“Hold On!” is a kick-ass record. The 2016 Daptone release by The James Hunter Six ended up on my Top 10 list for the year, a collection of cuts that nods to rock ’n’ roll via rhythm and blues and gospel. It’s a loose homage to early roots music, like Sam Cooke fronting a horn-infused New Rhythm and Blues Quartet, a throw-back to the kind of music that concerned parents of the late 1950s and early ’60s. It scared the squares and hopefully inspired some sinning along with some hip-shaking.
The James Hunter Six will perform in Durango on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.
As a kid, Hunter figured out how to dig into the cool music. Ignoring the pop charts isn’t a 21st century novelty; fans should move past the teeny bopper music enough to find someone you really like. In a pre-internet world, you would have to look through the record collection of your older sibling, the dude you bought weed from, or the record store clerk. You’d find out who influenced your then-favorite, and dive in.
“I’m surprised I got into music at all, becoming aware of it as I did in England in the late ’60s, when the pop charts seemed to consist entirely of what sounded like children’s records. Some of it was embarrassing, even for a seven year old to hear,” said Hunter, via email. “It was much later on that I found out Elvis hadn’t always been an actor in travelogues, and that he had once posed a threat to the fabric of society as we know it. That’s when I got into music and started listening to the people who had influenced him to undermine our morals in such a delightful way, such as Clyde McPhatter and Ray Charles.”
“Hold On!” found the band signing with the U.S.-based Daptone Records, the home of a modern funk and R&B revival notable for being the label of the late Sharon Jones. It’s a label with bands that have the eye of the youngsters while serving up a throwback vibe to people that dug that style of music the first time around.
“One day we might be in a theatre full of ravers with their baseball caps on back-to-front, the next we’ll be playing on a lawn to old ladies in deck chairs with rugs over their knees doing their knitting,” said Hunter.
Following the lineage of Hunter’s influences will take you through some familiar names, some not-so familiar names, and somehow you’ll end up at the music of the lord. Early rock music has this double-edged sword, a “Saturday Satan, Sunday Saint” dichotomy that kept musicians’ souls clean. Play the upbeat music of the devil in questionable environs, misbehave, chase girls, shake your hips, take a drink and a toke, and honor the music of the church to have those sins washed away. The James Hunter Six influences may all be dead and gone, and the family tree stops at gospel music.
“All our influences are old ones I guess,” said Hunter. “If I trace back through the people who influenced me to those who influenced them and so on, it usually ends up at gospel, which usually brings me to conclude God might have the best tunes but the Devil has better lyrics.”