“I Destroyed Your Love” remains Terry Huff’s masterpiece. To old-timer local DJs—Captain Fly, Scooter Magruder, Chuck McCool and their various contemporaries—the song is synonymous with a high point in pre-go-go D.C. R&B.
The tune is three-chord soul, structured like a call-and-response Gladys Knight song and dressed with sporadic strings and a fluid guitar lead. It begins with the guitar and a soprano sax trading licks, after which the strings sweep in and the background singers—Special Delivery—start a volley of harmonizing. At the 26th second, an impossibly high-pitched voice enters. It’s a woman—it has to be; it’s too high to be a man. But it’s Terry. The vocals have a one-take quality, as if a man entered the studio and laid down a single, extended, unrepeatable wail of knowing anguish.
I destroyed (I destroyed your love, your love for me)
Made you a victim of my insecurity
And when you had to go I just couldn’t understand (I couldn’t understand)
I thought (Naw, naw) you found yourself a brand new man
The song rotated modestly across the country and was huge in D.C. According to Captain Fly, it turned Huff into “a hometown hero with a national piece.”
“Terry was one of those singers,” Captain Fly says. “He can hit notes like Patti LaBelle, and then go even higher. No competition. Terry had that kind of gift where all you need is one voice.” But by the time the record came out, in 1976, Huff’s group was already history.
“I Destroyed Your Love” was written in 1973, before the birth of Special Delivery but after the disintegration of Huff’s relationship with his wife, Wanda. They had dated since childhood and married young. But the attention Wanda drew from other men drove Huff crazy. “I was jealous ’cause there were always guys trying to talk to her,” he says. “And you know what jealousy does—that destroys marriages and loves and all that.”
Huff directed his sense of loss into more songwriting. Taking music classes at Catholic University and living in a guitar-crammed apartment off of 7th and Franklin Streets NE, he composed the cycle of sad songs that would eventually become The Lonely One. Along the way, he picked up a new girlfriend, Deborah Broomfield, who insisted he show his songs to her friends George Parker, Reginald Ross, and Chet Fortune, who were gigging under the name Act 1.
The group, Terry says, had already charted in England with a tune called “Tom the Peeper” and broke onto U.S. soul charts with a song called “Friends or Lovers.” Now Act 1 needed a first tenor. And its members were a perfect match for “I Destroyed Your Love.”
After the disintegration of the Marglows, Huff says, he determined to stay solo. That’s what he’d told his brother Andrew, and that’s what he told Broomfield. “I told her, ‘No groups,’” he says. “‘I’m going to be a Quincy Jones someday.’”
But the allure of the front spot in an established act was too much. Before long, Chuck McCool had hooked Act 1 up with producer Van McCoy, an icon who’d worked with Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin. With Huff firmly in place as chief songwriter—he also helped write vocal charts—the group changed its name to Special Delivery, signed to Mainstream Records, and went to New York to record.
The sessions were fruitful—Captain Fly calls the songs “classics that represented that essence of D.C.”—but hot with tension. In Parker, Huff had once again found someone as stubborn as he. They fought over the vocal arrangements; they fought over the backing orchestra. Parker wanted a Spartan production; Huff a full string section. Huff eventually got his way. But in the process Special Delivery had started to fall apart.
Predictably, memories differ on why the group split. Huff says it was about money, explaining that things went south after he tried to backpedal out of a contract that gave Special Delivery an equal stake in songs he’d written alone. “George Parker is the one who destroyed the group....He went into a jealous rage.” Parker, Huff claims, fired him.
Parker doesn’t recall any squabbling over money. “There was a series of things that caused us to split,” he says. “For example, we were the kind of group that would do a lot of choreography. One of our disagreements had to do with the fact that Terry didn’t like to move a lot.”
And bandmate Chet Fortune doesn’t even recall any fireworks. “I think it was a friendly disagreement,” he says. “I don’t think George Parker fired Terry. They had a disagreement because George was the producer and the leader of the band and Terry was a co-producer and the writer of our biggest hit. Rather than George firing Terry, I think Terry walked.”
But as things fell apart, there was still one key track to lay down: “The Lonely One.” Huff called on his brothers Jimmy and Andrew to provide a backing track in his group’s place. “We allowed him to complete the rest of what he wanted to do with that album because we knew at the end of it we’d be going our separate ways,” Parker says.
For all of the people involved, making the disc was as close as they’d get to the musical big time. Parker and Special Delivery went on to record two full records without Huff. Parker also started teaching school, becoming involved in the D.C.’s teachers’ union. Today, he serves as the organization’s president.
Andrew Huff’s cameo didn’t bring him back into the game. He went to work for the Smithsonian. He raised a family and got jobs as a chauffeur, a truck driver, a postal worker. He also developed a sophisticated relationship with drugs. “In the early days there was maybe a little marijuana,” he says, “but no drugs. Maybe some alcohol to keep your voice in order....The real stuff was later. But the rest of ’em didn’t mess around—Terry didn’t do no drugs.” Last week, Andrew was hospitalized with high blood pressure and a pancreas that has him throwing up half the time. He’s gearing up for a back operation, too, though he’s still quick with a smile.
The end of “The Lonely One” was the end of the line for Terry Huff, too. “When George Parker put me out of the group, I had to go back to work,” he says. He picked up some shifts at Johnny Boy’s and then made what he says was a good living selling insurance. But he kept bouncing around, physically as well as professionally. He lived with various family members until they asked him to move along. At one point he sold cemetery plots. In 1983, he spent time in Los Angeles trying to get a record deal and to coax royalties out of producers he says wrongfully appropriated his songs. Back in D.C., his insurance-sales gig hit the skids—the victim, he says, of a blizzard that shut down his car.
Huff moved in with his mother to help her recover from back surgery. But he says she got sick of his refusal to hold a job. So she put him out, too. The pattern continued for a decade, long enough to wear out Huff’s welcome even among the members of his sprawling clan. One niece threw out Huff’s bed after he bought a car instead of contributing to her household. By 2003, he was spending nights in D.C. shelters between nights with his increasingly frustrated siblings.
As for that 2006 Mothers’ Day concert? He says he doesn’t remember where he was.
Huff was for the most part alone—and he didn’t mind. The man behind “I Destroyed Your Love” had decided there was no one he could trust. “In this world, when you put love out there, you never get love back,” he says. “In fact, more often than not, you get colossal evil in return.”