"Ooh Wee Pretty Baby!" captures the era when Long John Hunter ruled the blues roost in the border town region between El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. For ten of those years, Hunter was part of the furniture at The Lobby, playing seven nights a week, using a couple of bartenders as his backup band. Between 1961 and 1963 he cut eight sides under his own name for the one-man Yucca label in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and made starring appearances on four other sides. They are all included here along with unissued and alternate takes.
The Hunter sides are all pretty raucous stuff, capturing the intensity of the moment. The liner notes describe Hunter as the "...unlauded inventor of El Paso rock." which aptly sums up Hunter's unique style which comfortably straddles the musical border between blues and rock and roll. It is music that was made for dancing in the sweaty border town clubs, and includes the classic "El Paso Rock," which is still a favorite among Hunter fans, although "Border Town Blues," "Midnight Stroll" and "Old Red" deserve mention in the same breath.
Most of the tracks were issued on vinyl in 1986, but Norton have done a fine job of repackaging the material. Miriam Linna's liner notes set the scene, along with some well worn photographs of the man and his band from the period. These are supplemented by a reprint of the extensive Living Blues interview by John Morthland. Norton promise more Yucca masters as part of their El Paso Rock series, which, on this evidence, is good news.
"Ooh Wee Pretty Baby!" is a very good and very important blues artifact. It covers the defining period in Long John Hunter's career, when he honed his own style and sound. It is all the more remarkable when you consider that it all basically occurred in a musical vacuum. This made no difference, however, since Hunter turned out to be a class act.
Norton Records: PO Box 646, Cooper Station NY, NY 10276.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Gordon Baxter , and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.