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KING 4326; DECEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

Quit: v. To give up

The word has a rather negative image to it, doesn’t it? Most of the time it’s taken as an affront to somebody’s good name and reputation. A slight… a slur… a harsh judgement that brands them a failure in some way.

“Quitter”.

Words matter and that’s a word that few people ever want associated with them.

Yet is this stigma really fair to begin with? Has the one overriding definition of that term tainted the otherwise innocuous, even noble, meaning the word can also infer? One that means the same basic thing maybe but with a far more principled intent.

To quit something in protest of an injustice is an honorable act. To quit an addictive bad habit, like smoking, drinking or drugs, is a matter of survival. To quit a doomed relationship, as this song describes, is a wise decision, a form of self-preservation for your psyche.

Contrary to its reputation quitting isn’t always a bad thing, sometimes in fact it’s the best thing you can do.

But just don’t tell that to King Records who are now about to see their most consistent seller over the past two years, Ivory Joe Hunter, quit recording for them and move to another label and even more fame and fortune than he enjoyed while with them.
 

 

I Also Changed Her Name
The balance of power between record companies and artists has always been one fraught with uncertainty and distrust.

The record companies need talented artists in order to have a product to sell, while the artists need the record companies to cut the sessions and distribute and promote their work. One hand washes the other. Each side tends to resent this reliance on one another and so both are constantly seeking to gain the upper hand.

When the label had the advantage over an untested artist they’d sign them to short deals calling for one, maybe two sessions after which they have no further obligations. Artists would be compelled to take it in the hopes that one of those singles might break through after which they’d be the one with the power for future negotiations. That’s when you’d tend to get longer deals which meant security for the artists with a guarantee of having a string of singles released to keep their name in the public eye and enable them to tour steadily which is where they made most of their money.

Back in 1947 Ivory Joe Hunter and King Records were on roughly equal ground when they sat down to hammer out a deal but now two years later it was Hunter who had the upper hand and thanks to his success in that time his options were unlimited.

When he’d arrived at King in 1947 Hunter was already a very highly regarded singer and songwriter with strong appeal to a wide constituency, someone capable of cutting jazzy songs, bluesy songs, poppish songs or – presumably – these new type of rocking songs that were just starting to be heard in late ’47. King Records meanwhile had a rapidly growing business with a recent string of hits of their own to make them an appealing destination and were now expanding into other styles and needed someone just like him to make some headway in this new kind of music.

In November 1947 Hunter and King Records signed a two year deal that paid off beautifully for both sides. Hunter landed more chart hits than any rock act during that time and as his contract was winding down in the fall of 1949 he was as hot as ever with four songs on national or regional charts simultaneously across the country. One of these, 7th Street Boogie, was more than two years old, a record he’d released back then on his own Pacific label that he ran before giving it up to join King. You may remember he’d worked out a side deal to unload those Pacific masters to 4 Star Records who were still reaping benefits from it as that re-issued record was currently the sixth most popular song on the local Cash Box charts in Atlanta.

That joined his recent King output which was doing even better. Landlord Blues was in the Top Ten in Cincinnati while Guess Who was burning up the charts in San Francisco, Dallas, Detroit and St. Louis. Topping them all as we speak was Jealous Heart, currently resting in the Top Ten in places as diverse as Birmingham, Los Angeles, Kansas City and even briefly making the pop listings in Dallas.

Maybe it was that last item, historically overlooked perhaps since it was just one regional listing provided by a lone pop music radio station, that convinced pop-oriented label MGM to swiftly move in to sign the now contractually free Hunter to a two year deal of their own as his King pact came to an end as 1949 wound down.

Suddenly King Records who had used Hunter to anchor their burgeoning rock artist roster since his arrival, were left without their biggest star just as rock ‘n’ roll was poised to make another jump in popularity. Ironically it was Hunter who would be the one helping to spearhead that movement for another label but not before King had wrung out all of the hits it could out of him.
 


 

Well Boys…
Though Hunter’s two year run with King resulted in six national hits to date, five of which landed in the Top Ten in Billboard, back in September Hunter had seen yet another one of those two year old sides from Pacific also slip into the Top Ten in that magazine’s listings when 4 Star Records reissued Blues At Midnight.

What’s noteworthy about this is, with the subsequent regional success of the aforementioned 7th Street Boogie which followed, that made three notable hit records for Ivory Joe Hunter that came out on a label OTHER than King, for whom he was recording.

Normally you’d think that King’s cantankerous president Syd Nathan wouldn’t be so happy about this, and I’m sure he wasn’t, but it had actually been those old Pacific releases that were coming out on 4 Star all along that led to Hunter’s commercial rejuvenation when the first of those, Pretty Mama Blues, a song from late 1947 that 4 Star put out in April 1948, became Hunter’s biggest hit of his career to this point. That record not only climbed the national charts all spring and summer before landing at #1 in the fall, a full year after its original Pacific release, but its success is what turned on record buyers to the concurrent records of his coming out on the King label.

Records, it should be pointed out, that we deemed to be comparatively lesser products, flimsier songs with more questionable stylistic compromises.

