“In a red-carpet event on Saturday June 2, 2018, at the legendary Village Studios in Los Angeles, Grayson Hugh was honored as ‘Top Soul Man For Our Time’ at the ROCK JUSTICE AWARDS in recognition for his decades of soulful performance, songwriting, album releases and jaw-dropping, barnstorming piano playing. Hugh, along with singer Polly Messer, completed a raucous two hour set upon a nine-foot concert grand piano before adoring West Coast fans who had a chance to connect again with their favorite artist. ‘Grayson Hugh demonstrates a freewheeling versatility in Soul, R&B, and rock ‘n roll,’ says Bennett Zimmerman, founder of the ROCK JUSTICE AWARDS Concert Series. ‘Grayson’s current albums are just as strong and satisfying as the ones he debuted with on the scene in 1988. Grayson Hugh is a true soul master.’ “

- Sarah Tulowitzki, Canadian Business Tribune, June 8, 2018



"At the recent First Friday Concert at The New Britain Museum of American Art, the duo of singer-songwriter Grayson Hugh & singer Polly Messer really packed a punch, and with Hugh’s amazing song catalog, his dynamic piano performance, and the locked-in vocal harmonies between the two, the house was absolutely mesmerized. I am a fan!”

- Jeffrey Mainville, Manager of Visitor Experience Programs, New Britain Museum of American Art, August 5, 2019


“Grayson Hugh and Polly Messer performed a powerful concert last night at First Church. Grayson is an amazing songwriter. With his wife Polly Messer, and her awesome voice and blended harmonies, they create a sound that is the ideal of duet singing. The resonance of their voices together are sweet perfection! Grayson Hugh and Polly Messer are a gift to the music world!”

- Angela Salcedo, Director of Music Ministries, First Church Of Christ Congregational, Glastonbury, CT, February 26, 2019



“The Kami Lyle Sit-A-While, Real Songs, Real Writers, Fake Fireplace Concert Series was inspired by the legendary Blue Bird Café in Nashville. Kami wanted to share with her New England audiences genuine, talented singer songwriters who work year-round as performers. Having Grayson Hugh and Jon Pousette-Dart at the Cotuit Center for the Arts in October 28, 2016 was a wonderful combination. They were two professional and personable guests. Adding Grayson’s wife Polly Messer, a talented singer-musician herself, to the show, was a delight. The combination of these three talented artists makes for a power house of a show. I would not hesitate to bring them back to Cotuit Center for the Arts for second. The sold-out audience loved them!”

- Ruth Condon, January 24, 2019, Co-Creator, Executive Producer of “The Kami Lyle Sit-A-While” Songwriter Series


Grayson Hugh & The Moon Hawks put on an overwhelmingly soulful concert featuring Grayson’s fantastic songs, powerhouse piano playing, incredible vocals and amazing harmonies with Polly Messer. The whole band’s musicianship inspired everyone! We absolutely loved this show here and they will be back for more!”

- Peter Moshay, Director of Production at Daryl’s House, January 30, 2018


"After just one standing-room-only performance, we want Grayson Hugh & The Moon Hawks to be our house band! Enough said."

- James Varano, Proprietor, Black-Eyed Sally's, Hartford CT, October 5, 2016


"Grayson Hugh - Great Artist!"

- Pete Anderson, Grammy-winning Blues and Roots Guitarist & Producer (Dwight Yoakum, Lucinda Williams, Roy Orbison, Michelle Shocked) March 1, 2016


"Grayson Hugh's performance last night at the First Church of Christ (Glastonbury, CT) absolutely mesmerized the crowd with his eclectic mix of his great original songs, played straight from the heart.  His soulful delivery and his keyboard virtuosity combined with Polly Messer's spot-on beautiful harmonies took the audience on a musical ride which paralleled the journey of his long career.  Check him out if you get a chance, he's truly an American treasure!"

- Tom Guerra, Vintage Guitar Magazine, November 8, 2015


"At his recent concert at Harrison School for the Arts, Grayson Hugh's masterful piano-playing and Polly Messer's precise vocal blending made it a memorable event. With Hugh's foot-stomping melodies and soulful vocals, any live event by Grayson Hugh should be placed at the top of your "must-see" list."

- Daryl Ward, Ph.D., Principal, Harrison School for the Arts, November 27, 2015


"Grayson Hugh and Polly Messer rode into the Carolinas on Grayson's number one hit, “Goodbye Train”. Their August 30th show at the Spanish Galleon in North Myrtle Beach, SC kept the sold out crowd entertained and intrigued with his soulful songs that tell beautiful stories. It was an honor to have been a part of Grayson Hugh's Carolina Tour and we look forward to having them back in November!!"

- Chad Sain, Carolina Beach Music Awards Staff, September 9, 2014


"I was proud to have Grayson Hugh return to The Lyric after so many years. Our audience loved the show - and having Polly Messer as part of the performance on October 19th made it even more special."

- John Loesser, Owner, The Lyric Theatre, Stuart, Florida, October 29, 2013



"The Norwood Theatre thoroughly enjoyed a dynamic performance by Grayson Hugh and Polly Messer on Saturday October 26th, 2013. The chemistry between the couple on stage was apparent to the audience as they sang their brilliant harmonies. A well deserved standing ovation completed a perfect evening."

- Susan Lewis, Owner, The Norwood Theatre, Norwood, MA, October 28, 2013



"Grayson Hugh and his harmony singer Polly Messer delivered a wonderful intimate performance that had the audience yelling for more. The diversity of his music, stage presence, artistry and impeccable storytelling through lyrics and melody made for an exceptional  evening."

- Marc Kaplan, Owner, SubCulture - Arts Underground, NYC, August 10, 2015


“Blue-eyed Soul legend Grayson Hugh and Polly Messer rocked the Wallingford Public Library last night! What a treat to experience Grayson's soulful voice, amazing songs and skillful keyboard playing with Polly's smooth vocal harmony in such an intimate setting. Grayson's vivid lyrics transport you to another place and time. I HIGHLY recommend Grayson and Polly--you won't be disappointed, the crowd will be cheering all night!”

- Julie T. Rio, Adult Programming and Community Services Librarian, Wallingford Public Library, November 30, 2018



"Grayson Hugh is the real deal. Great songs, a classic voice and a passionate performer. Grayson and Polly tore the roof off of The Cutting Room. Can't wait for them to come back and do it again!"

- Lincoln Foley Schofield, Talent Buyer, The Cutting Room, New York, NY, January 21, 2013



"Grayson Hugh's debut appearance on the Towne Crier's stage on Feb. 15, 2013 was a smashing success. His songs are first-rate, and his powerful & volcanic voice was complimented by the beautiful harmony singing of Polly Messer. I look forward to his return!"

- Phil Ciganer, Owner, Towne Crier Cafe, Beacon, NY, February 21, 2013



"Grayson Hugh and his wife, the superb singer Polly Messer, did a spectacular show the other night at Infinity Music Hall. Blue-Eyed Soul's Prodigal Son is back - and stronger than ever."

- Jack Forchette, Director of Entertainment and Business Development, Infinity Music Hall, Norfolk, CT, May 21, 2012



“Once again, Grayson Hugh rocked the Kate leaving our audience begging for more. A lot of people play our piano, but nobody whips it into a frenzy like Grayson.”

- Chuck Still, Executive Director, Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, Old Saybrook, CT, April 10, 2012 


 "Grayson Hugh came to the Amazing Things Arts Center on a cold January day this year. He and Polly Messer spent the evening burning up the place. Grayson has a voice that, at least for me, defies categorization. Yeah, he's soulful, at times almost channeling Motown greats. But at other times, his voice is tender and full of intense emotion. He's not just a performer - he's also a fine songwriter. Some of his songs were featured in well-known films like "Thelma and Louise". But it's the songs that have been written for imaginary films (yeah, really) that will make you think twice about putting this guy in a box.

Grayson's show on January 4, 2012 was a revelation to me. We can't wait to have him back in Framingham in 2014!"


- Philip D. Knudsen, Executive Director, Amazing Things Arts Center, Framingham, Massachusetts, March 1, 2013





"Grayson Hugh is a class axe, as we say here at Bridge Street Live. From Soundcheck all the way until the meet and greet it was a pleasure working with him. Not to mention how much the crowd loved him and Polly Messer. Dynamite songs, fantastic energy, a true crowd-pleaser!"

- Pat Ryan, Entertainment Director, Bridge Street Live, Collinsville, CT, April 2, 2013



“We were thrilled to have singer/songwriter Grayson Hugh and Polly Messer perform as part of our Opening Weekend celebrations.  The concert was fabulous and Grayson’s piano playing was simply amazing! He and Polly sang wonderfully together with soul and plenty of passion.”

