"Ask me about the future," says Terry Huff. "The future looks very bright. I'm trying to get with Arista records. I hope to be recording again before the first of the year."
Just this minute, though, he is on his way to see about a job selling cemetery plots. He needs a little quick money for disbursement on the following schedule of priorities: rent, car payments, food, maybe some basic furniture for the Alexandria house he shares with his girl friend Sheila, and, if there's any left over, perhaps something on account to his philadelphia lawyer, or to that Holiday Inn in Indianapolis.
Huff has an idea that his calling in life is to be a singer and songwriter, but at 30 he has already done time as an insurance salesman, a driving instructor, a carryout manager, and, for five years, a D.C. police officer.
Huff's police career was an eventful one. As a third district casual clothes, or "mod squad" officer, he and partner Bob Horan patrolled the Dupont Circle and 14th Street areas in one or another of their identical red VW Beetles, and compiled an impressive record of cases, including robberies, burglaries, shootings, stabbings, and major narcotics offenses.
On one occasion, Huff and Horan boarded a bus crossing the Calvert Street (now Duke Ellington) Bridge and nabbed two suspects in a robbery at the Sheraton Park Hotel. Huff also helped bring an elegantly attired bank robbery suspect to bay in the lobby of the Dunpont Plaza Hotel. When a team of FBI agents arrived on the sence, they greeted the suspect gleefully by name, announcing he was wanted for a whole string of bank holdups, and, says, Huff, proceeded to steal the case away from him.
Huff's record won him a drawerful of commendations and a transfer to the robbery squad as a detective - at 24, one of the youngest ever. But in December 1973, he gave up his badge, gun and $11,300 a-year plus overtime (and there was plenty of overtime) for the uncertainty of a career in show business.
In the four years that followed, there have been moments when Huff seemed to be priced unmistakably on the launching pad to stardom. He has had two 45 r.p.m. records, an album, concerts and the attention of important people. But there have been bad times, too, including the present. "I had to sell my car and furniture," he says. "I don't know how we made it . . . I really don't."
He was a singer before . . . as well as after - the police years - back when he was one of a family of 14 children growing up in southeast Washington.
At four, his parents has been burned out of their house. Huff recalls, and after a year at the receiving home he went to live with foster parents. His father "wasn't a good money manager," he says, and that plus an ever-expanding family - "just about a child a year for 18 years" (four died) - made it impractical for his parent's to take Huff back until he was 12, he says.
At age 12 Huff met John Katsouros, now owner of the Stampede Cafe in Camp Springs, then the operator of two carryouts near 15th Street and Constitution Avenue SE. "Him and his brother and two other fellows were all the time out there singing," says Katsouros. "I bought them a uniform and so forth," and later "we just took trip after trip to New York trying to get a foot in the door."
The result of the trips to New York was a record, "Just One Look" by Andy and the Marglows. (Andy is Huff's older brother.) But the record did not sell.
There were several further, and equally frustrating, brushes with success. Huff won a spot by himself on a tour with Charley and Inez Fox, he says, but at the Stardust Palace in Chester, pa., the band upstaged him by playing instrumental arrangements of virtually all the numbers he was planning to sing, and when his time came came he "couldn't think of anything to do," he says, and wound up being cancelled from the tour.
There was also an encouraging audition with a record company in Philadelphia, which was considering singing both Huff and his brother, but the two had a quarrel, and for a while, were not on speaking, muchless singing terms.
Huff joined the D.C. police, ha admits, as an indirect result of the war and the draft. He had applied for the job hoping to get an occupational deferment, but the Army got around to calling him before the police did. He then applied for a hardship draft deferment, and attributes his success to an elbow-level hole in the otherwise immaculate white shirt he wore for his interview for Selective Service.
Except for some weekend club dates and boat cruise concerts, Huff was out of the music business from 1969 until when, fresh off the police department, he signed a partnership agreement with a group called Special Delivery. Almost immediately, music people liked the combination. But the participants, unfortunately, did not concur.
"We were just a mismatch," says Huff. "Everybody wanted the lead. Everybody wanted to do everything." By the time they have recorded a 45 record of Huff's song "I Destroyed Your Love" in October 1975, Huff had already decided to strike out on his own.
That was easier said than done, however. "I Destroyed Your Love" was such a hit that the record company continued to use the Special Delivery link in marketing Huff's subsequent records. There was a lawsuit, a restraining order, a brief understanding, and eventually chaos. The net effect, says Huff, is that "They were able to stop me in my tracks." But Huff says he doesn't blame Special Delivery - "I was mad as hell myself" about the use of Special Delivery's name with his, he says.
"The Lonely One," Huff's first single made it to the No. 11 spot on the nationwide soul chart, he says, and even reached the bottom registers of the pop chart.
But after that, says Huff, he was ordered to drop his two brothers from his act, and informed that his records weren't earning any money. He tried to get an accounting from the company, but never managed to do so, he says.
The low point of his singing career came when he was booked for live concerts in Tennessee and Mississippi, and once again a promoter billed him as "Terry Huff and Special Delivery." The real Special Delivery then complained to Huff's manager in New York, who responded by cancelling Huff's appearance and, to add insult to injury, inviting Special Delivery to perform in his place (they declined). The result, says Huff, is that the promoter "washed his hands, said he didn't want anything to do with the group or me."
To pay his bills - "I was using my American Express card . . . to get ready for the show," he explains - he went to work for an insurance agent, "creeping on people . . . telling half-truths." That ended badly, too. "I was making money hand over foot," he says, but only on paper. The company never did pay him and finally went under, he says.
A concert in Indianapolis was another money-loser."I left there in debt. I came back here with bill on my heels from Holiday Inn." But Huff prefer to remember the concert itself - the hour and forty-five minutes he spent on stage, and the applause, the encores, and the standing ovations that left him with the conviction that, sooner, or later, he will be back.