Through the years Long John Hunter has recorded sporadically and in 1985 the guitarist and vocalist recorded an LP for the Boss label. 1992 saw the release of the much sought-after Spindletop album Ride With Me (soon to be re-released on Allligator Records), but the portals of fame never opened till 1996. Since then, Hunter and his band The Walking Catfish have made quite a name for themselves, and with his latest CD, Swinging From The Rafters, Hunter has cemented his well-earned reputation as a grand exponent of Texas blues with his very special playing style inspired by B. B. King and with a nod to Albert Collins and Gatemouth Brown.
A long man
- Well, I don't know how they define that. But they have this Texas blues thing blown kinda out of proportion. I am a Long John Hunter blues, before and after, that's what I am. I just play to good people; they seem to like what I do, and the more they like it, the more I play. I developed my style by pickin' a lot of cotton, plowin' that ole mule every day. I just got the rhythm, and any rhythm I need I know where it is; I know where to find it. I came from the country, and when I came to the city, I was ridin' high, you know. I was seeing more lights than I ever dreamed to shine in the world. 'Cos where I came from, there wasn't too many lights. Bugs made a lot of light, but after that there wasn't no lights. Well, as for Zydeco and Rhumba, I really don't know; I'm not too much into that. I'm a good-time musician that's what I'll say. And however they classify it, I'm satisfied as long as we're doing great. And we're doing real great now, and this new label, Alligator, is just doing great for us, and we're all just happy. Just tickle, tickle, tickle.
- Well, I don't know. When you're young, you don't misss what you never had. I was pretty young, and like I said, I had a good job in Juarez. I wasn't too far behind, I just wouldn't travel all over the country like I am doing now.
Yeah, I was a local hero. It was great for me, 'cos I had a full house every night all night seven nights a week for five years that I played. The next five years I just played five days a week, but I still had a full house every night. Juarez, you know, that was the right time for Juarez and the right time for me at that time. Because it was wild and crazy over there. If they didn't have ten fights a night, it was a bad night. They was gonna fight! But it didn't bother us. They'd just clean up the glass, and open the doors, and te house'd be packed again with eveyrbody dancing and having a good time. So it was a crazy place! Everybody had a great time every night. Not just one or two nights, no - every night they had a great time! We had every kind of audience you could name. Young, old, not-so-old, some older than old, some younger than young: they were there, they were there! There was everything. A lot of people that went to the Lobby for many years they turned out to be lawyers and doctors right there in El Paso, so…They're still around, for they didn't let that crazy life get to them. And it was a good job for me. I started playing in Juarez in August 1957, and I stayed there till 1970. I went away for a couple of years, just kind of goofed off a little, but I went back, and the total years I played in Juarez was ten years.
Yeah, it did, because like I said, I learned a lot meeting so many different people every night. We had a regular crowd, but we also had a lot of tourist people through there every night, so I learned a lot, I sure did.
-"Yeah!" - (Long John Hunter laughs) "That's the doggone truth! I never had them to print that. But I tell that and people say: "You're lying!", but that actually happened. He did, he sure did! That was just the thing he'd do every night. I mean he'd come every night and do the same thing. You know, he'd start here and wind up way over here doing his thing", chuckles Long John Hunter.
What was your life like before you hit the Lobby Bar?
-Well, I didn't too much have a life, before that, because I was on the farm (parent's farm in Arkansas), and I was working seven days a week on the farm. So I was pretty isolated then too, 'cos in Arkansas we didn't go no place, we just worked on the farm all the time and that was my life - sharecropping. I was about 24 years old when I left the farm, and I started to work when I was eight years old on the farm.
- I was born in Louisiana and raised in Arkansas.
- I had a good upbringing in all respects. I learned how to treat people and to be honest. That was the thing in our home. Be honest with people. You had to speak what you think and just tell te truth all the time, and that kind of just growed up in me, you know.
- Yeah, they were together untill they both passed. One at 84 and one at 88. They're both gone now, so now I'm left with a whole bunch of sisters and brothers down in Beaumont, Texas.
- Naw! Well, my dad he played a little bit of guitar, like Lightning Hopkins. He'd also try to play like Muddy Waters, but he was not really a musician, that was just something he did around the house whenever he was home.
- I didn't have any music life when I was in the country. Not at all. The only music you heard in the country was country and western. Well, I had one song that I thought I could play better than the guy, and that was [Bill Monroe or Elvis Presley's?- Ed.] Blue Moon over Kentucky, and that was about it, you know.
- Yeah, we didn't have but one radio, and it only worked two weeks and then two weeks it was down, so we didn't hear it too much, though (laughs).
- I am. Very self taught. Well, you know, I worked hard trying to master my craft of what I know of how to play guitar. I wanna be a better player on the guitar, but I am a seasoned guitar player, so I kind of have a direction, and I stick with that. I don't read music, but I hear real good, and I thinks pretty fast some times.
- Well, it just kinda happens. If you're out here, you just kinda meet people, and from time to time you get a chance to play on the same show as some of the greats. Some of these artists, I never played in their bands as such, we were just playing on the same show. However, Albert Collins was a good friend of mine. We were all 'round in Houston playing in the same kind circuit. Gatemouth was the same; we all played in the same kind of circuit. Well, it's just kind of a habit for good people to meet good people, so that's the most way that I could describe how you meet all these good people.
A good role model
- No, I never did.
-Well, that was just never gonna be part of my life to do drugs or to smoke or drink. That just wasn't to be. I didn't want it, I wouldn't have it, and I still don't want it and I won't have it. I just call myself smart; I'll just say "The Lucky One".
- Well, I've seen a few ladies here and there, but I never was no womanizer. I had all the chance in the world to have a whole bunch of women, but that never was a big thing with me, so I stuck to one person pretty much all the time.
-Yes, I was married for ten years, and I've got three daughters who lives in Houston.
-Oh great, real great! I'm doing real great. I've got a good band that works hard, I got on keyboard Mr Ruff Ruffner, on bass Mr. Jonathan Skifferton, Michaels Skifferton on the drums, and on the saxophone, I've got Mr Kevin Brown. We renamed him a few of weeks ago. He is now known as "The Cheeseburger". We got a pretty tight group here.
-Yes, I got one CD more to do on my now contract, and that'll probably be the last of the year when I record that. It should be out on Alligator Records some time in early 1999.
-Oh, I do, because there are a lot of young kids out there now, trying to learn how to play the blues. But te blues is one thing you gotta be able to feel it to really play it. You can't just think it and play it. You gotta have a feel for it. But they're doing great, so they're keeping it alive.
- That's about right. You know, you can play what you think, but you're not playing the blues. You're just playing what you think is te blues, but you gotta feel it. I'm pretty stuck on that. You do have to feel the blues to play the blues.
- Well, you know, there are certain licks that you play that fits a mood like, to where…if you played the same chord and somebody else played it, they couldn't phrase it with the feeling that a blues player has when he play that same note.
- Well, some times you can look at the blues as having a hard life, but I don't look at it like that. I play happy blues, and I want people to go away saying: "I had a great time". I don't want people to go away crying, saying: "I lost my best friend", or whatever. I could play the blues to that effect, but that's not the way I wanna be known as a blues player. I wanna be a happy blues player....