- Lesley Lambton, Program Coordinator, Ridgefield Library, May 31, 2013



"Grayson Hugh is a soulful vocalist with great tunes. His wife Polly Messer adds great harmonies - making for a great night of music!"

- Patrick Norton, Executive Director, The Narrows Center For The Arts, Fall River, MA, April 10, 2013



"It was a really lively and fantastic night at Free Blues Club when Grayson Hugh performed on the 16th of September here in Szczecin, Poland. It was simply amazing. From the sweet, soulful songs with his wife Polly Messer to the excellent rock’n’roll sung with power. Everything of course with brilliant solos on Hammond organ and piano! Awesome music! "

- Andrzej Malcherek, Owner, Free Blues Club, Szczecin, Poland, October 29, 2012



 "Grayson and Polly's performance was fantastic. Grayson is a master writer and performer of American Music – the perfect mix of blues , soul and country. The evening of September 14th will be remembered as one of the best shows of Fall 2012. Great musicians and very nice people."  

- Adam Grzedziel, Owner, The Oldtimers Garage, Katowice, Poland, September 30, 2012



"Grayson Hugh and his wife, singer Polly Messer, put on an phenomenal show recently at The Songwriter's Beat at The Christopher Street Coffeehouse.  A critically-acclaimed singer/songwriter, Grayson wowed us with his powerful and funky piano playing, soulful voice and poetic lyrics.  Polly Messer added beautiful musical backup harmonies - their voices blending together as one. It is SO good to see Grayson back on the scene, stronger than ever!"

- Valerie Ghent, founder of The Songwriter's Beat at Christopher Street Coffeehouse, NYC., January 21, 2011 



"Amazing show last night!!! I always expect great music from Grayson Hugh and am never disappointed. But at last night's concert at The Katherine Hepburn Theater, he took us all up to a new level because of the musical chemistry with Polly. It's a magical blend!"

- Colin McEnroe, Host of The Colin McEnroe Show, WPNR/CPBN, April 10, 2011





"Grayson is an incredibly soulful singer and amazing songwriter. I never forget an artist I love and Grayson is one of those artists. His recent performance with his wife Polly Messer at The Knickerbocker on blew my socks off!  I'm so glad he's back on the performance scene." 

- Greg Piccolo, talent booker, The Knickerbocker Cafe, Westerly, Rhode Island, August 2009




"I jumped at the chance to book Grayson Hugh and Polly Messer into Smokin With Chris. Grayson is an amazing songwriter, incredible singer and pianist. The harmonies that he and Polly create are truly remarkable. Their residency here (they play every few weeks, since the winter of '09) has been a bright spot in our calender. Laura & I (and the audiences here) are blessed to have them. In this world of mediocre music, Grayson and Polly are the real deal - original, soulful, meaningful. Playing a mix of Grayson's radio hits and songs from his recently released "An American Record", his music is a national treasure."

 - Chris Conlon, Owner, Smokin With Chris, Southington, CT, June 2009




A committed soul man for the better part of the past 27 years, Grayson Hugh makes a joyous noise on his latest LP, the aptly dubbed Back To The Soul. While certain songs bring to mind the archival imprint of Otis Redding, Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Jerry Butler, Hugh’s original material gives the album a freshness and vitality that avoids any hint that this album is anything other than an absolutely spontaneous celebration. From the sheer exhilaration of album openers “Everybody Hangin’ On” and “We Were Havin’ Fun” to the touching emotional embrace of a tender ballad like “Already In Love With You,” Hugh’s songs sound like well-honed classics, even on the initial spin.

Happily too, Hugh’s arrangements enhance the overall experience. His deft keyboard playing recalls the essence of Booker T. and his crack band emulates the best of the Stax studio sound. The solid groove of "It's Got Soul" conveys the intent to maximum effect. Likewise, “Rock ‘n Roll Man” conveys its well-trod notions with such an effortless energy, it would do the Temptations proud. Indeed, Hugh’s ability to revisit archival ideas and refurbish them for the current generation provides that timeless connection the album title obviously implies.

The art of procuring pure soul and genuine R&B has seemingly been lost in recent times, given the preponderance of rap and hip hop on the popular music scene. Kudos then to Grayson Hugh for reminding us of not only how it all began, but where it should remain.

- Lee Zimmerman, Elmore Magazine, January 5, 2016



Grayson Hugh is an American singer-songwriter, pianist, Hammond B3 organ player and composer. Grayson grew up in a musical environment. His father was the British-born radio host Ivor Hugh and his mother was born in Shanghai, the daughter of a missionary and writer Dr. Frank Rawlinson. Grayson has played piano from a very young age, playing in an African-American gospel church and studied African drumming. Grayson also studied piano with jazz pianist Jaki Byard and avant-garde pianist Ran Blake.

In 1980 Hugh released a self-titled debut album, on One Of Nineteen Records, based in Connecticut. In 1987 he moved to New York and signed a contract with "RCA Records”. Three singles from this album "Blind To Reason" ("Talk It Over," "Bring It All Back" & "How 'Bout Us"), became radio hits.

In 1992, Hugh released “Road To Freedom” on MCA Records, which was called one of the top ten albums on the year by Billboard Magazine.

In 1994 Hugh left MCA Records, after his A&R man Paul Atkinson was fired and all his acts, including Hugh were dropped. Hugh moved to North Carolina and in 1999, moved back north and taught songwriting at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

In 2008, Hugh married his backing singer Polly Messer, who had also sung with the swing band Eight To The Bar in the early 80's. In 2010 Hugh released his long-anticipated comeback album called "An American Record" on his own label Swamp Yankee Records. It was co-produced with Polly Messer. He proceeded to tour a lot, with Polly, in America and Europe and in 2015 released ”Back To The Soul”. It's an album with twelve new songs and, in addition to his wife Polly Messer and his band (Casey Meyer: guitar, Albert Rogers: bass and Camron S. Dudley: drums, Glen Tippett on saxophones). One guest, guitarist/producer Pete Anderson (Dwight Yoakum), stands out, soloing on the track “Rock ’n Roll Man”.

Hugh opens the party with "Everybody's Hangin’ On”, and you’re sure to be reminded of the unforgettable Marvin Gaye's" What's Goin 'On”.  But this is not the only party because immediately, without any further with conversation, we have "We Were Havin’ Fun”. Note that in the harmonies Polly Messer's voice fits so very well with that of Hugh. We’re having fun on the one hand, but at the same time looking forward to new things with (”Gettin 'On With My Life”) without forgetting the past ("Already In Love With You”). In "It's Got Soul" and also with the title song we get upbeat tributes to the classic music of Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke and Al Green. Hugh’s music really makes you move to the rhythm of the beats. Polly Messer and Glen Tippett sing the gospel-style harmonies in the song "Rock 'n Roll Man". In the slower "We're Gone Again" we feel the irresistible sexual attraction between the parties involved. Another really funky soul song, with excellent sax interventions by Tippett, is "Put Your Feet In The Water”and " Gimme Another Answer", with a series of wonderful organ grooves Hugh. The ballad" Thank You Lord " features a very emotional Hugh as he converses with God. He thinks back to the lost years of life and how he was redeemed to become the man he is now. ”Motorcycle Ridin”, a blues, closes the album on two wheels. It is the journey to freedom, because, as Hugh says, motorcycling is “some pure poetry”.

"Back To The Soul" by Grayson Hugh is an album that is liberating. Hugh has written twelve strong soul songs about alienation, loneliness and come out stronger. It is music for people who know what it's like to be afraid and who have had to stand up and to find their way back. It is music for people who enjoy real music, poetic lyrics, beautiful harmonies, with Hugh’s rockin’ piano and voice that really deliver the goods and the grooves.

- Eric Schuurmans, Rootstime, January 26, 2016




There's a few things you need to know before you can really appreciate “Back To The Soul”.

Let me begin by dispensing with any notion that your humble correspondent is an unbiased observer. I bought two copies of Grayson Hugh’s debut album, 1988’s “Blind To Reason”. I bought four of his 1992 follow-up, “Road To Freedom”. And then I burned a back-up disc, just to be sure.

See, I had this fear that, five or ten years down the road, if my vinyl album broke or my CD became unplayable, I might not be able to just waltz in to the record store (we still had record stores then, children) and buy either one. And this was music I simply did not want to be without.

I loved “Talk It Over”, the hit single from “Blind To Reason”; it was burnished with harmonies the Temptations would have been proud to call their own, haunted like an old house by the ghost of Sam Cooke, and had Grayson preaching an inspired sermon from the gospel of baby-please-just-give-me-another-chance.

