Border Town Legend
From the wild roadhouses of West Texas, a real Lone Star legend at the peak of his abilities. "The return of Long John Hunter is the Texas blues event of the decade"--AUSTIN CHRONICLE
Produced by Tary Owens and Jon Foose
Jim Watts, Assistant Producer; Willie Owens, Associate Producer
Deborah and Steve Jeter, Executive Producers
Recorded by Jim Watt at Gem/Lone Star Studios, Austin, TX, and Michael Henry Martin at Castle Sound Studio, Abilene, TX.
All songs mixed by Jim Watts except Arkansas and John's Funk mixed by Michael Henry Martin
Photos by Jonny Cates
Packaging Design by Matt Minde
Long John Hunter, Guitar and Vocals
T-BONE INTENTIONS: Joe Kelley and Derek O'Brien, rhythm guitars; Keith Winking, trumpet; Kaz Kazanoff and Art Lewis, tenor saxes; Red Rails, baritone sax; Johnny Nicholas, piano; Dave Keown, bass; Kevin Taylor, drums.
Joe Kelley and Derek O'Brien, rhythm guitars; Martin Banks, trumpet; Kaz Kazanoff, Tenor sax; Johnny Nicholas, piano; Dave Keown, bass; Kevin Taylor, drums.
Michael Henry Martin, rhythm guitar; Art Lewis, tenor sax; Dave Keown, bass; Kevin Taylor, drums; Hunter Hamonettes, vocals.
Joe Kelley and Derek O'Brien, rhythm guitars; Art Lewis and Kaz Kazanoff, tenor saxes; Johnny Nicholas, piano; Sarah Brown, bass; Kevin Taylor, drums.
Joe Kelley and Derek O'Brien, rhythm guitars; Red Rails, baritone sax; Johnny Nicholas, piano; Sarah Brown, bass; Kevin Taylor, drums.
GRITS AIN'T GROCERIES
Joe Kelley and Derek O'Brien, rhythm guitars; Martin Banks, trumpet; Kaz Kazanoff, tenor sax; Red Rails, baritone sax; Johnny Nicholas, piano; Dave Keown, bass; Kevin Taylor, drums.
Michael Henry Martin, rhythm guitar; Art Lewis, tenor sax; D.B.Cooper, organ; Dave Keown; bass; Kevin Taylor, drums.
ROOSTER & THE HEN
Joe Kelley, rhythm guitar; Art Lewis, tenor sax; D.B. Cooper, organ; Dave Keown, bass; Kevin Taylor, drums.
LONE STAR SHOOTOUT
Guitar solos (in order of appearance): Long John Hunter, Derek O'Brien, Johnny Nicholas, Joe Kelley and "Guitar" Jake Andrews. Joe Kelley and Derek O'Brien, rhythm guitars; Johnny Nicholas, piano; Dave Keown, bass; Kevin Taylor, drums.
Derek O'Brien, rhythm guitar; Martin Banks, trumpet; Kaz Kazanoff, tenor sax; Johnny Nicholas, piano; Sarah Brown, bass; Kevin Taylor, drums.
Joe Kelley, rhythm guitar; Art Lewis, tenor sax; Dave Keown, acoustic bass; Kevin Taylor, drums.
Michael Henry Martin, rhythm guitar; Art Lewis, tenor sax; D.B.Cooper, organ; Dave Keown, bass; Kevin Taylor, drums.
Special Thanks to Maryann Price, Willie Owens, Ed Guinn, Ed Solley, Catfish Records, Brent Gruelke, Joe Nick Patoski, John Morthland, Andrew Halbreich and Bill Bentley. Last but not least, Top Shelf Productions. All songs powered by Turnerhill House of Bar-B-Q's "butter-roll!"
