Let Me Dream : Ivory Joe Hunter (part two)©2002JCMarion


At the onset of 1953, Ivory Joe set out on a month long tour of Texas and Oklahoma. In the early spring MGM Records releases #11459 - "If You See My Baby" and "I Had A Girl". Hunter is constantly on the road even though his record sales have stalled. He remains a favorite of R & B fans as his summer dates at the Orchid Club in Kansas City and at Chicago's Toast Of The Town Club. In October "My Best Wishes" and "Talking To Myself" is released on MGM #11599. Hunter returns to the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans for an extended booking. In 1954 Ivory Joe Hunter has a low profile as his records for MGM slow to a trickle and he is missing from the radio airwaves for the most part as the rock 'n roll tidal wave is about to erupt. In late summer of 1954 MGM issues "Whose Arms Are You Missing?" and "Do You Miss Me?" on #11818 to coincide with a week at Detroit's famous Flame Show Bar. In December Hunter shares the stage at the Howard Theater in Washington D.C. with The Regals. Hunter spends the holidays in the Northeast with a weeklong booking at Providence, Rhode Island's Downbeat Club. Also this month Ivory Joe ends a five year association with MGM Records and is signed to the giant of the R & B independents, Atlantic. It would be a move that revitalizes his career and makes him a national recording star at last.
It doesn't take long for Atlantic to strike gold. In mid January they release "It May Sound Silly" and "I've Got To Learn To Do The Mambo" on #1049. In a short time "Silly" becomes a top seller for Atlantic especially in the Northeast as the record makes inroads on pop radio stations. In March on the strength of his latest record, Hunter tops the bill at L.A.'s Savoy Ballroom sharing the bill with LaVern Baker and Joe Houston. In appearances in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati, Ivory Joe does big box office. In June just as the sales for "Silly" start to fade Atlantic releases #1066 - "Heaven Came Down To Earth" and "I Want Somebody". The pop music powers take no chances this time - both Jerry vale (Columbia) and Helene Dixon (Epic) cover "Heaven Came Down To Earth". In the fall Hunter is back touring his home state of Texas.


In February of 1956 "A Tear Fell" and "I Need You By My Side" are released by Atlantic on #1086. As soon as the record shows promise it is covered by Theresa Brewer for Coral Records. Ivory Joe headlines a big show in Detroit for Robin Seymour which also stars The Jewels, Teenagers with Frankie Lymon, Teen Queens, 5 Keys, and the Bonnie Sisters. In May Atlantic #1095 pairs "That's Why I Dream" and "You Mean Everything To Me", but little becomes of the record which fades almost immediately. Pat Boone records a pop version of Hunter's "I Almost Lost My Mind" for Dot Records, and it goes to number one and sells more than a million records. In October Ivory Joe Hunter records a heartfelt ballad, one of the many hundreds he has written and recorded. This one would be different, something very special. "Since I Met You Baby" is released in mid October on Atlantic #1111 (a very prophetic number) with a throwaway but emphatic flip side "You Can't Stop This Rocking And Rolling". It begins to sell almost at once. Cover versions are rushed out by Mindy Carson in the pop field and Molly Bee for the C & W audience. But this time the record crosses all musical (and societal) boundaries. It is an unstoppable monster hit and breaks nationally in mid November, the mellow vocal with the memorable piano playing by Hunter. This is what he must have dreamed of since his Texas boyhood days. By December Joe gets star billing at the big holiday show at the Detroit Fox Theater. He is the headliner and appears with Bo Diddley, Della Reese, The Three Chuckles, Royal Jokers, and Bunny Paul.
Through early 1957 "Since I Met You Baby" extends its stay on the pop charts for four months, gets into the top ten in sales in the country, and tops the million mark in sales. It would become his signature tune, and the piano intro became world famous. "Love Is A Hurting Game" and "Empty Arms" were moderately successful, but Hunter's day at the top was done. Still there were a few sides left. In early 1958 Atlantic features Hunter on "You're On My Mind" and Baby baby Count On Me" on #1173. In April "Shooty Booty" and "I'm So Glad I Found You" is released on Atlantic #1183. In June "You Flip Me Baby" and "Yes I Want You" are out on Atlantic #1191. The following month "Yes I Want You" shows up on the best seller charts in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. In late 1958 Randy Wood president of Dot Records in Nashville announces the signing of Ivory Joe Hunter. Immediate plans are for an lp album to be recorded by Hunter with a large orchestral backing.


On April 6 of 1959, Atlantic releases #2020 - "I Just Want To Love You" and "Now I Don't Worry No More", and Dot Records releases #15930 - "A Cottage For Sale" and "An Old Fashioned Love", so Ivory Joe gets maximum exposure. In June "I Love You So Much" and "Welcome Home Baby" is released on #15957. Ivory Joe Hunter's last vestige of being a hit maker is realized with "City Lights" for Dot. That October "Did You Mean It" and "My Search Was Ended" is issued on Dot Records #15986. In November Hunter is on King Records with "Guess Who" and "Don't Fall In Love With Me" on #5280.
Into the 60s, he leaned more heavily to a country sound (his R & B / C & W blend predating Ray Charles) but did not see much success with labels such as Vee-Jay, ABC-Paramount, and Capitol. He faded out from the general public's view by the mid 60s but was still active in the music business as much as he could be. He had one last go-round with the Johnny Otis R & B Cavalcade and his live version of "Since I Met You Baby" on the "Live at Monterey" album is a joy to behold. He passed away in 1974 from cancer just as a benefit was held in his honor at the Grand Ol Opry in Nashville with George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Buck Owens and others.


It is said that Ivory Joe Hunter wrote thousands of songs, and it is said that he had thousands of smiles. He was certainly a singular talent, as his last recording proclaimed "I've Always Been Country", this from a singer-pianist who at one time was called the Baron of Boogie. Ivory Joe Hunter, an American original, and the kind that only comes along once in a lifetime if we are lucky enough.


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