IVORY JOE HUNTER
Born 10 October 1912 *, Kirbyville, Texas
Singer, pianist, songwriter.
Ivory Joe Hunter (his real name) scored 21 R&B hits and 4 pop hits between 1945 and 1959. His greatest success was as a smooth balladeer, but he was very versatile, transcending the barriers between blues, pop, jazz, rock n roll and - unusual for an Afro-American - country music.
Hunter was part of a large family, with nine brothers and four sisters, all of whom played an instrument or sang. His preacher father played country breakdowns on guitar ; his mother played guitar and piano and also sang spirituals. Ivory Joe began playing piano by ear at thirteen and sang with a number of spiritual quartets. His parents prohibited other forms of music, but he picked up the blues from a less religious family who lived nearby. He also got to hear Duke Ellington and Fats Waller and these became his heroes and major influences. In the 1930s he toured with vaudeville shows and carnivals as a barrelhouse pianist and later played in nightclubs along the Gulf Coast. By the early 40s he had his own radio show on station KFDM in Beaumont, Texas.
In 1942 he relocated from Houston to Oakland, California, and became a popular draw in West Coast jazz and blues clubs. As the big band era waned, two main strands of music were developing on the West Coast : jump blues, a fierce dance music popularised by Roy Milton and Joe Liggins, and "cocktail blues", a lighter, sophisticated style typified by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, including pianist Charles Brown. Ivory Joe's preference lay with the latter.
Unable to find a record deal, Hunter decided to start his own label, Ivory, in 1945. His only record for the label, "Blues At Sunrise"/"You Taught Me Love" (with backing by the Three Blazers), became a hit (# 3 R&B) at the end of the year after being leased to Leon Rene's Exclusive label. In 1946-47 he recorded eleven singles for Pacific, a label he owned with a local disc jockey. Sales were poor and, needing money, Hunter sold all his Pacific masters in 1947 to 4 Star Records, who reissued several singles. Of these, "Pretty Mama Blues" went to # 1 in September 1948 and had a 25-week run on the R&B charts. By that time, Ivory began to have success with his records for King, the Cincinnati label for which he had started to record in September 1947. He scored seven hit singles during his two-year tenure with King, but the grass looked greener at MGM. His first session for that label, on October 21, 1949, seemed to confirm this. It resulted in his first number one, "I Almost Lost My Mind" (five weeks at the top), and one other Top 10 hit, "S.P.Blues", soon followed by another # 1 (from his second session), "I Need You So" (1950). But after a smaller hit with "It's A Sin", there was no further chart success on MGM. Both "I Need You So" and "It's A Sin" were later recorded by Elvis Presley, who would cut five of Hunter's songs altogether, including the # 12 hit "My Wish Came True" (on the back of "A Big Hunk O'Love").
Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, who resuscitated the careers of Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles and Chuck Willis, were set on turning veterans of R&B into major rock n roll stars. In October 1954 they announced that Ivory Joe Hunter had been signed to Atlantic. His first single for his new company, "It May Sound Silly", returned him to the R&B charts (# 14) for the first time since December 1950, though pop success was thwarted by the McGuire Sisters' cover version (# 11). Likewise, "A Tear Fell" (# 15 R&B) also suffered from the cover syndrome of that period ; Teresa Brewer's pop version made it all the way to # 5 in May 1956. Pat Boone's million-selling revival of Joe's "I Almost Lost My Mind" (# 1 pop, summer 1956) inspired the arrangement for Hunter's fifth Atlantic single, "Since I Met You Baby". This pretty ballad became his first and biggest pop hit (# 12), while also topping the R&B charts for three weeks. The flip-side, "You Can't Stop This Rocking And Rolling", made for a nice contrast, trying to reassure the older folks in the middle of the R&R revolution of 1956.
Further hits on Atlantic were "Empty Arms" (# 2 R&B, # 43 pop), "Love's A Hurting Game" (# 7 R&B), both in 1957, and "Yes I Want You" (# 13 R&B, # 94 pop, 1958). His final Atlantic session, in March 1958, yielded what I consider to be his best rocker, "Shooty Booty".
A brief period with Dot Records (1958-59) resulted in his final chart entry (# 92 pop) with "City Lights", a former # 1 country hit for Ray Price. In the 1960s he recorded for Goldisc (1960), Capitol (1961), Vee-Jay (1962), Smash (1962-63), Stax (1964), Joie (1965), Goldwax (1966), Veep (1967), Teardrop (1968) and SS7 (1969), often one-off sessions. Nothing sold, but Hunter survived on his songwriting royalties. His impact on soul music was substantial, especially on Solomon Burke, who recorded several of his songs. By the late 1960s Ivory Joe had moved to Nashville where he worked as a country songwriter, subsequently performing on the Grand Ole Opry. His interest in country music (his country roots ran back to the early 1940s) was renewed by the Sonny James version of "Since I Met You Baby", a # 1 country hit in 1969. A successful appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1970 raised his profile, which led to his recording a soul album for Epic and a country LP ("I've Always Been Country") for Paramount.
In December 1973 he was diagnosed with lung cancer and shortly before his death on November 8, 1974, the Grand Ole Opry held a benefit concert featuring George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Isaac Hayes, William Bell and Sonny James. Elvis sent a telegram and a donation of $ 1000. Ivory Joe was airlifted from a Memphis hospital and sang a couple of songs from a wheelchair.
* His birthyear is usually given as 1911 or 1914. The 1912 date is based on reecent research by Bob Eagle and Eric LeBlanc for their book "Blues : A Regional Experience" (2013).
More info : http://home.earthlink.net/~jaymar41/ivory1.html
Recommended CD's :
Discography : http://www.soulfulkindamusic.net/ijhunter.htm
Acknowledgements : Bill Millar, Neil Slaven, Joel Whitburn.
Dik, November 2013
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