REVIEW: Ivory Joe Hunter: “S.P. Blues” - MGM 10618; JANUARY, 1950
(too old to reply)
2020-02-28 15:10:51 UTC

Youtube -

Some lessons in life are hard to learn.

Maybe it’s the inherent stubbornness of human beings in general, or perhaps it’s just your own shortsightedness that’s at fault, but everybody has some confounding blind spot in their vision regarding something which should be plainly obvious at a glance.

If you’ve read this website from the beginning and then glance up at the name of the artist this review centers on you certainly don’t need me to tell you what lesson is having trouble sinking in around here so I’ll come clean in the hopes that I can rid myself of this embarrassing public afflicition regarding the career of Ivory Joe Hunter by proclaiming publicly…

Stop Underestimating This Man!.

There, I said it. Now we can move on and start giving him the credit he so rightly deserves.

Last Night I Learned My Lesson
On the surface Ivory Joe Hunter was the unlikeliest of rock stars. Bespectacled, neat in appearance, mild mannered and leaning heavily towards introspective ballads rather than storming barn-burners, Hunter appeared to be a lamb thrown to the wolves so to speak.

That he’d spent the last two years on King Records, home of the most wicked wolf in the forest, Wynonie Harris, probably made Hunter’s unusual qualifications stick out all the more. But it’s worth noting that it wasn’t Harris who was King’s most consistent hit-maker during that time, it was Ivory Joe Hunter… and that’s even with his only chart topper coming for another label in the midst of that!

But despite being commercially successful his image – both personally and musically – seemed just a little out of line with the more flamboyant attitude rock was accentuating. His mellow baritone, silky piano playing and his tendency for writing lyrics that had him grappling with insecurities and self-doubt rather than making boastful proclamations of his ability to swill booze with one hand and molest women with the other hardly made him the poster boy for rock ‘n’ roll rebellion.

As if that weren’t enough he was so musically diverse, playing with jazz legends, blues guitarists and country pickers and fitting in seamlessly with all of them, that you never quite were certain he would stick it out in rock. If anyone was positioned to challenge Nat “King” Cole as black America’s designated pop balladeer it would seem to be Hunter, something which seemed more likely than ever when he left King Records at the end of 1949 when his contract ran out and jumped to MGM, a wanna-be major label with pop aspirations which was connected to a movie studio.

Yet his first release for them, I Almost Lost My Mind, became his biggest hit ever and one of the most enduring rock ballads of all-time and here, while we were worried about him making the transition to pop to compete with Cole, it wound up being Nat “King” Cole who covered Hunter’s hit this month!

As for Ivory Joe’s long term music plans, well of all the rock artists who scored multiple hits in the 1940’s the only one to also score multiple hits after rock’s mid-1950’s “crossover” was none other than Ivory Joe Hunter.

So that’s my mea culpa for constantly questioning his creative decisions… and now here’s where the real fun begins, as S.P. Blues solidifies his artistic reputation while giving him yet another hit to hang his hat on.

I Can’t Have No Sleep
Though Hunter is not breaking any new ground here – indeed, thematically this is standard fare for this perpetually unlucky guy who never found a girl to treat him with even a modicum of respect – but rather than feel like a rehash of previous glories this is both a refinement of the concept and a slight stylistic shakeup, both of which allow it to stand out.

Case in point, where as most of his songs dealing with this topic the mood is forlorn, the pace is crawling and there’s often a string section to add to the weary resignation and tearful memories, on S.P. Blues Hunter kicks it off with a jittery percussive piano which gives the track an immediate jolt of energy, something emphasized by the horn coda to that section.

The record has a steady propulsive feel to it throughout and shifts the pacing at various times, primarily through a change in lead instruments in the arrangement which keeps you both in a groove and slightly off-balance trying to guess what will follow.

Even during the verses when the trumpet takes over the primary responsory role – something often a death knell for a rock song – it’s used very effectively, letting Taft Jordan improvise his lines while the arrangement itself forces him to keep them fairly concise. In other words, no elongated spiraling solos for him that loses focus. The fact that the trumpet has been used so frequently to replicate a train’s whistle, though the sounds themselves are really not as close as the music makes them out to be, helps set the mood.

