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MGM 10818; OCTOBER 1950



Having just detailed yesterday how King Records were hurting the commercial potential of Tiny Bradshaw by rush-releasing another single on the heels of his rising hit which had been on the market for less than a month, one might think the same fate was befalling Ivory Joe Hunter who is seeing his second release in this month of October.

The difference is these records are coming out on two different labels, one of which – the aforementioned King Records – he left last fall and who are simply clearing their backlog of songs in an effort to garner some sales thanks to his widespread popularity.

However that leaves his current employer, MGM Records, in a bit of a bind as they’re competing with their own act in an effort to get hits, all of which means they have to make their releases count with material that is sure to appeal to the two diametrically opposed fan bases they’re courting – the pop field and the rock crowd.

Naturally MGM being a classy would-be major label they’re leaning heavily towards the former which means he’s leaving his rock fans out to dry.


When She Gets Your Money She’s Gonna Let You Slide
With an artist as important to rock’s evolution, not to mention one of its most commercially successful acts of its initial run, it’s naturally imperative that we provide regular updates on his course of action… even when far too often he swerves out of our lane and into another because he’s Ivory Joe Hunter and this is what he does.

At times Hunter was a stone’s throw away from chucking rock altogether and becoming a pop act, but seeing as how so few black artists had done so to date – Nat Cole being most prominent – there was too big of a risk for him to completely forsake the audience who’d gotten him this far to begin with. Besides, he was genuinely amenable to rock ‘n’ roll even if he rarely acted half as crazed as many (if not most) of his peers.

So he was always going to keep his hand in “our” realm, though not always on each and every release unfortunately.

This is one where he seemed to step away from it as much as ever, though it’s doubtful it was his doing to pair these sides up together. Yes, he recorded them both and wrote this side himself, but generally speaking smart record companies would seek out songs with different vibes to them in order to reach every potential market.

But while MGM may have gladly accepted rock fans’ dollars, they were courting pop acceptance and probably looked at Hunter’s more rock influenced sides as something to discourage or downplay. So if they could put two pop leaning songs on one record and still succeed then it might give them more leeway to go even further in this direction in the future.

That kinda turned out to be the case too. It’s A Sin, though originally a country song by Eddy Arnold, was the pure pop “hit” of this release, albeit a regional one in Cash Box rather than a national smash in the Billboard listings. Oddly enough considering Hunter’s ongoing flirtation with country touches on many of his hits from 1949, they took this in another direction entirely with its syrupy string section and standard pop progressions and so it can’t possibly be included in a rock review other than merely mention its decent response among (obviously deluded) music fans who prefer such things to Hunter’s more rocking sides.

But when you flipped the record over to Don’t You Believe Her you didn’t get much more in the way of rocking and rolling. Though it’s got an actual beat you can decipher and the strings are thankfully relegated to the sidelines, it still has far too many classy aspirations for it to be a truly comfortable fit on these pages.

Yet because it’s Ivory Joe Hunter we’ve come to expect these hybrid borderline songs and if including it means we get to keep our eye on him so MGM doesn’t take advantage of his occasionally misguided inclinations, then we’ll grant it the benefit of the doubt even if we cringe while doing so.

You Better Watch That Jive
Let’s start off with the good, just so it doesn’t seem like we’re ragging on poor Ivory Joe for sport.

There were times while touting his acclaim as a top flight lyricist we’d been forced to say that he wasn’t living up to that reputation, particularly when he was rushing out compositions to beat the impending recording ban of 1948. But once that pause in the action ceased he’s been consistently strong in this area and he continues that winning streak to a degree on Don’t You Believe Her, a song that shows the normally docile and submissive Hunter has grown a backbone at long last.

The song presents his frequent troubles with girls taking advantage of his meek persona and uses that as a starting point to flip his usual grin and bear it mentality on its head. Ostensibly he’s giving advice to someone in the same position he usually finds himself in, but he’s taking on a “Do as I say, not as I’ve done… countless times in the past” approach to this problem, telling his friend that all of the reassurances the girl is giving him are designed to hide her own wrongdoing.

Granted Hunter clearly hasn’t overcome his own knack of settling for duplicitous girls looking for a sure thing in a quiet passive soul like him, but at least he’s finally aware of what they’re pulling on him and if he hasn’t yet stood up for himself, he’s not too proud to warn others what will happen if they follow his lead and let them walk all over him.

The lines are hardly biting put-downs, full of venom or warning of retribution, but for once he’s not backpedaling while bowing incessantly just to keep them happy. He’s becoming a cynic and from there the next step would be to toss them out and set higher standards for himself. But we have to take it one step at a time with Ivory Joe and seeing that he’s willing to push back after being taken advantage of gives us our first real sign that he’s got a modicum of self-respect behind those glasses.


Telling You A Lie
But if just a slight attitude shift is about all the praise we can muster for this song then doesn’t bode well for the record as a whole, because in every other way it’s still embodying that timid personality we’ve come to know so well.

After a surprisingly effective trumpet intro that establishes a fair amount of anticipation for what turns out to be Hunter’s finest moments singing as he uses a hesitation move on each line to keep you leaning forward, Don’t You Believe Her quickly reverts back to uninspired pop thinking, letting the brass section dominate the arrangement with some ill-advised “sweetening” that removes the hint of insistent determination he was displaying and replaces it with the same polite veneer we’ve just spent an entire section criticizing.

From there things get worse as nothing about this suggests any urgency. Hunter’s piano solo is very well played but if he’d pounded it out with some force the same notes would convey an entirely different meaning that this song desperately needs. The horns meanwhile are just an albatross around his neck, not only are their tones dreadful but the manner in which they’re being played shows they’re not commenting on what he’s telling us… that is if they’re even aware of what he’s saying to begin with!

This had the potential to be pretty good if he sacked them, gave the entire responsibility to a tenor and baritone sax, let the guitarist slash his way through a few interludes as if he had an axe to grind himself – no pun intended – and gave the drummer some lead sticks to bash the skins with, then the musical identity would be better suited to the lyrical perspective as well as to satiating the tastes of rock fans who have been remarkably loyal to him despite frequent stylistic diversions.

Instead they treat this as if all of Ivory Joe’s newfound fortitude was just a mirage and considering his past lack of resolve in this area maybe we can’t blame them for it.

We Quit Last Week
When Hunter left the best rock label in the land for an aspiring major label with no experience in this field the chances that he’d not only match his recent commercial success on King but surpass it seemed utterly unlikely… yet that’s just what he did out of the gate, having saved up his best compositions to get off on the right foot with his new company.

But now that those had all been released he either felt that his initial hits for them left free to satisfy his own “loftier” pop aspirations, or else he was being steered into that direction by the company themselves. Either way the result wasn’t aesthetically pleasing and in time it became far less commercially successful.

Don’t You Believe Her is the result of this… a halfway decent idea to alter his usual viewpoint, yet one that was ultimately done in by not allowing – or insisting – that the band have his back in that endeavor.

While it’s played and sung well enough to not crucify the execution of their plan, the idea itself is the kind of bland uninspired pop that we’d hoped he’d left behind.


(Visit the Artist page of Ivory Joe Hunter for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)