Hunter had the luck of a blind man running naked through a cactus patch, "but I kept playing the blues," he says now. "To me, anything was better than plowing that mule, so I figured if I could keep playing--even though it was hard and I wasn't making much money--it was better than plowing that mule or picking that cotton like I had done in Arkansas. I was always lucky I had a little work. It wasn't like I was starving to death. If I had two, three, four days of work, I felt like I was doing all right."
Finally, after a few rave notices in a couple rock magazines, Hunter got signed to Alligator and now has a real record to bear witness to the legend often talked about but never heard. Border Town Legend lives up to the man who generates a myriad of myths: It's a travelogue of Hunter's eccentric life--the barrooms of Beaumont, the sparkling lights of Marfa, and the fields of Arkansas--set to a boogie-blues beat.
Border comes complete with an enormous horn section and a guitar sound that is, yes, reminiscent of B.B. King's, but without the pristine restraint that makes King a favorite of the bourgeoisie. Performing a selection of songs he wrote or co-wrote with Tary Owens and co-producer Jon Foose, Hunter's a madman on the instrument, still more concerned with feeling than technical prowess.
Four decades after his first single got buried by Don Robey, Long John Hunter has a bona fide deal with a solvent record company, and the result is a damn fine Texas blues record. If it doesn't make him a legend, that's fine with Hunter. Being a legend don't put food on the table, and being a legend don't always mean you're gonna find work four nights out of every seven.
Long John Hunter performs February 17 at J&J's Blues Bar in Fort Worth.