Melodically this also one of Hunter’s more catchy tunes, his voice rising and falling in a way that’s easily remembered and encourages singing along, that in of itself removing some of the sorrow from the sentiments. After all, if you’re swaying back and forth and harmonizing as he recounts his bad luck it’s kind of hard to get choked up about his predicament, giving it a surprisingly optimistic undercurrent to off-set the lyrical despondency.

The sax solo is judiciously used as well as it features two rather surprising vocal interjections, the first of which kicks it off as Ivory Joe urges him on with an atypical (for him anyway) cry of “Go! Go! Go!”, giving it a more powerful launch. The second comes midway through that same horn solo, which is more slinky in nature than scintillating, as Hunter lets loose a very effective scream – for what reason we can’t fathom unless a mouse ran across his piano keys – yet its sudden appearance works wonders, transforming the impression the sax is making without needlessly altering the lines themselves.

In other words, the solo needs to be restrained to fit in the song, but he seems to know that exciting solos are what rock fans crave and so he manages to give them both in a way that someone works even though it really shouldn’t. It’s doubtful people think of screams as being a part of a musical arrangement, outside of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins or Little Richard I guess, but quiet, reserved Ivory Joe Hunter shows how much it can add if used at the proper points. The record gets its second much needed jolt with that and coasts home on the after burner effect alone.

My Head Hung Way Down Low
But all of this talk about the musical side of the equation has crowded out what is usually the primary focus of Hunter’s material, his lyrical gifts.

Part of this might be due to the fact that it IS a bit of a new wrinkle in the production side wherein the usual vibe he takes on is swapped out for another, but it also could be that underneath that new veneer is a familiar sight as once again Ivory Joe is the spurned guy left standing at the station (literally in this case) watching his baby leave him for reasons he can’t fathom.

Rather than be cause for concern however, a troubling sign that he might possibly be running low on ideas, Hunter is such a master of nuance and technique that you don’t mind him revisiting the topic to see what new elements he uncovers along the way.

The title alone – S.P. Blues – is the first hint that is at least coming at you from a different angle than previous “down in the dumps” Hunter songs. The train line in question – The Southern Pacific – was one of the most vital in America for over a century and undoubtedly was the very train (if he came by train that is) that Ivory Joe himself rode when coming west from Texas to California early in his career.

Aside from the setting though which finds him watching her board the train to leave him he’s mining his emotions far more than the circumstances surrounding it. It may be a little unsettling to delve into the his conflicting state of mind for those on the outside looking in, especially since none of us, presumably, want to ever admit to weakness or uncertainty, particularly when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex. The male ego for sure stigmatizes such thoughts from a young age and so Ivory Joe is unlikely to find much sympathy in public settings such as a train depot when he’s on the verge of tears.

But in private that’s another matter altogether and his eye for detail here is as good as always. Check out how deftly he works in the internal struggle he’s having with himself as she boards the train, wanting to say something to get her to change her mind, but owing to either indecision or the more powerful inclination to keep a stiff upper lip, he remains quiet and immediately regrets it as the train pulls away.

There’s not a soul alive who hadn’t wished they’d said something to someone at some point who can’t relate to that and Hunter manages to convey those feelings – at the time it’s happening and hint at the nagging self-loathing he’s bound to have in the future whenever he thinks of what he might’ve said to her.

Even his pondering in the moment how he would feel that night without her there in bed beside him manages to pull together so many swirling emotions and translate it in a perfectly concise way. Then, just as it’s getting to be too much to bear he looks for an escape and finds it in his piano solo, a form of mental distraction that most people faced with a heavy heart hope to find in some fashion.

Fully Decided
One of things that rarely is talked about with artists in general, but certainly of this earliest era of rock, is their intelligence. We tend to equate musical sophistication with brains and so I’m sure classical composers or jazz virtuosos are deemed by casual observers to be somehow smarter than mere rock acts, even rock acts like Ivory Joe Hunter whose fastidiousness set him apart from those who wailed and screamed and drew attention to themselves for their antics.

