Note: Back then — back in the early 1990s, before anybody knew who anybody was — Mike Huckaby and Rick Wade were two guys that met at the record store. Aside from their day jobs at Record Time, Rick and Mike released records together (Deep Transportation Vol 1 & 2 EPs were Huckaby’s first original EPs and the second and third releases on Wade’s Harmonie Park label). And, of course, they became friends.
A few days after Mike’s passing, 5 Mag asked Rick if he would share a few stories and memories of Huckaby. Over the course of about an hour, this is what he said.
Photos by Marie Staggat.
“Where’s the bass line?”
For me, Huck was really a mentor as well as a friend. Let me give you an example of how Huck inspired me.
When I first started making house tracks, Huck was already a key figure in the city and his influence stretched however far beyond that. My thing back then was ghetto tech and hip hop, but I also liked house music and we played all of it on my radio show.
When I started making house tracks, the few people I’d let hear it really liked it. But I remember playing Huck an earlier version of the track “Nothing to Fear” that would later be on the first Harmonie Park record.
I said I was thinking about putting it out.
Huck told me, “I like it… but… well… where’s the bass line?”
“It don’t got no bass line?” Huck was like, “Rick, Rick… you can’t put a track out that got no bass line in it. You just can’t do that!”
I thought, “Why not?” It sounded tight, you know.
Huck said, “Listen, your tracks are based on a lot of chords, melodies… But you need some kind of bass line to help carry that melody.”
I took his advice on that for sure and good thing I did.
What’s funny is that I’d been doing ghetto tech and in that stuff, the whole structure’s based around sweet bass lines. But I didn’t get the concept that I really need to put a bass line in my house tracks. But those are the follies of youth, right? And Huck put me on the right path right from the start.
And after Huck told me I need to put a bass line in my tracks, I told Huck that you just cannot release a track that is 20 minutes long. One of his tracks back then was actually 20 minutes long. I said, “The track is sweet, don’t get me wrong, but 15 minutes? 20 minutes? Come on, man!” We had laugh about that.
“That was my goal with music — to try to trick Mike Huckaby.”
We were both working at Record Time when I released my tracks and his tracks on Harmonie Park. As a matter of fact, Huck did a couple of those early tracks at my studio in my house, because he really liked the sounds that were inside of my Korg T3 keyboard. He had already been working on some tracks, but he would come over to my place to sweeten the tracks up, so to speak. He really liked the saxophones and the Rhodes sound and things like that.
Record Time was basically two stores in one. There was the main part of the store with the cassettes, CDs, cash registers, that sort of thing. Then there was the “dance room” with house, hip hop, techno records with the turntables set up. Huck was the manager of the dance room. I’d been at the record store for awhile and was always trying to get into the dance room, but the owner wanted to keep me out by the cassettes and the cash registers. Finally a spot opened up and Huck told the owner, “Hey, you need to put Rick in here. He knows music, he knows the DJs, he would be a good asset for the dance room.” After a while I became the assistant manager. He was the manager.
Before Record Time, I knew who Huck was, but we weren’t friends. We had never talked or anything but I knew who he was because I would shop at Record Time. But I would just go in and get what I gotta get and get on out of there — I didn’t stick around and socialize. I started working there in I believe 1992 and that was when me and Huck became friends. And then once I got into the dance room, that’s when we really vibed and became good friends.
Every release, you make sure it has the best tracks you have at the time that record comes out. That’s how you gotta do it.
When I first started making house tracks, I really was making them, first of all, to play inside my radio mix shows — just to have something fresh and new to play.
Secondly, I was making them to try to trick Mike Huckaby. I’d bring something I was working on to the store on cassette tape, then pick any random record, put it on and pretend that’s what was playing. But what was really playing was the music from my cassette tape. Now, if I could get Huck to bop his head or ask, “What is that?” I would be like, “Ah! I see! I got you! That’s something I’m working on.”
It may sound naïve but that was my goal with music — to try to trick Mike Huckaby. I didn’t understand the concept that I would be or should be flown around the world to DJ. Not at all. To me it was fine to just put out records. Dan Bell was handling the business side of Harmonie Park and the label and my tracks were getting a bit of a buzz and that was just fine as far as I was concerned.
But Huck was thinking on a different level than me. He was thinking big. He would talk about it sometimes. He would say, “Rick, you know one day they going to be flying us around the world?”
I’d say, “Huck, you’re talking crazy, man. They’ve already got DJs in Europe. Why are they going to fly us over there?” To me this was nonsense. I knew about Derrick May and Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson and Mike Banks, but to me that was something else because they weren’t making deep house or ghetto tech. That was more of an abstract world to me. What did that have to do with us at Record Time?