Yet once he was off and running his popularity only grew with each successive release and when the recording ban ended and he was able to get back in the studio and start cutting new songs, ones that had been road tested and fully worked out rather than the rush-jobs he laid down in the last month of 1947, that’s when the quality improved and the hits got even bigger.

But it was still Pretty Mama Blues that was his crowning achievement to date and so now – maybe as a kiss off to King Records, sort of a veiled commentary on his severing their relationship – he revisits that song with a sequel that lays out the terms in unambiguous fashion – I Quit My Pretty Mama.

Ouch! Talk about rubbing salt in a wound!

 

 
 

Didn’t Mean Me No Good
If it WAS a song with a dual meaning you’d have to hand it to ol’ Ivory Joe for being so coy about it. Maybe he knew he was going to leave and didn’t want to give King anything more current that might compete with his newer themed output on MGM that will soon follow. Then again since Syd Nathan got a co-writer credit for this – under his pseudonym Sally Mann that he used over the years to swipe royalties for songs he had nothing to do with – it could’ve been that Nathan was the one who suggested Hunter write a sequel to his biggest hit and Ivory Joe, feeling generous, acquiesced as sort of a going away present.

Either way I Quit My Pretty Mama is at least a continuation of the first chapter of this story rather than the type of cheap revision we’ve seen when Roy Brown tried to dupe us into accepting Miss Fanny Brown Returns last year.

It’s hardly unexpected that the melodic structure of the two “Pretty Mamas” is the same and that Ivory Joe’s cadences haven’t changed, but we can’t complain too much. What we’re mostly concerned with is how this tale picks up from where it left off last time, when Hunter pledged his love to this girl who hadn’t yet reciprocated that love but by the way he was blissfully telling us of her charms he seemed all but certain she soon would.

Maybe she did, but if so it didn’t last, for as Hunter now explains he wants nothing to do with the lying, cheating treacherous bitch.

No, he doesn’t use THAT language, I’m interpreting for him since Hunter has far too much decorum to stoop to calling her names. I’m a little more lax on that subject, at least when it comes to sticking up for someone I like, and it’s hard not to like Ivory Joe Hunter, for even when he lets us down musically by being too sedate he’s never a chore to listen to. In fact one of the criticisms of him artistically is that he’s too passive in his declarations, whether anger, mistrust or happiness, he’s the kind to keep a tight rein on his emotions. So considering he’d allowed himself to open up about this girl and declare that he didn’t care WHO knew about his feelings for her, only to now have us find out she was untrue to him when they finally did get together, well, that’s going to get anybody who has some fondness for Hunter a little bit upset.

Yet Hunter, as hurt as he clearly is, still is taking the high road. Oh, he’s definitely bitter, there’s no question about that, you can almost sense the mixture of tears and bile in his throat as he slowly reveals how the worm turned, but for the most part he’s refraining from unleashing a full-scale fusillade on this woman for doing him wrong.

He lets out his frustration – with himself for not seeing through her façade perhaps, or with her for being duplicitous – on the keyboard during the solo, which is an effective way to release his pent up anger.

Not long ago we railed against the pianists at Derby Records for marring Freddie Mitchell’s recent releases with incessant hammering away on the highest range the keyboard has to offer, saying those notes are best utilized for accents amidst the more melodic and warmly resonant sound of the mid-range keys. Well, let’s offer an exception which hopefully proves the rule, as here Hunter DOES abuse the highest keys but does so in a way that shows why that choice has to make musical sense before you’re accepting of it.

On I Quit My Pretty Mama those notes take the form of his rebuke, his strongest profanity being expressed through the harsh tones of these keys. Furthermore, he doesn’t linger there. After he makes his point he moves back towards the middle of the keyboard and by doing so he regains his soul in a way, finding firm ground to stand on so he can turn on his heel and walk away from her.
 

 
Won’t Call Her No More
Love can be cruel sometimes but when it’s over there’s nothing you can do. Ivory Joe tells us in definitive terms that he’s torn up her number and that he’s washing his hands of her, moving on and not thinking of her again, but you and I both know he’s not over her by a long shot. While we hope, and in this case honestly believe, that he’ll live up to his word and steer clear of her we also know he’s in for lots of sleepless nights filled with regret, agony and an unfulfilled longing for the image of this girl he had before she broke his heart.

The same emotions were undoubtedly going through Syd Nathan’s mind as Hunter spurned him and left for greener pastures.

It’s just business not personal, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be hurt feelings and resentment over ending a two year relationship that had been so good for both parties. We don’t know if Hunter’s departure was acrimonious, if Nathan – as was his habit – did something to piss off his artist, or if it was just that Hunter couldn’t turn down a chance to record for an aspiring major label with more money – and more class – than crusty Syd Nathan could ever offer. But it probably doesn’t matter, he was gone and the loss was going to be felt every time Nathan looked at the charts and saw Hunter scoring for (or scoring WITH) somebody else.

King got a hit out of this one though, and they still had a few sides left in the vault to issue over the ensuing months, but the next time we meet Ivory Joe Hunter he’ll be dancing with MGM Records and Syd Nathan will be trying to pretend it was he who was the one who called it quits even though he knows full well that nobody in their right mind would believe him.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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