But when examining his career it’d be hard to deny just how bright he was and how much he understood the market, his role IN that market and just how to take advantage of each opportunity.

In this, his first session for MGM, he cut four sides, three of which were top ten hits, giving the new label his best ideas right away to get the partnership off to a good start and make sure they were in his corner in terms of promotion for the rest of his tenure there.

Musically he capitalized on the audience’s familiarity with his past work to make sure that S.P. Blues upended their expectations by altering its sonic structure, giving them something different enough to seem surprising, yet containing the same basic components he knew they appreciated so it wasn’t a radical departure for them either.

We’ve said before that Hunter, who resembled a college professor in appearance and who had more hands-on experience than most in the industry by virtue of running his own record label in the past, was a shrewd operator and if you needed further proof this is it.

As a calculated move to consolidate his position in the music kingdom it was brilliant and as a record it was hardly less so. It may have taken us awhile to come around fully on his many gifts, but rest assured we won’t be underestimating him anymore.

Roger Ford
2020-02-28 15:35:36 UTC
Post by SavoyBG
Youtube -

Okay,let's take a look at how Ivory Joe did with "S.P Blues" in the
1950 Singles Battle :-

Round One
Post by SavoyBG
13 Ivory Joe Hunter - S.P. Blues - M-G-M 10618
2 Big John Greer - Rockin' Jenny Jones - RCA 50-0051
Ivory Joe scores again this time stopping Greer in his tracks

Round Two
Post by SavoyBG
9 Ivory Joe Hunter - S.P. Blues - M-G-M 10618
9 Wynonie Harris - I Want To Love You Baby - King 4402
Another draw....and because Joe got 13 last time against Wynonie's 9
then he can celebrate a rare ocassion where Wynonie comes out second
best here!!

Round Three
Post by SavoyBG
9 Roy Brown - Hard Luck Blues - DeLuxe 3304
7 Ivory Joe Hunter - S.P. Blues - M-G-M 10618
Roy wins again at the expense of Ivory Joe


"Spam Free Zone" - to combat unwanted automatic spamming I have added
an extra "b" in my e-mail address (***@bblueyonder.co.uk) Please
delete same before responding.Thank you!
2020-02-28 15:43:01 UTC
I've got "S.P. Blues" as a 7, and it's #78 now on my 1950 list.