But Huck was making moves. He was setting it up so that when the opportunity presented itself, he was ready to jump. A few times before he was booked to play overseas, he just flew over there himself to meet with promoters, distribution companies, record stores… It’s like he was inserting himself into the conversation. And this was even before he had any tracks out yet, or at least before he’d put out Deep Transportation, which I think was his first original EP. He did some remixes for Definitive before that, I think.
Huck was putting himself out there: “I am somebody and one day you will know my name.” He didn’t say that, you know, but looking back on it that’s the impression he left on me. That’s the only reason why somebody would do that. You are preparing people for your arrival.
“Ask around & you’ll hear people say he had a heart of gold. He really did.”
What stands out to me right now is thinking about how influential Huck was. Not “influential” just as a producer or a DJ — I mean he was a very generous person and influenced a lot of people on a personal level. He appeared very stoic, but beneath that — just ask around and you’ll hear people say he had a heart of gold. He really did. Huck would give you the shirt off his back and not even think about it. Like it wasn’t even a thing. He was naturally inclined to help people, especially when it came to instructing, teaching or trying to guide them.
How he did that was different depending on the person. He had a gift for teaching people. Some people just need to hear a straight-up, “Man what are you doing? Get your shit together!” And then for other people, he would put the idea in their head and let them come to it on their own. And he seemed to be able to tell which approach he should take with different people.
And he was so knowledgeable about all things music-related, not just house or techno, but how the industry works and knowledgeable about jazz history, about Detroit, Motown, R&B. He just knew about it all. He was able to provide a lot of help and guidance to a lot of different people.
Huck was probably the hardest working DJ out of all of us. He was constantly on the go.
Now for me, the thing that I will carry with me with regards to the legacy of Huck is he always encouraged you to be your very best at everything no matter what it was.
For example, there was the time I was trying to decide on what tracks I wanted to put on the first Harmonie Park record. This was my first house record and I wanted to put my best tracks on there, but was also wondering if I should hold a couple of them back to make sure I still had some good ones to put on the second release.
Huck stopped me short on that.
“Now Rick, you can’t think like that. Every release, you make sure it has the best tracks you have at the time that record comes out. That’s how you gotta do it.”
But I’m thinking about the second record, not the first. I was afraid I wasn’t going to have anything good left.
“You made these tracks, didn’t you?” he said. “Then you can make more tracks just as good. And you’ll probably make better ones.”
That just resonated with me and opened my eyes. Like, yeah, I did make these, so why can’t I make others just as good as or better? From that moment, my philosophy has been to put out whatever I feel is my strongest. Of course I make a lot more tracks today than I did then, and any given day I might think one thing is better than another. But at least in the early days when I didn’t have this whole arsenal of tracks, I might’ve only had whatever you heard on that Harmonie Park record. I might only have maybe two extra tracks outside of it that I was confident about. But you can believe that after that, on those early records, whatever you hear is what I thought was my strongest, best effort. And that was all due to Huck’s influence.
“We’re using the same turntables. How is this possible?”
We played together a lot at places locally, like the Shelter and stuff like that. But back in those days, we were still what I would call “mobile DJs.” We were doing graduation parties, middle school dances, weddings — things like that.
Not a lot of people know this, but Huck used to play ghetto tech back in the day. He was actually one of the original sweet bass DJs in the city. He could do all these tricks and stuff. He had a very similar style to DJ Godfather before there was a Godfather. Huckaby was DJing like that — doing these tricks all the time, like doubling up two of the same record and scratching. He was playing house, techno and ghetto tech, but soon he started getting a little renown or fame for playing techno. I remember talking to him and he was saying he would have to let the ghetto tech go so he could focus on the house and techno. After he made that declaration, he just didn’t play ghetto tech anymore.
Huck was always a good DJ, even then. Always. When he was playing house he had a machine-like precision with his blends, even back in the day. Sometimes he’d follow me, and I’d worked up a sweat trying to keep stuff beat-matched or whatever. Huck would come up there and it was just effortless. We’re using the same turntables. How is this possible? Huck would just make a little nudge — just a little nudge of the pitch control, and just every so often he’d tap the side of the turntable. If it started to creep off just a hint, Huck would just tap it and it would lock. He could let ’em both ride to the end of the record if he wanted to. That’s how effortless it was for Huck.
