" and "You Painted Pictures" (both 1956), but the group's personnel changed because of conscription. Hudson was usually around and they recorded a gospel ballad, "(You Gave Me) Peace of Mind" (1956), and had another hit with "Everyone's Laughing" (1957). Among their more unusual records are an up-tempo version of the standard "Stormy Weather" and a reworking of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "People Will Say We're in Love" with a different melody. They strayed into the Coasters' territory with "The Posse". Hudson went solo in 1961 but, by the end of the decade, he was a fronting a Spaniels line-up which embraced soul music and had some success with "Fairy Tales" (1970). In 1991 the Spaniels received a Smithsonian Institution award for their contribution to American music, and they performed with Hudson at various festivals. In 2005, Hudson came to the UK for a vibrant solo performance at a rock'n'roll festival at Hemsby.
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