1 ¦ Moanin' The Blues ¦ Hank Williams
2 ¦ Why Don't You Love Me ¦ Hank Williams
3 ¦ The Fat Man ¦ Fats Domino
4 ¦ Long Gone Lonesome Blues ¦ Hank Williams
5 ¦ Jumpin' At The Dew Drop ¦ Ivory Joe Hunter
6 ¦ Cool Water ¦ Four Tunes
7 ¦ Nobody's Lonesome For Me ¦ Hank Williams
8 ¦ Love Don't Love Nobody ¦ Roy Brown
9 ¦ Rock Mr. Blues ¦ Wynonie Harris
10 ¦ Bon Ton Roula ¦ Clarence Garlow
11 ¦ Mardi Gras In New Orleans ¦ Prof. Longhair
12 ¦ Carnival Day ¦ Dave Bartholomew
13 ¦ Hey--Spo-De-O-Dee ¦ Wild Bill Moore
14 ¦ Information Blues ¦ Roy Milton
15 ¦ Detroit City Blues ¦ Fats Domino
16 ¦ Double Crossing Blues ¦ Little Esther & Robins
17 ¦ Shotgun Boogie ¦ Tennessee Ernie Ford
18 ¦ Bad Bad Whiskey ¦ Amos Milburn
19 ¦ Chicken Blues ¦ Dominoes
20 ¦ Do Something For Me ¦ Dominoes
21 ¦ Tee-Nah-Nah ¦ Smiley Lewis
22 ¦ Peas And Rice ¦ Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson
23 ¦ Let's Do It ¦ Sticks McGhee
24 ¦ Teardrops From My Eyes ¦ Ruth Brown
25 ¦ Safronia B ¦ Calvin Boze
26 ¦ Man's Brand Boogie ¦ Billy Wright
27 ¦ I Like My Baby's Pudding ¦ Wynonie Harris
28 ¦ Blue Light Boogie ¦ Louis Jordan
29 ¦ Oh Well ¦ Roy Byrd
30 ¦ Pink Champagne ¦ Joe Liggins
31 ¦ C.C. Baby ¦ Brownie McGhee
32 ¦ Cadillac Baby ¦ Roy Brown
33 ¦ Saturday Night Boogie Woogie Man ¦ Jimmy Liggins
34 ¦ Growing Old ¦ Smiley Lewis
35 ¦ Please Send Me Someone To Love ¦ Percy Mayfield
36 ¦ Every Night About This Time ¦ Fats Domino
37 ¦ I'm Through ¦ Robins
38 ¦ Good Morning Judge ¦ Wynonie Harris
39 ¦ Turkey Hop ¦ Robins
40 ¦ Deceivin' Blues ¦ Little Esther
41 ¦ What's Happening ¦ Paul Williams (Connie Allen)
42 ¦ Breaking Up The House ¦ Tiny Bradshaw
43 ¦ Hey La Bas Boogie ¦ Fats Domino
44 ¦ She Walks Right In ¦ Professor Longhair
45 ¦ Bald Head ¦ Roy Byrd
46 ¦ Dirty People ¦ Smiley Lewis
47 ¦ Rollin' Stone ¦ Muddy Waters
48 ¦ My Baby's Coming Back ¦ Sticks McGhee
49 ¦ Mr. Blues Is Coming To Town ¦ Wynonie Harris
50 ¦ Little Red Rooster ¦ Griffin Brothers (Margie Day)
51 ¦ Ain't Gonna Do It ¦ Dave Bartholomew
52 ¦ W-I-N-E ¦ Hollywood Four Flames
53 ¦ There's No Use Begging ¦ Robins
54 ¦ Drank Up All The Wine Last Night ¦ Sticks McGhee
55 ¦ Good Man Blues ¦ Roy Brown
56 ¦ We're Gonna Rock ¦ Gunter Lee Carr (Cecil Gant)
57 ¦ Satisfy My Soul ¦ Buddy & Ella Johnson
58 ¦ Southern Menu ¦ Sticks McGhee
59 ¦ Mr. Blues ¦ Masterkeys
60 ¦ I Want To Love You Baby ¦ Wynonie Harris
61 ¦ Little Bee ¦ Fats Domino
62 ¦ Everything's Gonna Be Allright Tonight ¦ King Perry
63 ¦ She's My Baby ¦ Fats Domino
64 ¦ Count Every Star ¦ Ravens
65 ¦ Lover's Lane Boogie ¦ Little Esther & Robins
66 ¦ Big Fat Mamas Are Back In Style Again ¦ Bull Moose Jackson
67 ¦ Louisiana Blues ¦ Muddy Waters
68 ¦ Is My Heart Wasting Time ¦ Orioles
69 ¦ Butcher Pete ¦ Roy Brown
70 ¦ Hi-Yo ¦ Harold Burrage
71 ¦ My Baby's Gone ¦ Ravens
72 ¦ Country Boy Goes Home ¦ Dave Bartholomew
73 ¦ Brown Boy ¦ Big Al Sears (Sparrows)
74 ¦ Tee Nah Nah ¦ Van "Piano Man" Walls (Spider Sam)
75 ¦ Stack-A-Lee ¦ Archibald
76 ¦ Venus Blues ¦ Sticks McGhee