And “Road To Freedom” might just be my favorite album of all time, a masterwork of songwriting and performance, of small moments keenly observed and sung in one of those rough-sweet voices, truer than father’s wisdom, that strikes unerringly at the tenderest spot in your soul.

I played those discs until they were burned in memory and waited eagerly for the next album by Grayson Hugh.

It was to be a long wait. Almost 20 years, to be exact.

It turns out Grayson had begun a long, all-too-familiar spiral. His champion at MCA Records left the label and Grayson followed, shortly thereafter. It was about this time, he says, that he found out his business managers weren’t doing a very good job of managing his business. Bankruptcy followed. Then prescription drug addiction. Then Grayson, an alcoholic who had been sober for 20 years, started drinking again.

“By then,” he recently told an interviewer for Standing Room Only, “I was teaching at Berklee College Of Music in Boston and living in my stepfather’s house helping him take care of my mother who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s."

“Things got worse and I was fired from Berklee for drinking on the job and kicked out of my stepfather’s house. I found myself broke and homeless. I found a room above a bar in a restaurant, where I drank worse than ever for two years. In 2004, I had a seizure in a blackout and wound up in a detox at a hospital, then landed in a sober house. A bed opened up at the last minute or I would have had to go to a homeless shelter.”

The road back was a long one, hard steps of personal redemption. He found himself working at a McDonald’s and was glad for it. “Something to show up for,” he says. Weeks turned to months, months to seasons, seasons to years. And healing came. Slow, and not at all inevitable, but it came. Love came. Marriage came. And then, in 2006, a rehab counselor who knew Grayson’s work came and asked him if he’d ever given any thought to recording again.

So, here's why you had to know all stuff first: because “Back To The Soul” is about all of that, about going through it all, surviving through it all, gathering the skeins of a sometimes-difficult life – the alienation, the loneliness, the brokenness – and weaving them into a song of redemption, a redemption that comes, not despite those things, but because of them.

Grayson sings this explicitly in “Thank You Lord”, a searingly-intimate letter to God, a meditation on those lost years, on their blind alleys and degradations and on the amazing grace by which he was delivered and redeemed. “I needed every stumble, drink and failure, every one,” he sings.

It’s a theme Grayson returns to in “Already In Love With You”, a smoldering ballad. “Now, when I look back it all seems so clear,” he sings. “I took every step I needed to get me to here.”

None of which is to suggest “Back To The Soul” is an album of somber pieties. No, this is the music of a man who’s come through the fire and wants to dance about it.

“We Were Havin’ Fun” is a light-hearted paean to young love, young music and those good old days when “summer was a feelin’ and there was sunshine all around” fitted me with an Afro I haven’t worn in 30 years, and put me back behind the wheel of that raggedy Pontiac I junked in 1978, with the Commodores blaring on the AM radio. In other words, it took me back. It made me feel good.

The title song and “It’s Got Soul” are cut from similar cloth, affectionate, up-beat homages to the truth, rhythm (and, okay, blues) of that foundational American music. Among the other highlights: “We’re Gone Again”, a slow-burn of irresistible sexual attraction; “Everybody’s Hangin’ On”, which recalls Marvin Gaye’s immortal “What’s Goin’ On”, both in the way it opens with a party and, more substantively, in its gentle insistence upon our shared humanity upon a shared planet; “Motorcycle Ridin”, a barroom blues fable about two-wheeled escape down endless highways, the ride more important than the destination.

And don’t miss “Gettin’ On With My Life", an anthem of a different kind of escape – of the conscious decision to leave behind a stuck place and embrace the promise and the uncertainty of a fresh dawn.

This is music of and for people who know what it is to be scarred and scared, who have been knocked down hard a time or two and had to find their way back to their feet. It is music of and for people who can appreciate a hot horn section or funky bass groove, who know how to slide on the grease that oozes when the organ hits a lick just right, who are suckers for a rough-sweet voice singing the truth.

Finally, this is music of and for those who have a little life behind them – and a whole lot more ahead. It is both realization and reminder that, for all the changes life takes you through, if you hang with it and fight through it, it will eventually, inevitably, round the corner and bring you back.

Back to self. Back to joy. Back to love. Back to, well…you know.

- Leonard Pitts, Jr., Miami Herald Journalist and winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, iTunes Album Review, August 12, 2015


Grayson Hugh’s story is the story of the record industry at its best and worst. Most music fans learned of Hugh in the late 1980s and early 1990s after hearing his soulful baritone on the hit record “Talk It Over.” That cut found Hugh being a part of pop music’s recurring racialized theme when the video premiered on Vh1 and viewers saw that voice coming from that singer. Hugh’s star seemed to be heading in the right direction and his pedigree and training marked him as someone uniquely qualified to become a fixture on pop and urban adult contemporary radio. He parlayed the success of “Talk It Over” into the universally acclaimed Road To Freedom, an album that had two tunes featured in the film Thelma and Louise.

Hugh then encountered the first of a series of professional and personal setbacks which left him homeless and almost took his life. In 1994, a shakeup at MCA Records resulted in the A&R man who brought Hugh to the label being fired and all of the artists he brought to the label being shown the door as well. Hugh landed a job at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1999, but an addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol - a habit that nearly took his life - sent Hugh into a tailspin that resulted in him getting fired from Berklee in 2002 and playing piano for his room and board at a Cape Cod restaurant.

The slow road to recovery began in rehab when a counselor encouraged Hugh to use music to aid his recovery. Hugh eventually managed to begin writing and recording the tunes for his 2010 album An American Record with the help of some of his musician friends from the old days – including backup singer Polly Messer, who became Hugh’s co-producer and his wife. Now Hugh returns with Back to the Soul, his fourth solo project.

Hugh’s life has all of the elements of a music biopic, from his slow and steady climb to fame, through the label politics that derailed his career, veering into self-destructive behavior and finally redemption with the help of good friends and the love of a good woman, and with Back to the Soul, Hugh already has the soundtrack.

Hugh, like soul music idols Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye, is at his absolute best when wearing his heart on his sleeve and being totally transparent. In fact, Hugh goes way beyond keeping it real – he keeps it honest. With his feet firmly rooted in the soul and blues of Memphis and New Orleans, Hugh has crafted a record that is about as eloquently biographical as a music project can be.

The gospel funk of “Rock ‘N Roll Man,” with its church inspired call and response conversation between Hugh and his backing vocalists, along with the percussive bass drums, hand claps and Hugh’s soulful organ playing, is a rollicking biography of the highs and lows of his life. When Hugh opens the song with the line “I was 17 when I left home/I had to leave/I had to roam,” he’s singing about his personal history. Hugh dropped out of school to pursue music. The song tells the story of his rise to stardom, his fall due to shady music label politics and descent into darkness, with his love of rock music being the only constant.

Hugh relies on the soulful chops that he acquired playing music in an AME church during his youth on the soulful ballad “Thank You Lord.” This biographical track finds Hugh telling the story of his struggle through the darkest period of his life and how those trials – even the near fatal ones – make Hugh the man that he is now. When he sings about living above the barroom because “that’s all I could afford,” listeners feel the pain. And when he sings “It was out of there you led me/My journey had begun/I needed every stumble, drink and failure/Every one,” we know that this song is Hugh’s testimony.

Hugh merges soul inspired vocals and musical arrangement with a country artist’s penchant for storytelling on “Already In Love With You,” a tune that tells the long journey that led him away from and eventually back to his wife.

The one quality of Hugh’s career that stands out to me, besides his talent, is patience, and Back to the Soul is a patient record. Hugh is an expert storyteller who doesn’t rush his delivery. He allows the stories contained in his songs to unwind and that will bring a sense of satisfaction and a deeper appreciation of his struggles and gifts with each listen. This album beautifully completes a more than three decade story of a talented artist who, after too many years away, found his way back to his musical home. Strongly Recommended.

