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4 STAR 1535; NOVEMBER 1950



Talk about a tough record to review… this one might not take the cake, but you better get the ice cream out for it just in case.

The problem of course isn’t the record itself, which is really good… nor does the difficulty have anything to do with the artist’s musical allegiances, which are also pretty solidly in the rock ‘n’ roll camp despite occasional diversions.

In this case the culprit is time… specifically the passage of it since this record was cut and when it was released and as we know time is a thief and in this case there’s a chance it might wind up stealing some credit for an artist who deserves more of it than he usually gets.


See A Thing You’ve Never Seen
It’s been awhile since we’ve discussed the alternately ambitious, convoluted and (depending on the particulars of the deal) either sharp or skeezy business practices that resulted in the biggest lowlife in the independent record biz, Bill McCall, getting hold of Ivory Joe Hunter’s self-produced Pacific Records output that Hunter cut in 1947 before he folded his label and signed with King Records where he became a star.

McCall definitely lucked out in getting (mostly unreleased) sides from one of the hottest names in music, but because he would be promoting those records as “new” Hunter releases it posed a bit of a problem the further away from their creation that we got as increasingly it meant they were going to fall outside of the current mindset of the audience.

But this one, Jumping At The Dew Drop, comes reasonably close to the attitude of the present market proving that the ever restless Hunter who tried his hand at every conceivable style under the sun at one time or another at least had his fingers on the pulse of rock ‘n’ roll just as it emerged from the womb.

This was laid down sometime in the summer of ’47, just days or weeks after Roy Brown set the entire rock machine into motion with Good Rocking Tonight.

The problem is it was now 1950, not 1947, and that’s an awful long time for new ideas to grow stale in a genre that has advanced as rapidly as rock ‘n’ roll.


See The House Begin To Rock
Let’s start off thanking Ivory Joe Hunter for giving us a front row seat to the vibrant New Orleans nightlife of the era where The Dew Drop Inn was the most revered club for black entertainment in the Crescent City.

Its owner Frank Pania is one of those behind the scenes figures who, because he was not directly involved with the record business per say, sort of gets the short shrift in history books, even though he was a major figure on the scene. The bar opened in 1937 but he bought the building next to it and had a classy hotel that catered to black travelers who couldn’t get rooms elsewhere in the segregated city, often entertainers doing a residency somewhere in the city.

So to capitalize on that he turned the back room of the bar into a club – The Groove Room as it was known as unofficially – in 1945 and had everything housed under one roof – it was where the musicians would live, play and eat and he treated them with class that was rarely afforded them elsewhere in a stubbornly racist America.

Pania was a vital cog in the local music scene thereafter, giving Larry Darnell his first break, fighting continually for integration, even operating a booking agency to give the artists steady work outside in the surrounding region even though everybody wound up coming back to the Dew Drop to sleep… and to jam late into the night.

So you can understand Hunter’s admiration for the entire scene that forms the basis of Jumping At The Dew Drop, a virtual tour through a world that few listeners would ever know about otherwise.

Hunter doesn’t skimp on details either, describing everything about the place at 2836 LaSalle from the atmosphere it engendered to the start time. His love for the venue comes through in everything he sings and a lot of what he sings about is the rock scene that’s emerging in the music’s official birthplace. He drops the term itself into the mix as well as throwing in a few musical cues that would become more prominent in the months to come.

Ahh, but that brings us back to the unavoidable conflict with hearing a 1947 perspective in late 1950… the music itself doesn’t wear well after so much time has passed.

On Needles And Pins
Had this record been released in October of 1947 it actually still might’ve had a ways to go before really locking into rock’s core attributes for the time, but it’d have been a lot closer to doing so simply because everyone in the field was getting their feet under them at the time.

Some artists would fall a little short in how hard they pushed their band, others would hand over key roles to the wrong instruments, while a few would revert back to the sensibilities of the recent past.

On Jumping At The Dew Drop they fall prey to all of those unfortunate tendencies, but whereas they may have been able to get away with it in 1947 because the overall spirit behind their playing is on target, that’s no longer the case three years later.

Take the circular horn riff to open this… it’s got the right idea but the wrong attitude, as the tenor saxes play light rather than lay hard into their parts. Had they emphasized the dirtier sounds the arrangement would fit our needs much better.

Then there’s the trumpet whose role is far too pronounced, something that was inevitable for the time in which this was recorded when it still dominated jazz circles. Upon making the transition to the next style to emerge it wasn’t long before everybody discovered it was ill-suited for the heavier rhythms of rock and jettisoned. Even Hunter’s own piano solo, though well played, doesn’t feature a solid enough left hand to drive the rhythm.

We know Hunter COULD play with more aggressiveness, even at the time this was cut, as evidenced by the flip side, We’re Gonna Boogie (not reviewed here since it originally came out back in 1947 on Pacific 621). On that he plays a pretty ferocious boogie rhythm and if some of the horns are distinctively jazzy, the tenor is definitely looking forward. Had some of those attributes been included this side too the expiration date would’ve been pushed back considerably.

Still all that being said, the melody of Jumping At The Dew Drop itself is nice, the ability of the band to switch off between their individual parts is well-done, even the touches that were unusual for the time, like the presence of an organ towards the end, was a sign of Hunter’s creativity and willingness to take chances, but everything comes across as too light, both in the way it’s played and in the means being used to achieve it.

It’s a 1947 backing track in other words and so you shouldn’t be surprised by its archaic sensibilities. But if you bought the record when it came out in 1950 you wouldn’t know that, nor would you be placated by the explanation if you did. It simply sounds out of date and no amount of rationalization will change that.


If You Don’t Enjoy It There’s Something Wrong With You
So we’re back where we started which is just how difficult a record like this is to weigh.

As an Ivory Joe Hunter record, simply taken in the context of his own voluminous catalog, this is really good. A good story, engaging vocals, and solid arrangement that is well played. Not among the very best of his sides but certainly just a notch below the top rung efforts.

Likewise in 1947 this is above average, even in the nascent field of rock ‘n’ roll in the fall of that year this would more than suffice. No, it wouldn’t be close to the head of the pack even then, the instrumentation ensures that as does the curious lack of rhythm for the subject matter, but you could see how it fits in that early evolution of the genre, even if more as an object lesson for what needed to be shored up for rock ‘n’ roll to stand out in the long run.

But as a current release in 1950 Jumping At The Dew Drop can’t help but come up short compared to current records it was competing against in the market. While Hunter’s popularity was such that it still sold pretty well, and maybe there were older fans of his that didn’t care how dated it sounded, we’re trying to determine how well it fit into the present day rock scene.

Because of that everything has to be weighed in context. Hunter’s best records from this year, had they been held over until 1953, would lose credit for a lot of what we praised, even though it’s the same exact record.

Or to put it another way the fun you had running around on the playground in 5th grade would make you a laughing stock if you did the same thing in 8th grade.

So while we’ll cut Ivory Joe Hunter as much slack here as humanly possible, we can’t turn back the clock to do it. A good record still, but much better if heard in another place and time.


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