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MGM 11165; FEBRUARY 1952



It’s been just about two years since the perpetually overlooked star Ivory Joe Hunter saw his popularity crest upon his arrival at aspiring major label MGM after two years of steady hits at King Records.

Always a tough artist to slot because of his wide musical interests and his corresponding tendency to recruit seasoned jazz musicians, country players and frame much of his work with more blatant pop touches than is considered wise for anyone in this field, he remained an enigma in many ways… an immensely talented songwriter, good pianist and effective singer who never fully convinced you he was satisfied sticking to any one style.

Maybe it was inevitable that the more he did this, the weaker his commercial prospects became, as now Hunter finds himself in the unusual position of having to win an audience back over after they’ve seemed to have turned their back on him.

If so, this might not be the best way to go about it.


Didn’t Even Say Goodbye
Though the behind the scenes intrigue here is probably of no interest to anybody in their right mind, we need to mention that a few of the planned sides to cover this week were dropped for reasons of stylistic incompatibility.

The entire premise of the site is to chart the history of rock ‘n’ roll of course and so blues, country, jazz and pop are excluded entirely from the overview, other than to occasionally be mentioned in passing.

But we’ve made exceptions (to a small degree) when it comes to covering the more poppish, bluesy or jazz-inflected sides of verified rock artists, mainly to keep their personal narratives here from having a gaping hole in them.

To that end the review for Ruth Brown’s venture into pop cover territory on Be Anything (But Be Mine) was fully written and scheduled to go up today as it was the B-side to 5-10-15 Hours, a terrific rock side that was one of her biggest hits. In fact, the essay examined the similarities in theme between the two sides – both showing her longing for a man just out of reach – and contrasted the ways they went about it and the effectiveness, or lack thereof, for each approach.

But at the last second it was pulled because, aside from having to saddle it with the lowest score possible despite a strong technical performance on Brown’s part, the record made absolutely no attempt to include any rock touches. The fact she dug a little deeper emotionally than the many pop versions at this time was to her credit, but still didn’t make it qualify for rock no matter how venerated a star in the field she may be.

Similarly the flip side to today’s single by Ivory Joe Hunter, Laugh (Though You Want To Cry), was on the docket – though not yet written – when it too was dropped for the same reason. It just isn’t rock and by this point, with all of their respective experience in the genre, we can’t go on making exceptions just to talk about how poor those creative decisions are.

Which means that Hunter’s current standing in our world rests entirely on Where Shall I Go, which is a title that might cut a little too close to the bone when it comes to him trying to decide his own musical future.

Had his big hits from late 1948-1950 resulted in crossover sales and positioned him as a rival to Nat Cole or Billy Eckstine, that decision may have been made for him, but since that wasn’t the case he’s stuck trying to appeal to us whether he likes it or not and we’re going to be sure to tell HIM whether we like what he’s doing to appease us or not.

Things Will Be Alright After Awhile
The short answer is, no this isn’t enough, as if you needed me to tell you that after such a detailed explanation as to where we stand heading into this song.

But the good news is Ivory Joe Hunter hasn’t stopped trying and considering how creatively restless he always is, that’s definitely a good sign for the future.

In the present however, there’s not much here that is going to hit any rock fan’s sweet spot, even if they begrudgingly admire some of the individual skills he shows here.

The horns that open this are a little too classy for our purposes, but even with the muted trumpet responses to Hunter’s vocals, they’re not completely out place. It’s a fairly well constructed arrangement in other words even though we’d prefer a few more raunchier sounds.

Then there’s the faint similarities to past glories in the primary vocal melody early on that we have to reconcile. He disguises it well and definitely doesn’t linger on it, so you pass it off as being more attributable to his vocal mannerisms, the way he rises and falls on certain lines, than something too deliberate on his part.

Where Shall I Go starts pulling its act together when he breaks into an unexpected staccato delivery with horns riffing alongside him as he ramps up the tension in the story. Yes, it’s another tale of romantic woe that we’re used to out of him and not at all memorable for what he says to start with, but at least during these more dramatic parts it’s HOW he says it that makes a deeper impression as well as adding some much needed rhythm to the song to bring it back into a rock setting.

It’s not a perfect transition by any means and throughout the rest of the song there seems to be competing influences each trying to win out, but at least it doesn’t clash and the song’s effectiveness improves as the emotional stakes are raised and the story come to a more memorable conclusion.

He still needs to find a more assertive personality to tap into if he wants to really shore up his standing as a rock act, but because he’s got so many interests to satisfy – not the least of which is his commercial interests – it’s hardly surprising he can’t seem to find a way to balance them all.


If I Just Had The Nerve
Musical artists, like most people, are rarely able to fully overcome their shortcomings in life. Their strengths and their weaknesses are in a constant struggle for control and they always seem to come out in a draw.

For Ivory Joe Hunter that means while he’s going to make records of a consistent creative quality, they’ll rarely show a consistent stylistic outlook.

Where Shall I Go tries melding different styles together with somewhat mixed results, meaning what appeals to one segment of the audience is not going to find favor with another group listening.

That leaves him with a few tough choices to make, which boils down to three things, none of which have any greater assurance for long term success.

The first is to make a clean break from one song to the next, focusing each time out on perfecting a different genre using their narrower rules of engagement. Pure pop, country, cocktail blues, jazz and rock, each one segregated from the other in his catalog allowing him to scratch each creative itch as it arises without them interfering with other competing musical choices. The downside is when you connect with one of them, you’ll inevitably disappoint those fans when you abandon it for something else entirely the next time out.

His second option is to just pick one and focus entirely on that every time out, hoping to build a loyal audience while at the same time honing those specific attributes that would allow him to consistently fulfill their expectations. But for someone as creatively restless as Hunter, this might be a fate worse than death.

Which means he’s likely to stick with the last choice which is the same one he’s been riding since we met him and that’s to throw all of these diverse sources and ideas into a pot, mix them up and see what comes out.

We’d tell you what’s wrong with that solution but I think the middling scores he usually gets as a result of this approach speaks for itself.


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