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MGM 10761; AUGUST 1950

 
 

 

With age increasingly becoming a dividing line when it came to rock ‘n’ roll authenticity, one of rock’s elder statesman wades into the debate ostensibly taking the side of the younger generation he’s become aligned with over the past few years, perhaps in an effort to not be expelled when they get a look at the date on his birth certificate.

But it was never solely about how many years you had under your belt that granted you membership in the rock club… it was more about conveying the kind of musical and cultural freedom that those not yet weighed down by life’s adult responsibilities tend to embody best.

In that regard Ivory Joe Hunter was always going to have trouble adhering to the defining characteristics of rock ‘n’ roll’s most prevalent attitudes no matter how hard he tried.
 

 

You Talk About What You Did When You Were Young
The danger Ivory Joe Hunter faced was unique among rock artists because he was so interested in exploring different musical textures from one record to the next, often with vastly different sidemen to help him find new sounds – or revisit old sounds as it were – and so there was always the likelihood that whenever he struck a nerve with a sizable audience he’d quickly veer away from giving those listeners more of the same, moving on to something far different.

With rock fans skewing ever younger this risk was exacerbated because that constituency were far more open to discovering new artists to begin with rather than unflinchingly sticking with older favorites. On top of this the up and coming generation were all too cognizant of having their tastes and views dismissed culturally everywhere they looked and so that made them more judgmental than their elders and perfectly willing to abandon someone for not fulfilling their needs.

So thematically speaking at least Old Man’s Boogie seemed to be conceived as a veritable hand-delivered message to them, reassuring the rock fan that Ivory Joe Hunter heard you, respected you and was on your side.

Musically speaking though it showed that his grasp on their tastes was far too tenuous at times which makes this a record whose concept exceeded its execution.
 


 
 

I Knew Your Song Was Ended
The record starts off with the appropriate bang – horns, piano and drums creating a somewhat controlled racket – but as the intro gives way to the meat of the song the excitement dies down as the band eases back on the urgency of their playing so Hunter can set the scene vocally.

The lyrics are actually very creative, if not always perfectly suited to be sung, and so Hunter adapts a sort of simplistic melodic delivery that makes it sound like a modified nursery rhyme on the playground, kind of good-natured taunting as he’s addressing an older guy who insists he’s the “King Of The Boogie” and wants to prove it to the young whippersnappers who doubt his prowess.

Of course Hunter himself doesn’t sound young enough to convince us he’s in our camp – and for the record he was thirty-five years old, which is pretty ancient in rock ‘n’ roll – and so we’re already questioning the veracity of what he’s saying, even as we’re appreciating the sentiments he’s putting forth.

Some of the put-downs are pretty good though as he tells the guy he’s “too stiff to boogie” that his “fling has flung” and Hunter definitely seems to be having fun with this kind of wisecracking persona which was very atypical for him. It’s an enjoyable performance however and we certainly like to see him letting his hair down… although the fact he was already balding himself also gave away his own older vintage.

But if Old Man’s Boogie was done by someone truly young enough to make it convincing the delivery would be far more biting and sarcastic than Ivory Joe is comfortable with, something which is plainly obvious here because for all the supposed derision he’s expressing the mood he strikes never rises above mild snarkiness, almost taking it easy on the old codger in spite of the derisive remarks.

Further undercutting his cause is the fact that Hunter is taking both character parts, delivering his own snide observations in the bulk of the song as well as voicing the few retorts that the elderly musician makes in his own defense. Though he does alter his tone when doing so, we never fail to realize it’s still Ivory Joe and as a result the impact this might’ve gained by having someone else deliver those lines and turn it into an actual verbal squabble is lost.
 

Boogie From Night ‘Til Dawn
Most of these issues would be made irrelevant had the musical backing provided Hunter with the muscle his vocal chords are unable to deliver, yet this is the area we feel most let down by precisely because unlike the natural limitations of his voice to shed their years, his playing – and the arrangement he saddles the band with – are not susceptible to such things.

In other words it’s his own choice to go easy on the music which undercuts the very thing he’s trying to convey… that this kind of music is a young man’s game, not something for old timers to be dabbling in.

Part of the problem of course is who he’s partnering up with here… not that the musicians couldn’t easily adapt to a more challenging backing, but the instrumental lineup – trumpet, trombone and alto sax combining to outnumber the lone tenor in the room – virtually ensured that Old Man’s Boogie would lean towards the “old man” and skimp on the “boogie”

But even that wasn’t assured unless Hunter himself dictated it because his own piano had the ability to off-set the lighter horns if he just put his mind to it. He was by all accounts a great boogie woogie pianist, and though he rarely exhibited on record there are certainly enough examples of it to prove that he wasn’t hyperbole, yet here, where playing a ferocious boogie riff is all but mandatory, he never really rolls up his sleeves and bashes away on the keys.

He’s not entirely laying back mind you, there’s some decent playing in the first break but he’s going too easy with his left hand, letting the tenor sax handle the basic rhythm while Hunter concentrates on adding the right hand flourishes. But during the second break, where it’d be entirely appropriate to raise the stakes, he lets the trumpet handle the first section – which is as weak as you’d expect – before he comes back to close that section out with some nimble playing of his own, but mostly in the higher range which doesn’t provide nearly enough punch.

Only down the homestretch does he really start to ramp up the intensity but by then you’ve given up on this being a true departure from his more placid offerings and – if he’s fortunate – you’ve begun to reconsider this in another category altogether… that of a more humorous novelty vein.
 

Who Fooled You That Way?
I suppose if that was his intent we can give him the benefit of the doubt, albeit with some admitted conflict. But any way you look at it, while it’s definitely got the right perspective you have to be a little let down for turning what could’ve been an emphatic throw-down into nothing more than a lighthearted joke.

But as often is the case Ivory Joe Hunter is someone you want to like and that goes a long way to getting him a pass on such things. He’s so sincere and easygoing that it’s hard not to find him endearing, especially when he’s taking a much different approach than his usual dejected spurned lover.

So in that spirit if you can adjust your thinking heading into Old Man’s Boogie and take it as a harmless novelty – as MGM was clearly thinking of it, as this was the B-side to something far more dour – then you’ll be more forgiving of its shortcomings.

Maybe it’ll still let you down, especially when you realize how it could’ve been truly special with just a slight attitude adjustment, but it’s still appealing enough to recommend in spite of its lack of aggression.

Besides, when Ivory Joe puffs his chest out and states “Stop trying to be a youngster” in the choruses when addressing someone older and more delusional than himself, it’s imperative that we have his back, for as long as Hunter can convince himself that he’s a rocker it’ll mean he won’t turn his back on us just yet and we may still reap the rewards of that decision at some point down the road.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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