Pookie Hudson, lead vocalist of the Spaniels, passed away recently at age 72 after battling lung cancer for a couple years. Until the very end, he was totally engaged in his life’s calling, still performing and recording throughout 2006, and thrilling fans who have been delighting to his artistry for over a half century. The Spaniels signature tune was "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight". An R&B smash in 1954, the McGuire Sisters bland rush copy stormed the pop charts.
Posterity has rightfully entrusted memory of this timeless ballad to Pookie Hudson & the Spaniels. Their original captured the innocence of the era so evocatively that its exposure has grown dramatically since its initial release. Hudson wrote this timeless teenage serenade, but his compositional skills also yielded a slew of other powerful sides like "Peace Of Mind", "You Painted Pictures", "You’re Gonna Cry", "False Love", "Baby It’s You", "Let’s Make Up", and "I Know, I Know". When the occasion demanded, tunes like "Please Don’t Tease" and a swinging version of "Stormy Weather" highlighted his ability to step beyond the intimacy of tender ballads.
Yet it was his peerless vocals that would leave the indelible impression. Only Nat King Cole and Clyde McPhatter matched his influence on an emerging generation of performers like Smokey Robinson, Lou Rawls, Jerry Butler, and Curtis Mayfield. The Hudson touch was the essence of cool, understated restraint and his influence on polished Soul was profound. For those unfamiliar with Hudson, his technique has been most fully assimilated by Aaron Neville who closes every Neville Brothers show with "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight".
Chicago’s second most-important blues label’s first signings in 1953 were Jimmy Reed and Pookie & the Hudsonnaires--promptly renamed the Spaniels--from nearby Gary Indiana. Vee-Jay‘s early success rested on the popularity of both acts. "Baby It’s You" was the Spaniels’ debut in 1953. Things slowed down for Hudson in the 60’s and 70’s in the wake of career and personal setbacks, but by the 80’s he was a solid presence on the oldies and nostalgia circuits. Hudson often complained audiences didn’t want to hear his newer material, but that was understandable given the potency of his 50’s-era repertoire.
It wasn’t until 1990 that he began recovering royalties for "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight", and in 1991 Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels were honored by a Rhythm and Blues Foundation award that carried a $20,000 grant. Thurston James "Pookie" Hudson was an original, a remarkable one-of-a-kind artist, and his passing leaves a significant void in the world of music.