- Howard Dukes, SoulTracks. com, August 14, 2015


 The year 1989 had a surprise hit in store for us: the smoldering soft soul song “Talk It Over” was a strange but welcome diversion from the Bon Jovis that reigned over the charts at that time. It looked like Grayson Hugh had struck gold.  Even Hollywood opened up for him, with his songs reaching the soundtracks of Thelma & Louise and Fried Green Tomatoes. But then things took a change for the worse. The typical mixture of bad business decisions, unlucky changes in record companies and lack of promotion brought Hugh back to zero; literally, for a while Hugh was broke and even homeless.
After a slow but determined recovery and a first album after a 15 year hiatus, he’s now back in full force with what surely is one of the strongest, most enjoyable soul-rock albums of the year. “Back to Soul” is vibrant and alive with a genuine love for soul music. Hugh has spent his whole life struggling with the preconceived idea that white men wouldn’t be fit to sing soul music. Well-documented is his very first encounter with a producer in an elevator. The man couldn’t believe that this white dude in front of him was the same one that could be heard on tape belting out a soulful song, so he asked Hugh to sing the song right there and then. The result was a record deal that lead to the album Blind To Reason and the subsequent hit single “Talk It Over”.
New album Back To The Soul is a last, definitive argument to close the pointless discussion “White Men Can’t Be Soul Singers” once and for all. Every song does indeed ooze with pure soul. In that respect, Grayson Hugh’s effort can be put in line with an album like Billy Joel's “An Innocent Man”. Where Joel wrote his album from start to finish as a love letter to the greasy fifties doo-wop and early soul from the streets of New York, Hugh does the same, but highlighting different aspects of soul music. Next to Hugh’s versatile, gritty voice, the most impressive feature about Back To The Soul are the horn arrangements. They give extra color to each and every song and make for an album can be easily compared to some of the best work from that other white soul boy, Van Morrison. The beautiful title track is especially vintage Van The Man. Hugh namechecks some of his favorite singers – Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, Clarence Carter – while the horns push the song forward. Such an impressive song.

Indeed, Grayson Hugh doesn’t play hide and seek on Back To The Soul, he wears his influences on his sleeve. “Everybody’s Hanging On” has the same lyrical message as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, “We Were Having Fun” has a nostalgic feel good vibe that is reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield’s earlier work with the Impressions, “Already In Love With You” is a ballad in the vein of Sam Cooke, and “Rock ‘n Roll Man” with its call and response backing vocals is a gospel spiritual that would get a nod of approval from Ray Charles. Big names and big references, I know, but this album does succeed in its mission: celebrating the pure joy of real soul music.

-  By Johan Copermans,, November 14, 2015


When I heard the gently grooving, uncommonly radio-friendly Everybody's Hangin' On, I was immediately hooked on Grayson Hugh all over again. Balm for the soul he is! And that was only but the opening salvo.....

In a dizzying spin, we blaze onto the Summer dance floors with We Were Havin' Fun; then we hear the quiet, soulful and rocking farewell song Gettin' On With My Life. Next is the sultry soul torch song Already In Love With You; into the funk with It's Got Soul. We then slide into the gospel-feeling, spicy fable Rock 'n Roll Man, and the swinging groove of "We 're Gone Again". The piano -driven, New Orleans styled Put Your Feet In the Water is a masterpiece. The catchy Gimme Another Answer,  the poignant Thank You Lord, the joyous title song Back To The Soul and the funny and funky blues Motorcycle Ridin' moved much too quickly towards the exit ...
Listening to Grayson Hugh’s brilliant new Back To The Soul, the repeat button has been in constant use.
What can I say? Highly recommended indeed!

- Benny Metten, CTRL. ALT. COUNTRY, Riemst, Belgium, November 2, 2015



   Thoughts on "An American Record" by Leonard Pitts, Jr.

      On his brand new CD, Grayson Hugh sings of harbor towns and roads that don't look back, of thin trees and snow mountains, of mists rising from the sea and woods seen in soft southern light.  He sings of mourning and disillusionment, of remembered love and lost time, of life scraped from the bottom of a lobster pot.
    This is "An American Record". Some of us have been waiting for it a very long time.
    I've been listening to Grayson for - Lord, has it really been that long? - 20 years, since I was a writer for Casey Kasem's countdown show and he was a young guy making his major label debut with a shades-of-Sam-Cooke soul stirrer called "Talk It Over".  That song did everything except imprint itself on my DNA.  His follow-up CD, "Road To Freedom", sealed the deal.  I wrote about Grayson for Casey's show, wrote about him for Musician magazine, wrote about him in my music column for The Miami Herald, did everything but quit my job to follow him on tour, though I may even have considered that for half a second.
    I wanted people to listen, to hear what I heard.  Because this was music that told the truth.
    Do you know how rare that is?  Surely you've had that feeling, while flipping the radio dial, that American music has come to sound like a shopping mall - all shiny glass, gleaming contrivance and bright artifice, all surface shimmer with nothing underneath.  But Grayson is another kind of cat.  In a world where music is often a brittle artificiality, the music he makes is hard and strong, convicted and convincing.  And true.  Most of all, true.
    It's there in the gritty lament of his voice, in the roughhouse eloquence of his piano, and the atmospheric poetry of his words.  He has that thing Sam Cooke and Ray Charles had, that thing you still hear sometimes in Bruce Springsteen, that lonely, train whistle in the dark thing, that yearning, keening thing that gets right to the heart of what it means to be alive, what it means to be a human being.
    It is soul music in a way that has nothing to do with soul in the sense of Motown or Stax, the Godfather or the Queen, nothing to do, really, with any of the usual genres by which we demarcate American music.  Country?  Jazz?  R&B?  Rock?  Grayson sounds like none of them, sounds like all of them.  Because his music is soul in the sense that it looks you in the eye and speaks to you from the gut, that it is real, honest and -  we keep coming back to that word - true.
    "An American Record" is an ambitious journey across a vast landscape of American sounds and American places, from the cantankerous down east funk of "Swamp Yankee" to the elegiac lament that rises from a cemetery in "North Ohio", from a jazz-inflected meditation on a day when the snow in Connecticut lies in shades of "Bluewhite" to "What It's All About", a meeting of hearts at a beach on a Georgia island between two lovers wounded by life but loving, still.  
    This is, Grayson will tell you, an album of places, an autobiographical survey of his life's wanderings: "Evangeline" recounts his days in coastal North Carolina, "Angel of Mercy" recalls time spent in Manhattan and London, the barrelhouse piano of "Tell Me How You Feel" is a remembrance of lonely days in Buzzards Bay, Mass. But as much as or more than "An American Record" surveys places on the map, it also surveys (apologies to Sally Field) places in the heart, those tender and broken spots where the things you regret live side by side with those you still foolishly hope.  "Give me one good reason to give it up," sings Grayson in "Give Me One Good Reason".  "We can't stop believing in what we've got."
   And we can't.  Because it's the believing that makes us human.
   On his new CD, Grayson Hugh sings of blue twilight turning black, and a thunderstorm looming on the horizon, of a catlike girl on a Boston train and an angel walking down on concrete, of life that flickers like a candle and of flying high above the tears.  He sings of who we are beneath brittle artifice, what we regret beneath gleaming contrivance and how, at the end of the day, when everything else has conspired to pull us apart, loves mends us together again.
   This is "An American Record".  Some of us are glad the wait is over at last.

- Leonard Pitts. Jr., Miami Herald, March 8, 2010


 Grayson Hugh had just finished writing a statement for his Facebook page. He’d wanted to get something off his chest for a while. Having done that, he pointed toward the “Send” button … and paused.

“I was about to post a very vitriolic comment about the mediocrity of the music in …” And here, one might imagine the name of a film whose soundtrack had been pretty widely acclaimed for its authenticity. “But then I didn’t publish it because what’s the point of being negative? I’ve learned that lesson in a lot of ways. Negativity just breeds negativity. Sometimes it’s best to keep your vitriolic thoughts to yourself.”

That’s just one bit of wisdom that Hugh has picked up on his ramble through spotlights and shadows. His path has led him to the summit as a musician, performer and writer; his multifaceted talents manifested in formats as varied as soul, jazz, Western swing, study with piano legends Ran Blake and Jaki Byard, a gig playing piano in an African-American church as well as accompaniment and composition for modern dance.

All of these elements and more came together in his own unique sound when Hugh burst onto the scene with Blind to Reason, his major-label debut in 1988. The album impacted, lofting the single “Talk It Over” into the Top 20 and featuring a duet with R&B star Betty Wright on “How ‘Bout Us.” Billboard would laud his second album, Road to Freedom, as one of the ten best of 1992; his songs were featured on soundtracks for Fried Green Tomatoes and Thelma & Louise.

Then, in 1994, after being dropped by his label in a moment of misguided restructuring, Hugh suddenly found himself without the financial support necessary to keep a band on the road.  He moved to rural North Carolina and attempted to rejuvenate his career in surroundings far-removed from New York and Los Angeles.  After a year of slowly going broke and unable to find a new record label, he moved back north where he landed a job teaching songwriting at Berklee College Of Music in Boston.  While there, he continued to write songs prolifically and was even commissioned to compose some scores for several modern dance companies. But in 2001, he spun into a free-fall and a near-fatal relapse with alcohol and drugs that left him for more than two years with no way to pay the rent other than through a job at McDonald’s.