And his tune selection was just legendary. People would be sending Huck all kinds of promos and things that wouldn’t even come out. Since he was the buyer at the record store, people would send him what we called “Secret Squirrel tunes.” We’d be like, “Huck, what was that? You’ve got something and you’re holding out on us, man.” And he’d be like “Oh you fool, they sent it to me, I don’t even know if it’s coming out.”
“Okay, I know there are rough times down there right now. You need to come up with a strategy. How are you going to survive in this new world?”
“Oh you like that, don’t you?”
I also want to talk about the funny stories we had. Huck was known for being kind of reserved, you might think he was sort of a hard person if you didn’t know him. But Huck was always laughing and joking. We’d be at gig somewhere and, let’s say Huck had was playing something I liked or didn’t know… one of those “Secret Squirrel tunes.” I’d be like, “What is that?” And Huck would say, “Oh, you like that, don’t you?” And he’d get this smile and I don’t know if you ever saw the show The Jeffersons but he’d start doing the George Jefferson dance. It was so funny.
Three of us used to hang out a lot back in the day — me, Huck and a guy named DJ Trackula. We would get into these sessions of joking about each other and Huckaby and Trackula would just go at it. Trackula’s real name was Mark, but after the first Harmonie Park record came out and it started making a little bit of noise, Mark was like, “Damn, we need to come up with some cool DJ names.”
And I’m like, uh, I’m just going to call myself Rick Wade, that’s cool, but no. Mark was going to call himself “DJ Trackula.” And I was like, what? Dracula? Trackula? Why?
He’s like, “It’s because I play tracks and I like to stay up late at night.”
I said okay, that’s a good name, that’s a good name. Make sure you tell Huck about that name too.
The next time we were all hanging out, he told Huck he was going to start calling himself “Trackula” and Huck roasted him. Huck just tore him up. And Trackula roasted him back. I never laughed so hard in my life as that night. These two were going at it and it was like classic jokes. It is too bad we couldn’t have recorded that because Huck and Trackula could have been like a comedy TV show where they’re friends who are always arguing and insulting each other but they really liked each other a lot.
Later we were at my first wedding. We’re standing there waiting for the bride to come down the aisle and Huck turns around and looks me in the eye. Then he smiles and he’s got a pair of fake vampire teeth in his mouth. Understand this is at my wedding: we’re standing up there in front of the preacher, they got the organ music playing and we started losing it up there. Theo saw it and started laughing first, and then Huck started laughing and when Huck started to laugh he’s still got the Dracula teeth in his mouth and it’s like he’s coughing, like he’s about to choke on these Dracula teeth. These were the kind of funny things I want to remember that a lot of people didn’t see unless you got to know him really well.
“How are you going to survive in this new world?”
Huck was one of my best friends from the time in the record store until probably 2013 or so. We would hang out together all the time before then. I mean, within reason: Huck was probably the hardest working DJ out of all of us. He was constantly on the go. He was constantly in Europe. If he wasn’t DJing house or DJing techno, he was giving a lecture or seminar on Native Instruments or Ableton workshops or whatever. If he wasn’t doing that, he was teaching kids down at YouthVille. There was a lot of stuff he was doing. We actually saw each other more often in an airport somewhere, like we’re connecting through Amsterdam or wherever. Or if we were booked to play at a gig together in Europe. And there’s Movement and that’s when everybody always hangs out again. You know, we would catch up and have a bunch of laughs until next time our paths crossed again.
However, around that time I got married for the second time, had two more kids (for a total of four) and I got a day job. My presence wasn’t as common in the scene as it had been. And I wasn’t calling Huck as much as I should have been. You get busy with life and stuff and you end up taking people for granted. It’s with no ill will, but you have the thought that they’re always going to be there. And it gets to this point, where within these past two years, I probably only talked to Huck four or five times. There’s always something coming up and you don’t get a chance and it just slips through your fingers without thinking about it.
I don’t think Huck is even concerned with what’s going on down here right now, but if he is I know he appreciates all the sympathy and seeing how much he meant to everybody. But I can also see him kind of smiling, like he’s saying “Ah, you miss me, don’t you fool? I knew you’d miss me when I was gone!”
But then he’d say, “Okay, that’s enough moping around. You gotta keep moving forward. What’s your next record? What are you coming out with? You need to be working right now.”
And that’s who Huck was. He was the type of person that if something bad happened, he’d lick his wounds for like five minutes and then bam — “What’s the strategy? What’s the game plan? So this happened — what are we working on next?” I’m sure that’s probably how he’s looking at all of us right now. “Okay, I know there are rough times down there right now. You need to come up with a strategy. How are you going to survive in this new world?”