77 ¦ Little Red Hen ¦ Johnny Otis (Redd Lyte)
78 ¦ S.P. Blues ¦ Ivory Joe Hunter
79 ¦ Lemon Squeezer ¦ Four Barons
80 ¦ I'm Clappin' And Shoutin' ¦ Bumps Myers & His Frantic Five (Bobby Nunn)
81 ¦ I Just Don't Like This Kind of Livin' ¦ Hank Williams
82 ¦ Oh Holy Night ¦ Orioles
83 ¦ Still In The Dark ¦ Joe Turner
84 ¦ Got To Go Back Again ¦ Four Barons
85 ¦ Hide Away Blues ¦ Fats Domino
86 ¦ That's All Right ¦ Jimmy Rogers
87 ¦ Rollin' And Tumblin' ¦ Muddy Waters
88 ¦ I'm Gonna Let Him Ride ¦ Helen Humes
89 ¦ You're Fine But Not My Kind ¦ Robins
90 ¦ Swingin' In The Groove ¦ Jimmy Preston
91 ¦ I'm Gonna Have Myself A Ball ¦ Tiny Bradshaw
92 ¦ Jumpin' Tonight ¦ Joe Turner
93 ¦ Lonesome Christmas ¦ Lowell Fulsom
94 ¦ Walkin' With The Blues ¦ Benny Goodman (Jimmy Ricks)
95 ¦ Walkin' Blues ¦ Amos Milburn
96 ¦ She's A Killer ¦ Ivory Joe Hunter
97 ¦ Every Dog Gone Time ¦ Orioles
98 ¦ Private Property Blues ¦ Don Q & His Q Tones
99 ¦ Our Romance is Gone ¦ Robins
100 ¦ At Night ¦ Orioles
101 ¦ When You Come Back To Me ¦ Clovers
102 ¦ Mean Old Wine ¦ Billy Wright
103 ¦ Rockin' The Blues ¦ Pee Wee Crayton
104 ¦ Send For The Doctor ¦ Doc Pomus
105 ¦ She Ain't Nothin' But Trouble ¦ Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup
106 ¦ Mistrustin' Blues ¦ Little Esther (Mel Walker)
107 ¦ Gonna Have A Merry X-Mas ¦ Nic Nacs
107 ¦ Gotta Cut Out ¦ Jimmy McCracklin
108 ¦ Put it Back ¦ Wynonie Harris
110 ¦ Million Dollar Secret ¦ Helen Humes
111 ¦ Let It Roll Again ¦ Lucky Millinder (Big John Greer)
112 ¦ Ashes On My Pillow ¦ Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson
113 ¦ Rock-A-Bye Baby Blues ¦ Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
114 ¦ Old Woman Boogie ¦ Hubert Robinson
115 ¦ Turkey Hop ¦ Johnny Otis
116 ¦ I'm Living O.K. ¦ Robins
117 ¦ Sad Journey Blues ¦ Floyd Dixon
118 ¦ Gimme A Pigfoot (And A Bottle of Beer) ¦ Billie Holiday
119 ¦ Blue Shadows ¦ Lowell Fulsom
120 ¦ Teardrops From My Eyes ¦ Red Kirk
121 ¦ Down On My Knees ¦ Swan Silvertones
122 ¦ I'm So Crazy For Love ¦ Cap-Tans
123 ¦ Lizzy Lou ¦ Calvin Boze
124 ¦ Gotta Let You Go ¦ Joe Hill Louis
125 ¦ Rock My Soul ¦ Mr. Google Eyes
126 ¦ Bess's Boogie ¦ Bobby Smith
127 ¦ You Thrill Me ¦ Ivory Joe Hunter
128 ¦ I Know That Chick ¦ Lester Williams
129 ¦ New Orleans, My Home (Te-Na-Nay) ¦ Ellis "Slow" Walsh
130 ¦ Down Here I've Done My Best (I Want To Go To Heaven And Rest) ¦ Selah Singers
131 ¦ Rocking Jenny Jones ¦ Big John Greer
132 ¦ No Good Woman Blues ¦ Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson
Roger Ford
2020-02-28 17:04:04 UTC
Post by SavoyBG
I've got "S.P. Blues" as a 7, and it's #78 now on my 1950 list.
Sounds about right to me. My gradiing too


"Spam Free Zone" - to combat unwanted automatic spamming I have added
an extra "b" in my e-mail address (***@bblueyonder.co.uk) Please
delete same before responding.Thank you!
2020-02-28 20:29:45 UTC
Post by Roger Ford
Post by SavoyBG
I've got "S.P. Blues" as a 7, and it's #78 now on my 1950 list.
Sounds about right to me. My gradiing too
Me three again.