Hugh's rise from that point to his present renaissance owes to two factors: his determination to apply everything he has experienced, the worst as well as the best, to redefining and strengthening himself as an artist, and the invaluable help of his wife, backup singer and soul mate Polly Messer, who met him in 1980 but would enter his life years later as his best friend, greatest inspiration and true artistic partner. "Polly's contribution as co-producer on this record was invaluable," says Hugh. "She kept encouraging me to raise the bar."

Hugh's recent personal and artistic achievements inform every track on his new album, An American Record. This overlay of art and heart breathes a gospel air into the irresistibly churchy “Tell Me How You Feel,” paints a stark yet beckoning landscape on “North Ohio,” cranks up the funk in the cocky, horn-stabbed strut and haunting chanted coda of “Swamp Yankee,” hangs a lover’s plea over an elegant and unforgettable chorus hook on “Give Me One Good Reason” … Every track tells its story with a mix of passion, craft and impact that’s rare in our time. In flaunting the discipline and knack for accessibility that distinguished his earlier recordings and compositions, An American Record confirms his return as a commercial as well as artistic force.

From the worst of his times, Hugh emerged with a strength and focus that filters now into his work. “I had to confront a lot of my faults, and that self-reflection has reformed my music,” he explains. “It got simpler because I learned how to let the feeling of a song distill in silence for months. They’re kind of cooking, so that when I actually write, it comes quickly.”

It also empowered Hugh to find universal meaning in his lyrics, which draw from what he’s witnessed but convey that emotion directly to listeners and their lives. “For instance, ‘North Ohio’ came from my visiting my grandmother’s grave by the banks of the Maumee River in Ohio,” he explains. “But it’s about the emotion, not that specific place and time. Look at Thomas Wolfe: Look Homeward, Angel, You Can’t Go Home Again and  Of Time and the River. Images of rivers figure prominently in them all. It’s all universal.”

That, too, explains the range of An American Record, whose embrace is wide enough to encompass working-man’s rock, roadhouse blues, calls to glory answered from the amen corner, a smatter of jazz and more. “It’s a record and it’s American, with all kinds of musical references,” Hugh says. “There’s bluegrass, soul, funk, folk, rock … There’s no single musical theme, but it’s all human.”

It’s all human: In three words, that’s what Grayson Hugh has learned about music and its power to touch and move, inform and inspire. It also explains why he takes it personally when he hears something that fails to achieve these goals, to the point of almost taking it to the world on Facebook.

“I write for myself ultimately because that’s the way I spit out how I see the world,” he says. “It’s a cathartic process. But when a fan writes to me and says, ‘This affects me,’ that’s the payoff.”

With An American Record, the payoff is just beginning.  Grayson Hugh has been there and is back again. His story – our story – has to be heard.

- Robert Doerschuk,, May 10, 2010



             GRAYSON HUGH "An American Record"   

  We didn't reckon on a record like this anymore!  After all, the last serious feat by Grayson Hugh dated from 1992 when, with "Road to Freedom", he not only delivered a succesor to his fabulous major label-début "Blind to reason" which was released 4 years before, but also one of THE greatest records of that year.  Then things became very silent around the man who, with his voice filled with soul, poetic lyrics and sophisticated keyboard playing, had created fans worldwide. You enjoyed his mega radio hits such as "Talk It Over" and also "Bring It All Back". Now, some eighteen years later, after all his radio hits, songs featured in hit films and acclaim as a singer/songwriter, Grayson Hugh has made an amazing comeback with "An American Record", his fourth full length album.  And with this record he shows he hasn't lost his abilities.

 With 14 new songs Hugh sparkles once more on this record, which has a substantionally less overly-polished sound.  Three years of hard labour went into this record.  For Hugh this was a unique opportunity to pick up the thread of his life to some degree, after recovering from a near fatal relapse with alcohol and drugs.  The man himself said : "It is a record of places, times, rivers, hills, loves and tides of the heart. This became my path and I am grateful that I was always able to see the light around the bend and finish it".  And this finds an echo in the songs.

 Whether it's the funky opening song "Swamp Yankee", which has been dedicated to Dean Gilmore who helped Hugh to get back on the right track, or the long spun piano ballad "Bluewhite".  From the playful lovesong "Evangeline", spiced with a pinch of country, to "Zoe on the T Train" which flirts with R&B in a relaxing way.  Or the perfect rootsy pop songs like "Never To Come Down" and "Sweet Summer Rain" and the calm soulful "North Ohio".  On to the radiogenic "Angel Of Mercy" with it's nice twangy guitar sound - and the duets "Long & Lonely Night" and "Give Me One Good Reason" that both remind us of the old days with their blue-eyed soul sound.  And the cheerful pop-Americana of "Time Is Like A River".

   And throughout the album Hugh's piano playing is a veritable cyclone of soul, drawing its energy from such regions as the swampland funk of Professor Longhair, the testifying soul of Ray Charles, with the rhythms of African drumming and boogie-woogie thrown in the mix!

   With all these songs and others Hugh seizes every opportunity to show you that he's not only back, but also a magnificent vocalist and sublime songsmith.  Welcome back, man! FIVE STARS!

 - Benny Metten, CTRL. ALT. COUNTRY, August, 2010
(a website from Belgium dedicated to Alternative Country, Roots Rock, Blues, Rockabilly & Americana Singer Songwriters)



Grayson Hugh called his new album AN AMERICAN RECORD for a reason. One listen tells you why. AN  AMERICAN RECORD features funk, blues, country, rock, zydeco, folk, jazz, soul and R&B music with a little bit of gospel mixed in. Basically, any kind of authentically American music that has been a part of this country's musical soundtrack for more than a century can be found on this recording.

For those who first got introduced to Hugh's soulful and raspy voice from his 1989 blue-eyed soul smash "Talk It Over," AN AMERICAN RECORD's  amalgamation of sounds may come as a shock. For those who knew a little more about Hugh's biography, the new record will not be nearly as shocking. Having that background knowledge will make it a more pleasing experience from the outset. However, patience will reward those who lost track of Hugh after he stopped being a presence in the early 1990s.

The fact of the matter is that there is a lot of soul, blues, R&B and funk on this album. Songs like "Give Me One Good Reason" and "Long and Lonely Night" will reintroduce fans to the soulful crooner many of us first met in 1989. "Tell Me How You Feel," is a rollicking blues, soul and gospel tune that shows where the barrelhouse blues meets the Baptist and sanctified church. The song features an extensive blues/jazz solo and ends with an energetic Hugh calling out from the pulpit of love how much he needs his woman's love. The song then takes listener to the church choir stand with band playing some ‘shouting and handclapping music.' "Give Me One Good Reason" revives the lost art of the soul duet with Hugh and his wife, Polly Messer, taking turns leading the song.

For those willing to move out of their comfort zone, AN AMERICAN RECORD features solid work in other genres. "Evangeline" is a nice mid-tempo country tune that tells the story of how the love of a beautiful and good woman inspired the singer to leave a dead end town while "Zoe On the T Train" is a rock song that tells of an encounter with a woman on a train. Other strong songs include "Bluewhite" and "North Ohio."

Grayson Hugh hails from a family of musicians and actors. The vocalists in his family sang everything from classical to show tunes. Hugh definitely inherited the family's musical curiosity - a characteristic that doesn't always get rewarded in today's music market. People have limited time to listen, and they often spend it listening to the known quantity. Fortunately, there is a lot of quality soul on AN AMERICAN RECORD, and a lot of other good music as well. This is a journey through America that is worth a try. RECOMMENDED.

- Howard Dukes,, September 26, 2010



The title tells it all as Connecticut piano man Grayson Hugh blends all the facets that make American music into AN AMERICAN RECORD, using blues as the floor boards in the majority of the tunes here. The funky (and I mean that in a good way) title cut starts it off, thanks to Hugh's B3 and the steady drumming of Rob Gottfried. The majority of the cuts here could be described as soulful rockers, with "Zoe On The T Train", "Never To Come Down" and "Time Is Like A River" as prime examples.

"Give Me One Good Reason" would have been at home in the 1960's on a release by R&B legendary Stax Records and Tom Majesky does some nice guitar work during "Angel Of Mercy". With Grayson's wife Polly Messer on harmony vocals, gospel gets touched on during "Sweet Summer Rain" and "Tell Me How You Feel", with the latter ignited by Hugh's boogie woogie piano.

Americana gets a spotlight during "Evangeline", due to Jim Chapdelaine's banjo picking as Hugh's pennywhistle adds to the lonliness factor of "What It's All About".