Born in 1931 in Louisiana, raised in a sharecropping family in Arkansas, John had no interest in music until he caught a ripsnorting 1954 B.B. King show in Beaumont, Texas (where Hunter was then working in a box factory). The next day, he bought a guitar; that weekend, his trio, the Hollywood Bearcats, played a local beer joint. What they lacked in ability and seasoning, they made up for in energy and showmanship; before long, their Crazy Girl b/w She Used To Be My Baby , pressed on a labelless single, was getting local airplay. Don Robey picked it up for Duke Records and John moved to Houston -- but to this day, the guitarist believes Robey signed him only to stifle the competition Long John posed to other Duke-Peacock acts. Hunter worked regularly in the Houston clubs with people like Albert Collins and Philip Walker, but he never cut another record for Robey.
Then, in l957, a friend told him about the wild west town of El Paso. Long John and the Bearcats were heading there in no time. Their first night in town, they crossed the river into Juarez and wowed an informal cutting contest at the Lobby. John's group promptly became the new house band. He was given a weekly pay-check like he'd never seen before, as well as an apartment, a car and driver, clothes, and a pair of bodyguards.
In his shows, he'd literally swing from the rafters, or take advantage of his long cord to stroll the sidewalks outside the club. As his original musicians peeled off, his band came to include such characters as a narcoleptic guitarist who dazzled for the first two songs before falling asleep while standing onstage, a vocalist who had someone beat him up in the alley behind the club every night so he'd sing better, and another singer who didn't speak a word of English but memorized the lyrics to hundreds of songs ("and he was a good singer, too," Long John says admiringly).
When he began there, "I had it in my mind that if the music didn't sound like B.B. King, it wasn't music," John says. Real blues was a real novelty in west Texas, where country, rock and Mexican music ruled. In addition to B.B., he played some Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and more. But John quickly concluded he needed more to keep the party going, and soon he was mixing in the songs of Little Richard, Chuck Berry and other rockers. The slow blues and the sad blues were few and far between. From 1961 to 1963, Hunter recorded a series of jumping, uptempo Texas blues singles on the Yucca label out of Alamogordo, New Mexico, that were gathered on Texas Border Town Blues (on the Dutch label Double Trouble) in '86.
He made such a lasting impression that no matter where he plays in Texas today, somebody is bound to come up to him afterwards to talk about the night he got drunk for the first time while watching Long John at the Lobby. Invariably, the next question is, "Where have you been since then?" The answer, people are surprised to learn, is that Hunter never stopped working. After leaving the Lobby, he played for five years at the King's X in El Paso, then hit the Texas/New Mexico small-town club circuit. As the only bluesman working towns like Roswell, Hobbs, Lamesa, Big Spring and Sweetwater, he had few outside influences while extending his guitar style until it sounded like nobody except Long John Hunter. He might spin out one line with a fat, muscular tone, then come right back with a flurry of notes each as trim and sharp as a pinpoint. Hunter plays economically, displaying a unique sense of timing, and using silence as a dramatic device. ("I'm not a fancy guitar player," he remarks, "but I do pretty good at what I do. I don't want to sound like I'm bragging, but I always get my point across.") His vocals match his guitar, shifting effortlessly from pinched and nasal to robust and full-throated, with a delivery invariably marked by a knowing sense of humor.
In 1985, he cut his first album, Smooth Magic, financed by a mobile-homes mogul in El Paso. He didn't record again until 1993, when Ride With Me was released on a Texas indie that folded almost immediately. But that one got him out on the festival circuit, both in the United States and abroad, and Border Town Legend should go a long way further towards transforming him from a west Texas myth into a contemporary blues pace-setter. He is aided by Art Lewis, his longtime El Paso saxman, and an all-star lineup of mostly Austin musicians. It is unmistakably Texas blues, but played with a raucous rock and a rollicking roll that won't quit. "It's pretty much what I've always done," declares Long John Hunter, "and I think it'll keep working until it's time to sit down." Hopefully, that time is still a long way off.
-- John Morthland
John Morthland is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Texas Monthly .