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MGM 11378; NOVEMBER 1952



Well, well, well… look who dropped by again…

What can we do for you, Ivory Joe? Did’ja forget something?

It’s not that we aren’t happy to see you, but we just didn’t expect you to come around here much anymore. We thought you’d gone on to bigger and better things… ya know, major label, pop crossover aspirations… the big time. Wasn’t that what you wanted?

So what happened? How come you’re back slumming in rock ‘n’ roll?

Did you actually miss us, or just miss the success you had with us that you’re not getting elsewhere?


Rock Me Baby
Let’s be honest… from the very start we knew this was going to be the kind of thing we’d have to deal with once we embraced Ivory Joe Hunter.

In relationship terms he’s the eternally frustrating significant other. He’s got a lot of endearing qualities… he’s polite, soft-spoken, not prone to emotional outbursts and exceedingly competent in everything he does.

But he’s also restless with a wandering eye and far too malleable to ever know what to expect out of him from day to day.

What that means is he’ll reel off a string of legitimately good rock songs that are right at home in the dank Saturday night juke joints across the tracks, as he did late in his run with King Records, which will have you touting him as a dark horse candidate for the top rock act of his era. Then just as abruptly he’ll turn his back on you and start trying to play music more suitable for garden club soirees on a Tuesday morning in May.

You just never know what you’re going to get with Hunter, other than it’ll probably be pretty well crafted and delivered with artistic sincerity, for whatever that’s worth.

Lately it hasn’t been worth diddley squat. I know that sounds harsh but Hunter’s tenure at MGM, after a blistering start with three of his best records ever, has been a massive disappointment for the label and rock fan alike. By our score he hasn’t had a single entry that could even legitimately be called slightly better than average in more than two full years. Considering the roll he was on for more than two years at the turn of the decade it’d be hard to envision a more alarming fall from grace than this, when even bland mediocrity now seems out of his reach.

It’s gotten so bad that MGM doesn’t even put his releases in their ads anymore and having failed to elicit even a modicum of interest from the swankier crowd with his dainty offerings, Hunter has come crawling back to us with Rockin’ Chair Boogie, hoping… maybe even expecting… that we’ll welcome him back with open arms.

But it’s not that simple. Trust – once given freely but then squandered – is hard to earn back. Furthermore, the landscape has changed since the early days of 1950 when Hunter’s lighter rock fare was more acceptable.

Now in order to pass muster, the boogie he refers to in the title here had best be done with a ferocity he hasn’t shown before just so that he can keep pace with the artists who have left him in the breakdown lane a few hundred miles back down the highway.


Rock So Good
You get the sense that Ivory Joe Hunter knows all this by the way in which he kicks the record off with a skittering intro on the treble keys which is insistent enough in its playing to pique our interest, while the tentative pattern that switches to a creeping pace as it closes indicates he’s got hat in hand as he approaches our door after so long away.

It’s a promising beginning at any rate and when Hunter comes in utilizing a more forceful delivery than we’ve heard in years we’re almost ready to forgive him for leaving us behind in search of a higher class social circle these last few years.

But our lingering skepticism is justified once we hear the make-up of the horn section which, as is typical for Hunter, favors brass over reeds. As we know all too well trumpets don’t have the muscle to back up the sexual innuendo Ivory Joe is suggesting as convincingly as a raunchy tenor sax would, especially in the extended instrumental breaks which are energetic but unfocused thanks to the centerpiece in the horn department.

So Rockin’ Chair Boogie is already conflicted, which we should’ve guessed going in considering Hunter’s ongoing reluctance to… umm… let his pants down during his career as it were.

Yet even in spite of artificially confining the wild-spirit that lays under the surface of the song with those arranging choices, Hunter himself is genuinely trying to make his intentions known, both in terms of his rather aggressive pursuit of the girl in question who he’s trying to get into bed without pulling his punches lyrically, but also when it comes to how he’s putting this all across to us vocally.

He’s using a raspier tone here while keeping the pedal to the floor. His one break from that approach is found in his very purposeful stop-time interjections of the key word in all of this – “ROCK!” – which is rather obviously designed to… ahh… “drill home” the point of his desire to the girl in question, but also to convince us, the spurned audience he seemed to have left behind, that his return to our shores is not merely opportunistic on his part.

But we know better. Had those pop styled songs connected with someone older, whiter and presumably classier than us, it’s doubtful he’d be back in our part of town pitching Rockin’ Chair Boogie in a very calculated bid to be taken seriously again. But nevertheless he IS back and his conviction in selling us this bill of goods is still convincing enough where even if we know we’re being hoodwinked in a desperate attempt to regain his commercial status, we’re somewhat willing to be his (not entirely unwitting) accomplices in these efforts.

The reason being is because if this is what he has to do in order to remain relevant, we’ll ultimately be the ones holding him accountable. The pop drivel he’s been churning out at MGM hasn’t cut it yet, and surely won’t in the future either, and as long as he realizes that then he’s got little choice but to stick close to what has gotten him his best returns… rock ‘n’ roll.

As this shows, it may no longer be cutting edge rock, if it ever was even at his best a few years back, but it’s more than good enough to welcome him back in the fold. The difference being is now he knows full well that we’ll show him the door the first sign he’s once again pining for someone else.


Just Like I Knew You Could
Once spurned, the heart – and the purse strings – become much more guarded by anyone with brains and self-respect and so even if this is a gallant effort to get back into our good graces, it can’t be enough to let bygones be bygones just yet.

Thankfully the rest of our rock brethren in 1952 agreed with that assessment, as this record failed to crack the charts, not even local ones, which had to be a blow he wasn’t fully expecting.
Ignoring it altogether would come with some risk, but it’s risk we as rock fans have to be willing to take even if that means there’s a chance he’ll say to himself that if Rockin’ Chair Boogie isn’t good enough to stir some action, why not just revert back to the lightweight fluff he’s been trying for the last few years. After all, if we’re no longer reliable enough to bank on, what’s the upside in trying to court us going forward?

The gamble we’re willing to make though is we know damn well the pop audience isn’t going to accept Hunter’s own releases. Maybe a song of his done by someone else every now and then, but not his own records they’d be forced to squeeze between Patti Page and Jo Stafford on the hi-fi. As long as that racial stigma remains in place, we’re still the ones he has to rely on. Besides if we DID all race out to buy this single and put him back in the national spotlight after he more or less ignored us for going on three years now, who’s to say he was going to remain loyal to us once his fortunes were revived anyway?

No, the best result for this is for him to get a modest bump in total units moved compared to his pop-leaning sides and a slightly more noticeable jump in jukebox spins without quite getting enough of either to earn public credit for it.

In other words just enough to let him see the carrot on the stick, without letting him take a bite of it yet.


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