Coming up on 40 years writing about music, I've been at a ton of promo parties over the years. One memorable one was from late 1988, when invited to an RCA party at Beachwood Studios. It was for Grayson Hugh's first project BLIND TO REASON and, after giving the media and retail folks some liquid refreshments and finger food as Side 1 of the new record played, the RCA promo man told us to go to Studio B to hear Grayson play Side 2 live. The presentation was impressive, because I have never since seen a national label go to those lengths at a promo party.

When Grayson Hugh releases a new album, it is always worthy of your attention. This is one of the most eclectic discs he's ever had out and it might be hard to track down, so I'll direct you to his website at

- Peanuts, The Greater Cleveland Blues News, March 2013



As impressive as Grayson Hugh's 1989 debut album "Blind To Reason" was, "Road To Freedom" represents a quantum leap beyond it. While Hugh's blue-eyed vocals and affinity for gospel-style Hammond organ remain, his music adds a welcome infusion of rock 'n roll punch. "Hideaway", "Forever Yours, Forever Mine" and "When She Comes Walking" bristle with radio-friendly hooks, while Hugh's Rod Stewart-meets-Sam-Cooke vocals on "I Can't Untie You From Me" and the ballad "Walking Through The Fire" are sublime.

 - Dan Kening (five-star review), Chicago Tribune, Nov. 19, 1992



               BILLBOARD'S TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 1992

Grayson Hugh's "Road To Freedom" - Gutsy, melodic, heartland style soul-rock that really fills a hole.

- Jim Bessman, Billboard Magazine, Nov. 29, 1992



Here's a CD I'm having trouble keeping out of my player. The long-delayed follow-up to "Blind To Reason", Hugh's killer 1989 blue-eyed soul release, "Road To Freedom", is well worth the wait. Led by Hugh on a Hammond B-3 organ, "Hideaway" sets a swirling tone for the project. His soulful vocals, from the reflective "Soul Cat Girl" to an anti-war masterpiece titled "For The Innocent" are heartfelt, to say the least. The grand finale is a gospel assault on Bob Dylan's "I'll Remember You" that could raise the dead. Any year with a Grayson Hugh release in it can't be all bad.

- Peanuts, The Cleveland Sun, Dec. 3, 1992  



Whoever said truthful soul and rock 'n roll was dying has yet to hear singer/songwriter/keyboardist Grayson Hugh's "Road To Freedom".

Hugh is a unique but diverting cross between Otis Redding and Hank Williams. His creation of a tight, four-piece band has a fascinating way of producing a distinct sound very seldom heard.

"Road To Freedom" features the song "I'll Remember You", Hugh's arrangement of a Bob Dylan song. It plays over the credits to 1992's hit film "Fried Green Tomatoes". Another of Hugh's songs from the album, "I Can't Untie You From Me", was featured in the runaway hit "Thelma and Louise".

His album also features "Road to Freedom" (inspired by Nelson Mandela's release from prison in 1990), "Soul Cat Girl", "Forever Yours, Forever Mine", "Lost Avenue", "There's A Time" (which he wrote at age sixteen), "Walking Through The Fire" and four other hits - all prime examples of Hugh's powerful singing, soulful songwriting and unequaled keyboarding.

Hugh, raised in a small New England town, says in a press release "I remember being fascinated by old-time blues singers...I've been writing poetry since grade school, and I was always playing piano and organ". Throughout the album Hugh displays his talent and distinguished organic sound, which is a little bit rock 'n roll, a little bit country, and alot of soul. And Hugh says "I love that fine line between country and soul".

He admits his true obsession is his Hammond B3 organ.

"It's an integral part of my sound", he explains. "I had it custom-made with a wah-wah pedal and other modifications. I want to extend the sound of that instrument, to use it almost like a guitar".

Along with his sound, Hugh's lyrics are also distinguished and profound. His songs are filled with life, loss, good times and bad times. The words will touch you. In short, with "Road To Freedom", Grayson Hugh has come up with a style that is all his own - eloquent, entertaining and extremely enjoyable.

- Jennifer Derrick, The Penn, Indiana University, October 12, 1992.


                               AMAZING GRAYSON


 Grayson Hugh is an American music original. 

 Hugh brought his diverse souffle of rock, gospel, balladry and poetry to a slow simmer last night at the Lyric Theatre in sleepy little downtown Stuart, Florida. The building threatened to rise from its foundations, but the trembling rafters weren't caused by passing trains. It was just Hugh's voice soaring for the stratosphere, strong and emotional, sweet and assured.

  Releasing only two albums in five years, 1989's "Blind To Reason" and "Road To Freedom" in 1992, Hugh is still considered an artist on the rise. After last night's experience, however, the audience must have wondered why this man is not recognized as one of the country's most enduring talents.

  - Gary Shipes, The Stuart News, May 6, 1994







Grayson Hugh's music, lyrics are stirring. 

I don't want to get your hopes up about Grayson Hugh. Don't want to oversell him so you put 1988's Blind To Reason or the new Road To Freedom in the CD player and expect light to flow forth, healing cancer and removing cataracts. But ask me about him straight up and I'd have to answer you this way:

Have I heard any newcomer in the last decade who excites me more than this guy?


Have I heard any newcomer in the last decade who excites me as much as this guy?


Your next question is obvious as the chin on Leno's face: Well, what's the guy sound like? And therein lies a problem, because while there are a lot of obvious comparisons, none gives a complete picture.

He's the thoughtful singer-songwriter type, like James Taylor or Paul Simon, but there’s more pure soul in him than that comparison would imply.

Well then, how about Marvin Gaye, Rod Stewart or Sam Cooke? Yeah, he’s got the requisite gravel and rasp and anguish in his voice. But there’s more poetry and grace in his lyrics than theirs.

 Bruce Springsteen? The introspection’s there. The fist-cranking Born To Run adrenaline rush isn’t.

So what does he sound like? Like everything you’ve heard before. And nothing you've heard before. No risk-taker or barrier-breaker like, say, Prince or R.E.M or Nirvana or Me Phi Me. But yet, a haunting sound, a rock ’n’ soul groove, greasy with Hammon organ, spangled with guitars, it’s melodies framed by understated piano accents, it’s choruses and bridges braced with harmonies as plaintive as a train whistle at midnight.


  And his lyrics! If you love words, if you’re one of those people for whom heaven is a rainy day and a good book, then know this: Hugh doesn’t write words — he writes pictures.

  Like "Forever Yours, Forever Mine", which speaks of “steep September daylight when the shadows fall at four” and “eyes just staring down the college street strewn with the paper of sycamore leaves.”

 Like "Road To Freedom", which offers a breathtaking view — “over the tops of mountains over the western snow, watching the river wander, just a vein of silver far below” — and adds a hard observation certain to strike a chord with any Native American or African American — “They take away your money, and they take away your name, and they take the ground that you’re standing on but never, ever take the blame.”

  And then there is the stark, painful ballad called "For The Innocent". Hugh wrote it for his grandfather, Dr. Frank Rawlinson, a missionary in Shanghai who wal killed during the Second World War. Hugh sings: “In trees and fields the snowflakes fell, gently on the gravestone of one I knew well. Cut down before his time on some rocky road, caught in someone else’s war for some cause of old. He was a writer and a peaceful man, never held a rifle in his hand.But upon that fateful day, a bullet from a gun sought him out as if to say, I’ll find the meekest one.”

  Hugh, a thirtysomething native of Hartford, Conn., who quit school at 15, says, “I remember the English teacher said, ‘You should really consider being a poet.’ I didn’t want to hear it. [But] I read from when I was 14 on. Every poet I could get my hands on. James Joyce, Faulkner, James Agee, Dylan Thomas, Archibald MacLeish. I read voraciously. I quit high school and just kind of educated myself.

  “I was lucky enough to have parents who said “That’s cool if you want to do that. You’ve just got to get a job.” One year I had something like 55 jobs — a lot of odd jobs. Then I discovered I could make money playing in bands.”


  During those years, Hugh’s family was moving around, alighting in South Carolina, Louisiana and Maine. Musically, he was moving around a lot too.

  “I played organ and piano [for a black church in Hartford]… That was really my introduction to [gospel], a form of music I love to this day. I sort of got into that and combined that with my rock roots.

  “Then there’s a lot of other music that I grew up with. My dad is a classical DJ in Connecticut and he always had an extensive record collection, all different kinds of music — classical, jazz, rock, folk. I grew up with a lot of different inlfuences.”

 Asked to describe the sound those influences have fostered in him, he’s at a loss.

 “I don’t know what you call it. My girlfriend half-seriously said “When people ask you what you play, say country gothic.”

