No tags :(

Share it

KING 4382; JULY 1950



When your best selling artist over the past few years up and left you and moved to a budding major label where he promptly scored three massive hits before the ink had even dried on his new contract, what was the old label to do other than cry in their beer?

Well if you were King Records you simply went back into the vaults and rummaged around Ivory Joe Hunter’s backlog of material recorded for you and pulled those out, hoping that his name recognition alone would earn a little action for songs that were originally deemed not commercial enough to release while he was still yours.

With that unpromising game plan it’s not surprising this didn’t pay off, but for once you can’t blame them for trying.

Please Tell Me What They Have To Gain
Because King Records had obviously been issuing his best sides as soon as they came from a session while he was still under their banner, what they had left by this point was a hodgepodge of leftovers… songs that were initially deemed either too generic and indistinct, too stylistically compromised or those that were lacking any commercial hook to pull in listeners.

I Have No Reason To Complain is waving all three of those red flags – it’s yet another bland ballad that is not aligned too closely with rock ‘n’ roll and despite a fairly nice melody and typically classy playing by all involved, none of it actually stands out much, even under repeated listens.

Of course King Records should’ve been used to that problem, for even when he was firmly ensconced on their roster Hunter was churning out songs that varied greatly in their quality and often veered out of the rock lane. The difference then however was you could usually find something else he’d recorded to off-set the pop-skewing ballads like this, but now those songs had all long since been used up on prior releases.

But rather than let these last sides go to waste they simply hoped that there were enough people out there who might overlook the lack of any deeper grooves or anguished intensity in this song and be content to appreciate it for the more placid charms it was peddling. When that turned out not to be the case however they probably weren’t at all surprised or even greatly disappointed in the lack of response because not even the optimistic sales force at the company could claim this was something that would rouse strong feelings in those who heard it.


It’s Not Everyday A Love Comes My Way
The intro – though hardly rousing or even particularly gripping – is nevertheless very pretty as Hunter’s choppy piano leads into a very nice horn that slowly winds upward and convinces you that this might not be as emotionally vapid as a lot of shallow pop-slanted balladry had a tendency to be.

Unfortunately this optimism soon dissipates once the singing starts, as I Have No Reason To Complain is not among his strongest compositions by any stretch of the imagination. It’s hampered first and foremost by the docile perspective that Ivory Joe too often fell back on, presenting himself as essentially a passenger on the road of love, thankful when he gets a ride as it were, but rarely believing he’s done anything to earn it, nor willing to actually take the wheel and choose his own destination.

That passive viewpoint is always difficult for listeners to come to grips with, for even if you suffer from the same lack of self-confidence that seems to beset Hunter it’s doubtful that you’d appreciate someone’s music always reminding you of your own indecisiveness and lack of emotional fortitude.

But it’s not just that the sentiments themselves are too weak for peer approval as he sings about a relationship in which he’s clearly subservient to his woman, but just as troubling are the rather vague and random descriptions he gives us, as this is lacking even the sharp-eyed detail he was best known for in order to make it come to life.

Why Should Others Worry?
While the general subject matter may not be ideal for rock acceptance, the bigger problem is that by sticking to such a meek attitude and vocal delivery there’s also no room for the music to make its own mark.

As usual with Hunter, even on his most unambitious sides as this, there’s a professionalism in their playing that makes the record pleasant enough to hear, but hardly memorable even at its best. The saxophone that was spotlighted so well at the beginning of I Have No Reason To Complain now is left to pick and choose its spots as it plays unobtrusively in the background, providing the kind of aural support that suggests lace curtains gently rippling in the breeze… they look nice, but they serve no real purpose.

Hunter works his own piano in deftly at times, carrying the melodic framework with understated grace, but there’s no urgency in any of it… no reason to sit up and take notice of it, let alone to pull you in and feel some visceral connection to the song.

Of course to try and be more musically forceful would throw the entire balance off, so they’re not exactly wrong in going easy on the arrangement, but there’s also no surprises, or memorable hooks, or even any strong resolution to the parts that work fairly well, something to give you a sense of progress as the song unfolds. As a result you end up in the same flower-filled garden you started in and as a result it feels more like you nodded off for awhile and are just trying to get your bearings when you awake again.

Songs like this seemed almost designed to be admired from a distance rather than trying to seize your attention and keep you locked in their grip with something more invigorating and without even possessing the lyrical weight to give the song any heft as he’d been able to do so often in the past this one simply floats away into the fading light at the end of the day, not bothering anybody because no one even notices it as it drifts gently by.


My Friends Keep Saying Your Love Is Untrue
Once again we’re continually befuddled by the wildly vacillating output of Ivory Joe Hunter and while in this instance we can pass off some of those criticisms by saying that this was little more than a leftover single, something that may not otherwise have ever been issued at all had he remained with King Records, that still doesn’t fully get him off the hook for cutting something so inconsequential in the first place.

On one hand you can’t exactly fault Hunter for being interested in more than just pursuing hits with tawdry topics and salacious music, two things that he may have been technically capable of but was hardly best suited for. So the fact that he was able to carve out a spot in rock circles with more elegant productions and a different – more uncertain – point of view is to his credit.

But the more he stuck with that approach, the greater chance there was for missing the mark completely. Now that’s true of course with ANY singular style, but the difference is that if Wynonie Harris fell short with songs in a far more roughneck style there was still likely to be some aspect of it – either a few bawdy lines or a more galvanizing musical track – to make the end result not a complete loss.

By contrast a song like I Have No Reason To Complain that misses its mark will not rouse any strong feelings, nor satisfy one or two primal needs of its intended audience in a way to even recommend it with some reservations.

It’s “nice” maybe, but nice is hardly worth much on the open market in rock. Maybe it’s not quite true that nice guys finish last in music, but then again, it’s much easier to leave nice guys like Ivory Joe Hunter standing on the curb as you speed off in search of something with more kick to it.

Besides, we know full well that when he delivers something more suitable for our needs, he’ll be nice enough to not hold it against us that we left him behind for songs like this without any thought.


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