Ronnie Hudson might not necessarily be a household name, but you certainly know his work. Post-Motown boomers and golden-age hip-hop enthusiasts alike remember the hook “California knows know to party” from the electric bass-rich funk classic “West Coast Poplock.” And most folks who know what N.W.A. stands for might know an interpolation of the famous verse in the Dr. Dre and Tupac hit, “California Love.”
Originally from DC, Hudson is a contemporary of the late Troutman brothers (of Zapp) and mid-Atlantic legend Chuck Brown. He once worked for Isaac Hayes at Stax Records in Memphis as an in-studio player (notably on the Shaft theme.)
The bassist and singer-songwriter recently remastered the 1982 West Coast anthem and released Westcoastin’, an extended remix of the funk hit, with the help of DJ Flash. The mix features talent from the L.B.C. (Snoop Dogg) to Oak Town (Too Short). Hudson took a moment out to talk about his career and latest projects.
Tell me about your musical roots?
Actually, I was born and raised in Anacostia. At the age of 13, I took an interest in music and used to bang around on the guitar some. Later on, I became a bass player by way of a friend named Charles Harrington. From that point on, I became a pretty popular musician around the DC area.
You worked with Chuck Brown while in DC, yes?
When I started working with Chuck, he was coming up with the song “Bustin’ Loose.” I did part of the recording, but I never completed it.
Tell me about your ventures with Isaac Hayes and Stax Records.
I was summoned to Memphis, Tenn., by Isaac Hayes and Charles Pitts [his guitar player], also known as Skip. He [introduced me] to Isaac. [Hayes] asked me to become his bass player, and he explained to me this is the first time he’s putting a band together. While at Stax, we recorded so many huge hits, it was incredible. The next thing you know, I became the bass player for the record label as well. I was doing recording sessions for all the performers on the label. Those were some good days.
It was wonderful stay. Isaac Hayes was the best boss I had in my entire life.
Were you with Stax when it drifted to California?
No. I had done something for everyone there. My thoughts were, “Why don’t I do something for Ronnie Hudson?”
On the subject of California, who actually wrote the music to “West Coast Poplock”?
Larry and Roger Troutman [of Zapp]. It was a song with no lyrics. That was something new at the time. My manager encouraged me to do that. Coming from Stax where I came up with my own lyrics and bass patterns, I didn’t find it to be too clever.
My manager said we may be creating something [new]. I don’t know what we created, but something came out of it. But the Troutmans owned the publishing.
Lyrically, how did “West Coast Poplock” initially come to you?
My manager, named Mikel Hooks, came to me one day [after signing the management contract]. He had a title called “West Coast Poplock.” He asked me, “Ronnie you think you can write this?” I said, “Of course I can.” He said, “Write it. Let’s see how it turns out.” He said, “Say something about Los Angeles, Compton, and Watts.” [I had never been] and I needed to get some research on the people [of the respective cities, neighborhood].
I came into contact with some gang members of all kinds. I told them about my journey, what I was attempting to do. [They] touched my heart with some their sad stories. “No one ever talks about us over here,” one guy said. I heard somewhat of the same stories between [Compton and Watts]. When I started writing the song, the first thing I wrote was “California knows how to party.” That’s because I saw so much [nightlife, parties] in California. California seemed like a big party to me.
What station broke the song?
KDAY broke it. It stayed on the radio for 18 weeks. It went gold. There were so many different versions. It also appeared in movies. It wouldn’t go away. The publishing company is still getting calls about the song [for licensing].
How did your band The Street People come into play?
Once the song was written. I formed a band called The Street People Band. We went on to perform the song many times.
Tell me about Westcoastin’, your latest effort?
DJ Flash, who had established a record company, said to me, “Let’s do the ‘West Coast Poplock’ over again.” I said, “I don’t want to tamper with.” But I gave it a shot. He said, I want to put some rap in it. The album was dedicated to old-school legends [such as] N.W.A. We had Snoop Dogg, E-40, Celly Cel, and other classic rappers that would fit [this project]. We wanted to put the West Coast [sound] out there on the map again, and let ‘em know we’re still here.
We made a distribution deal with FYE where the album will be sold. When the [label was overwhelmed by sales], we sought deals with other companies such as Target and Best Buy.
Beside this effort, what are you doing these days?
(Laughs) I’m sort of like the Chuck Brown of the West Coast. I have a band called Ronnie Hudson and the Badass Band. We’ll be touring in Japan [soon].
Mr. Hudson is big vinyl record fan. He grew up in an era when it was the go-to format. He’s a very soft-spoken man who shows no disdain for younger, more electronic-leaning musicians and artists. He imagines himself a mentor of sorts. Hence, the revival of Westcoastin’, poplocking, and all that funky stuff.