  Why not? Works about as well as anything else.

  Hugh’s debut album Blind To Reason was the result of a chance meeting with producer Michael Baker in the elevator of a New York apartment building.

  “I was carrying a keyboard, we started talking…I was going to my manager’s apartment; we asked him in, played him the tape, and he introduced me to the people at RCA.”

  RCA sent Hugh into the studio with Baker, and the result was Blind To Reason. There are some great tracks on that disc, including the raw-dog blues of the title number and the old-school, Sam Cooke soul of Talk It Over.

  Hugh says now it was a little too smooth, a little overproduced for his taste. “I felt I was being pigeonholed… I needed to branch out.”


  Four years later, he’s branched out to MCA Records, where veteran R&B producer Bernard Edwards took the helm on Road To Freedom.

 “Basically, it’s much more raw,” Hugh says of the new album. “And it’s really the way I always was. Basically, I always was a real rocker. All my bands were pretty hard-edged.

 My producer, Bernard Edwards, encouraged me to just be myself in the studio. We laughed a lot. It was real easy working with him…he kept it fresh. It’s kind of the way I approach my writing.”

  It’s always risky business to play fortune-teller in this game — especially when dealing with an artist eight out of 10 record-buyers have never heard of. And your humble music writer here has a great track record of proclaiming superstardom for acts that never even get out of the starting gate.

  So, tempting as it is, no predictions here.

  Except one. You’ll enjoy Grayson Hugh.

 - Leonard Pitts, Jr., The Miami Herald, Oct. 19, 1992  



                        GRAYSON HUGH'S HIT

 One of the summer’s most engaging hits is Grayson Hugh’s recording of Talk It Over. Without sounding like too much of an imitation, the 30-year-old’s performance echoes the style and timbre of Sam Cooke with its winning warmth and sweetness. The song is included on his debut album, Blind To Reason(RCA).

  “To be honest, Sam Cooke was before my time; I didn’t know about him until a few years ago,” said Mr. Hugh, who was reared in West Hartford, Conn., and who now lives in New York. Growing up, he said, the singer he was most aware of was Marvin Gaye.

  Unlike the vast majority of pop singers and songwriters, Mr. Hugh has had extensive musical training. At the age of 11, he said, he wanted to be Gustav Mahler. Later he studied with the avan-garde composer Ran Blake and was part of a trio called the Wild Goose, which tried to incorporate ideas from Stavinsky, Stockhausen and Lukas Foss. But rock-and-roll, which he had discovered at 14, also attracted him.

  The most crucial experience leading up to his recording career, however, was a yearlong stint playing the piano in a black gospel church in Hartford 11 years ago.

  “My dad, who was a friend of the minister, heard that their pianist had quit,” he said. “I auditioned for the job and got it. In that year I learned more than in all my years of formal training.”

- Steven Holden, The New York Times, Aug. 30, 1989   



                              New On The Charts

The beginning of newcomer Grayson Hugh’s recording career took place in an apartment elevator on Manhattan, New York’s Upper East Side. That is where he met Michael Baker, co-producer of Blind To Reason, his debut album on RCA records.

A self-taught piano player, Hugh grew up listening to and admiring great black singers of his age like Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding. He spent a year playing piano in a black gospel church and later founded several Connecticut bands.

The chance encounter with Baker, one-time producer of Wet, Wet, Wet and the Blow Monkeys, eventually led to a recording contract with RCA. Baker noticed Hugh playing a synthesizer in an elevator and found himself listening to his demo tape 15 minutes later. Of that meeting, he says, “I was immediately struck by the dichotomy – here’s this quiet, sort of shy white guy with a leather jacket and long hair, who sounds like all the greatest black singers in the world rolled together.”

“Talk It Over, the first single from Blind To Reason, has entered the hot 100 singles chart is already a top 10 hit on the Hot Adult Contemporary charts.

 - Jim Richliano, Billboard Magazine, Jul. 8, 1989  



                    Have You Met Grayson Hugh?

   You turn to page fifteen of this week’s Billboard Magazine, the music industry’s most prestigious publication, and you see the listing of Talk It Over, the single from Grayson Hugh’s newly-relased RCA album Blind To Reason on the Adult Contemporary Top Twenty Chart. This is impressive for several important reasons. First of all, getting signed to a major record company these days is an extremely difficult task. Secondly, reaching national chart recognition with a first release is almost never accomplished. And then you listen to the album and you’re the most surprised of all. Is it possible that this white young man can sound so much like Sam Cooke on one track, like Otis Redding on another, reminiscent of Marvin Gaye on another and of Wilson Pickett on another still? And his extraordinary lyrics make his songs seem more like poems set to music. You send away for his press material to find out what is really behind all of this.

   Grayson Hugh and I are sitting at a picnic table on the large rear lawn surrounding his rented South Hampton cottage. This is his first weekend back after a performing tour with Phoebe Snow and he’s happy to be relaxing. The building appears to have been a stable, perhaps twenty or so years ago, and it is lined with barn doors carrying names of famous horses: Native Dancer Man of War. He offers freshly-made home-brewed French roasted coffee and tells me his story.

  He is first-generation Welsh and was raised in Hartford, Connecticut. His father is a classical deejay from Britain; his mother, the daughter of missionaries, is from Shanghai. “I grew up with music around me from as far back as I can remember,” he says. “I can recall walking around the living room conducting an imaginary Peer Gynt suite by Grieg. There was always a piano around, I just taught myself.” His father was also Director of Communications for the Connecticut Council of Churches. In this capacity he was always meeting people of different countries – African musicologists, people from India, etc. The household record collection was filled with albums by artists like Harry Belafonte and Olatunji as well as early folk music of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

  One day when he was still in elementary school, some musicians came to visit through a cultural exchange program and demonstrated the saxophone. “I was about nine,” he says, “and I was instantly sold.” He started taking formal lessons on alto sax and also learned to read music and to orchestrate. By the time he was fifteen he had his own band; at eighteen he was supporting himself full-time as a musician, songwriter and performer.

  The big break came during the winter of 1987 in New York City. He calls it his “elevator story” and acknowledges that it’s hard to believe, but assures me it’s true. While riding in an elevator in an apartment building on the Upper East Side, heading for a business meeting with his manager, he met a man whose appearance was as distinctive as Grayson’s own. Each knew immediately that the other was a musician. They started a conversation and by the time they had reached the fifth floor, there was a professional relationship in the works. The other man was record producer Michael Baker who interrupted his day’s schedule to hear Grayson’s demo tape. His response was, “I’m immediately struck by the dichotomy: here’s this quiet sort of shy white guy with a leather jacket and long hair who sounds like all the greatest black singers in the world rolled together. It was fascinating, this image with this voice. I immediately called my girlfriend and said, ‘I just found the next Buddy Holly!’”. Next, he introduced Grayson Hugh to RCA Records and the rest, as they say, is chart-making history.

  I ask why he responds so strongly to black music and he says, “I have no idea. Why do people like the color green? It’s pretty arbitrary. I have two brothers – we grew up playing music together. One brother was in an African drumming group and my other brother just went on a Fullbright with Yale to study music over there this summer. We like it, rhythm has always been an important part. I guess I like passion, if you really want to analyze it. But I also love great bluegrass and I love all sorts of music from different parts of the world.”

   Well, "Blind To Reason" is authentic raw soul of the first order.

  There’s been a sense in the Hamptons for some time now that an important music scene is developing here. It’s been known as the second home for major artists such as Billy Joel, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney. But over the last few years the area has also been home to emerging artists. It seems very likely that eastern Long Island is going to be as well-known for its music community as for its artists and writers.

  Grayson Hugh is the first one on the charts. Stop by Long Island Sound today and hear how unusual and entertaining he is.

  - Candace Leigh, Dan’s Papers, May 12, 1989




 I think I was heading to work across the bridge this summer when it hit me: "Talk It Over" may be the most perfect pop record of the year. I'd heard it maybe 10 times earlier, but at that moment its lilting, fluttering recreation of Sam Cooke's style, its flawless doo-wop harmonies and its mellifluous melody were like an epiphany. Grayson Hugh is a white guy in long hair and black leather who has apparently soaked himself in the sounds of Otis Redding, Al Green and the late, great Cooke. His LP debut is a revelation, every note as wonderful as the single that stole my heart that summer day.

-  The Nashville Tennessean, Sept. 17, 1989



                  Grayson Hugh - Soul In The Suburbs


  Irony fans, please note: The soul man is a dinosaur in decline, right? Al Green went and got religion, Dennis Edwards is in exile from The Temptations again and, let's face it, Luther Vandross is way too cool to sweat.

