Jimmy Hugues was a gospel singer and he came to soul. His LP, Why not tonight, is rereleased these days.
Hughes, a cousin of Percy Sledge, was born and raised in Leighton, Alabama, close to Muscle Shoals. He began singing in a gospel quartet, The Singing Clouds, while at high school. In 1962, he auditioned for record producer Rick Hall at his FAME Studios. Hall was impressed, and recorded Hughes on a song, "I'm Qualified", that Hall had co-written with Quin Ivy. The record was leased to the Guyden label in Philadelphia, but was not a hit. Hughes returned to his day job at a rubber factory, and began singing secular R&B songs in local clubs.
Early in 1964, he returned to Hall with a powerful ballad he had written, "Steal Away", partly based on the gospel song "Steal Away to Jesus", and recorded the song in one take, backed by the studio rhythm section of Terry Thompson, David Briggs, Norbert Putnam and Jerry Carrigan. Hall and his friend Dan Penn then promoted the record around radio stations in the South, and it rose to # 17 on the Billboard Hot 100. The record has been cited as "a prototype not only for subsequent great soul singers such as Johnnie Taylor and Al Green, but also would help define the signature Muscle Shoals sound." On the basis of Hughes' record, Hall signed a national distribution deal with Vee-Jay Records for his FAME label. Hughes' follow-up record, "Try Me", reached # 65 on the Hot 100, and he recorded an album, Steal Away, released on the Vee-Jay label, which included the first songwriting collaborations between Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. He also toured with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Bobby Womack and others.