James Hunter Band at the Iron Horse
The British Invasion of the 1960’s was a significant turning point in American popular music. Many of the English rockers that came across the pond after the Beatles broke the ice had something of value to offer consumers of American music. Mop Tops and screaming teeny boppers aside, groups like the Stones, the Animals and the Yardbirds offered Americans something they had been largely unaware of, namely , their own musical heritage of Blues and R & B. American radio in the early sixties was a somewhat segregated affair. Though Elvis Presley and Alan Freed had had helped to break down racial barriers in the previous decade there was resistance in the burgeoning pop music youth market to surrender and integrate completely. Without the influence of the Brits, we may have had to wait much longer to know about James Brown, Solomon Burke and John Lee Hooker, to name but a few.
Last night I experienced another British Invasion of a sort, a crackerjack English band delivering a smoking set of early sixties style Rhythm and Blues to an audience that has been deprived of this sort of thing for nearly 50 years. James Hunter and his mates have obviously done their homework to create an ensemble sound that pays tribute, but never copies the sounds of performers like Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, James Brown and others. The good-natured Hunter fronts his band with a journeyman’s precision, served up with a bit of tongue in cheek. Delivering a skintight James Brownian lick with the band, Hunter looks pleased and surprised that they’ve pulled it off. The music is non-stop, the banter is minimal (and could benefit from sub-titles, this guy is totally English except when he’s singing!) and the audience is on board for the ride.
Hunter plays an unaffected guitar, lead licks are interspersed with a minimalist syncopated rhythm style. The band sound is full, with Hammond organ module, upright bass, drums, and a tenor and baritone reed section. The sound conjured up for me a Ray Charles rhythm section from the What’d I Say? era. The drummer played in an understated way, all fingers and wrists, reminiscent of the transition years of pop music when session players were jazz men with studio day jobs. No big fills, no crashing cymbals, just make the music feel good.
Hunter and his “lads” played an hour and a half non-stop set, and said goodnight to the appreciative Northampton audience. The band came back on for the chaser minus their leader for some quality blowing time on a bluesy shuffle that featured the organ and both sax players on extended solos. Hunter returned to the stage for the last chorus and another short tune. As we left the Horse, he could be seen sitting on the sidewalk in front of the band bus, cheerfully scribbling autographs for the fans.