  So who's left to save the genre? Some down-and-dirty black powerhouse who grew up in a suburb of Hell, singing in the local church? Not quite. He's a white guy from a suburb of Hartford, Connecticut. And the first time he was ever in a black church and saw somebody whip out a tambourine, he jumped a mile. Meet Grayson Hugh and the music he likes to call "poetry with an attitude".

  "That's sort of a phrase I've come up with that seems to describe my music", he says. "It's loud and it's a little audacious and it's moody and it's in the setting of a band playing live. It's not just a beat with empty words."

  Nothing empty about Hugh's brilliant debut album, "Blind To Reason". The single "Talk It Over" is a smooth, deftly executed Sam Cooke reprise; the album's title track is brutal, raw dog blues. Nothing empty about his resume, either. The gravel-voiced 31-year-old grew up with the prerequisite love for black music. Unlike so many other "blue-eyed" soul men, though, he followed the music to its spawning ground, walking in "audaciously" to apply for a job as pianist at a little black church.

  "Y'know", he says, "the first few times I played people were a little amazed to see me, being the only white and really young. But after two or three Sundays I remember this woman, the mother of one of the singers, got up and just said, in the middle of the service, 'I know this boy is doing something a little different, but he sound okay to me'".

  Of course, after nine months they fired him, Hugh says, because "they really wanted an all-black church."

  He survived. And roughly a decade later Hugh is back with a debut album that serves notice: Of the currently active soul men, he is, arguably, the best in class. It's hard to improve on what the woman said: Yeah, he's doing something a little different, but he sounds okay to me.

  - Leonard Pitts, Jr., Musician Magazine, Nov. 1989 



                                        A QUIET GIANT


  The first time THE STREET ran into Grayson Hugh: November 1rst, 1988. The scene: The Dickie Betts Record Party at The Lone Star Roadhouse in New York. It's wall-to-wall people inside. Loyal Allman Brothers fans who did manage to get into the sold-out show have been waiting in line for hours. There are lights, cameras, cables everywhere. Technicians working video/audio hookups for MTV and TV broadcast coverage. The SRO show includes many musicians and industry VIPs. "No Shows" - despite rumors to the contrary - are Jimmy Page and Gregg Allman. But nobody cares. that's because on stage, it's one of those once-in-a-lifetime lineups of the legends of rock n' roll.

  Dickie Betts - former ace guitarist of The Allman Brothers - is center stage playing with his current sidemen. There's Jack Bruce, bassist extraordinaire of the legendary group Cream. There's also Rolling Stones ex-guitarist Mick Taylor, and still yet another world-class axeman - Rick Derringer. 

  No one on keyboards yet. But a buzz goes through the crowd as a tall, long-haired musician wearing a cowboy hat emerges from stage left to sit at the piano, joining the others for a scorching set of southern rock 'n roll. The all-star jam rocks out the crowd and when it's all over, a lot of folks are asking "Who was that hot keyboardist?"

  None other than Grayson Hugh, THE STREET finally learns from the mystery man himself during a recent phone interview. Hugh and his seven-piece had opened for Dickie on a tour through the South and the Midwest, so Betts invited him to sit in for the show at The Roadhouse.

  That memorable jam was just for starters in the unusual career of Grayson Hugh. Hugh is getting his share of notice currently, due to the release of his RCA debut album "Blind To Reason". The blue-eyed singer of Welsh ancestry penned all the songs on this powerful record and he is an authentic and authentic soul singer - reminiscent of such artists as Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke. But he is quick to point out that his roots are also very much rock 'n roll.

  These days, Grayson is busy working on new material and getting ready for some concert dates in the U.K. and another upcoming U.S. tour.

 - Carol Tormey, The Street, October 1989  



                            A Natural Soul Man


  Music fans had their choice Sunday night between down-home gritty Delta blues or contemporary blue-eyed soul as venerable legend John Lee Hooker and rising pop star Grayson Hugh performed at the Omni/New Daisy Theater and Peabody Alley (at The Peabody Hotel) respectively.

  While there were some pronounced differences in approach, technique and sound between Hooker and Hugh, a firm foundation in the black music tradition was the underlying theme linking both performers.

  While the Hooker set attracted casually dressed blues lovers, the more sophisticated classy bunch filled Peabody Alley for Grayson Hugh.

   Performing songs from his powerful debut album “Blind To Reason”, Hugh displayed the complete range of his influences. He played a string of rolling chords and flashy phrases on electric keyboard that reflected his gospel and jazz background, while his delivery and singing method were straight out of the R&B/Soul school. Hugh’s a natural Soul Man, right down to the stage mannerisms, which included playing on his knees and behind his back. He did two stinging cover songs, one a sizzling “Bring It On Home To Me”.

   While the packed house of over 450 people at first seemed more interested in hearing Hugh than reacting to him, by the middle of his set the dance floor was also packed.

   - Ron Wynn, The Memphis Daily News, Oct. 12, 1989





                       A Jazzy Rock-and-Blues Homebrew

  Ever wish someone would come along who could sing like a fusion of Al Green and Steve Winwood, write music that blended influences as diverse as Yes and Ray Charles, and hammer the keyboards with Emersonian adroitness and Wonderous soul?

  Enter the prodigious Grayson Hugh, grown in Hartford’s back yard soil. Hugh spent a year recording his first album at the Nineteen Studios in Glastonbury, and the result is a sprawling, ambitious product that just drips with talent.

  Strange things happen within the circular borders of "Grayson Hugh", an album with happy ties to some of the musical brilliance of the 1960s. The album’s most magical interludes evoke some of the excitement of the early attempts to blend jazz, rock and blues – Winwood’s gutsy Traffic jams and Steve Katz and Bobby Colomby’s earliest dabblings in Blood, Sweat and Tears. The guts of the album, though, are sheer rhythm and blues, as practiced by Charles.

  None of the above, however, fully prepares the listeners for tours de force like "There’s No Such Thing As Those Walls", which matches a growly Charlseian vocal against a Hancocked funk-fusion piano-bass groove and gradually adds overlays of sax, honking in an almost Colemanish counterpoint. Before he has exhausted these possibilities, Hugh abruptly rips the seams out of the composition and erupts into a phosphorescent keyboard solo reminiscent of Keith Emerson’s careening attacks, pumped along by a juggernaut-like cymbals-to-bass rhythm track supplied by drummer Rob Gottfried and bassist Dave Stolz (whose relationship has its roots in the Chris Squire/Bill Bruford tandem of Yes’s middle period – all of which scarcely warns us of Tom Majesky’s whirring guitar solo to come.

  Well, let me tell you, it quickens the pulse to think they’re laying this stuff down just an infield fly away, in little old Glastonbury. (For those who worry about the quality of a “local product,” it should be noted that producer Ron Scalise has meticulously recorded, mixed and mastered the music. The sound qualities are far superior to 95 percent of the pop music released by major labels, and the high-grade vinyl is a welcome respite from the snap, crackle and pop garbage that the big labels mass-produce.)

  For all the brilliance of the material, "Grayson Hugh" does not necessarily herald great commercial success for its author. Although Hugh occasionally writes attractive pop hooks, as in the country and western-inflected "Just When I Was Dancing", he is never content to let the matter rest there. "Just When I Was Dancing" begins as a fairly sraightforward pop song, but Hugh pushes it into unpredictable regions, and the song expounds at least four separate musical themes – a lot for a casual radio listener to digest in five and one half minutes.

  A song like the epic "City Dawn" – which takes off from its initial rhythm-and-blues premise like a trout on a long line, twisting and diving through a daring musical territory – will never appear on the narrow horizons of album-oriented rock radio. Hugh’s music is marvelous, but it may prove too sophisticated for its marketplace – haute cuisine fare in the junk food world of contemporary pop. The adventurous musical palates of the 1960s are harder to find these days.

  The most commercially accessible tune on the album is " When You’re Young and in the Picture", which Hugh pegged to Majesky’s Motwonish guitar lick, giving the cut a gently rocking Isley Brothers feel.  "Madness of the Heart", an impressionistic jazz ballad is also within the grasp of most pop listeners.

  It remains to be seen, however, if the “adult contemporary” patrons of Ambrosia and Eddie Rabbitt are ready for the eerie naturalism and exquisite counterpoint of In The Hour of the Loon.

  Regardless of whether or not the album succeeds, "Grayson Hugh" matches up in excitement, diversity and sophistication to the best rock music recorded in 1981. Hugh and his band have achieved a meritorious level of musicianship, and his music is the kind that yields new delights and insights with each new listening.

  Hartford ought to be proud.

- Colin McEnroe, The Hartford Courant, May 3, 1981