Long John Hunter: A Norton Exhumation

Long John Hunter: A Norton Exhumation

Digging up dusty blues sides from fifty or sixty years ago frequently reveals at least something a bit interesting. Long John Hunter, who probably doesn’t rank too highly on anyone’s radar, has been performing for the majority of his life – and he’s eighty. So, just try and figure out how much that guy’s seen.

Living in West Texas and working a run of the mill day gig, Hunter went and caught a BB King show at some point during the fifties. Whether he was more taken by King’s guitar work or the adulation the performer was in the process of receiving is impossible to guess. Whatever the case, it was enough incentive for Hunter to go buy a six string and gig around his hometown a bit. The interesting thing, though, is that since he lived in a border town, going over to Juarez allowed for any number of sleazy bars looking for nightly entertainment. And through most of the sixties’ Hunter and his band staked out a residency at the Lobby Bar, hanging from the rafters and hosting anyone from James Brown to Buddy Holly.

During his time in Juarez, Hunter wasn’t overly concerned about recording and touring widely. He’d found a good gig and stuck with it until the bar closed. Afterwards, he struck out on regional and eventually national tours working ceaselessly through the eighties. It was only a matter of time before the guitarist received a widespread audience. And as a result of a few well distributed long players, folks began exploring Hunter’s early sides.

Norton Records has a penchant for nasty blues and any sort of rave up appropriate for drinking. Hunter fits the bill perfectly and as a result, Ooh Wee Pretty Baby! contains a wealth of material, ranging from almost-rock styled blues to dance tunes. “Grandma’s” as much sultry sax soloing as anything else. It’s R&B backing, though, lends fertile ground for Hunter to strangling his six strings. And while listeners can prefigure where he’s going next, hearing his band hit those four right notes over and over again is only satisfying. Vocal cuts aren’t disappointing either. “Old Red” features a bit of a spoken opening with Hunter hamming it up a bit before launching into a traditional love song marked by his own brand of raunchy swagger.

At the time of its release, 1999, Ooh Wee Pretty Baby! was figured as the best blues reissue of the year by a few folks. It probably was.