Long John Hunter | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Long John Hunter 

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LONG JOHN HUNTER

It took guitarist Long John Hunter over 30 years of scuffling to make his name outside the rough-and-tumble west Texas blues circuit, including a 13-year stint at the Lobby Bar, a notorious dive in Juarez, Mexico, the border town across from El Paso. He'd recorded locally in the 50s and 60s, and later earned a reputation among hard-core aficionados with a few obscure albums in the 80s; then 1993's Ride With Me (Spindletop, reissued this year on Alligator), his first nationally distributed LP, fizzled when its original label ran into trouble. It wasn't until 1996's Border Town Legend (Alligator), recorded when Hunter was past 60, that he exploded onto the international blues scene, a bona fide blues "discovery" with chops to spare and a real-life story that sounds like something out of blues mythology: seven days a week, from sunset to sunrise, it'd been his job to entertain the rowdy, tanked-up crowd of hookers, tourists, GIs, and outlaws at the Lobby, playing through busts, brawls, and worse. And the music lives up to the myth. Hunter's guitar leads are impeccable; even at his most flamboyant, he avoids overkill, and his ringing, brilliant tone can turn on a dime into a back-alley scream. His muscular voice, a house-wrecking tenor, is as resonant as a traditional field holler and heavy with emotion, and his lyrics are straight from the gut--raw, macho tales of love and lust. Though age has compelled Hunter to tone down some of his onstage excesses (despite the title of 1997's Swinging From the Rafters, he no longer plays with one hand while hanging from a ceiling truss), he still attacks his guitar--and the bandstand--with the abandon they remember in Juarez. Friday, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Johnny Cates.

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