PAW Tracks

Reunions rocker “Ivory Jim” Hunter ’62 recalls meeting his bandmates in a dorm room, and eventually taking their act on the road to other colleges. Music courtesy of Ivory Jim Hunter and the Headhunters

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Our guest for this episode of PAW Tracks is a familiar voice for many Reunions visitors: Jim Hunter, Class of 1962.

Hunter, better known as Ivory Jim, has been singing for Princeton audiences since his sophomore year. In 2012, he talked with PAW about his rock ’n’ roll roots.

There was a guy in our entryway who owned a guitar, named Whit Azoy. And Whit was playing guitar, I went down the hallway, listened to him, and I said, god, I gotta do that. I gotta do that. So he ends up selling me his guitar. Now, it wasn’t a great guitar, but it was something I could learn on. Which I did.

So we ended up, I ended up as a sophomore in Dod Hall – 1959. And I’m jamming with another classmate, on guitars, on the third floor. Well two guys come walking up, knock on the door, and come into the room. And they introduce themselves, they were freshmen at the time. And I asked them, do you play guitar, and they said, we sure do. And I said, well go get ’em. Go get your stuff. And one was Dennis Page, and the other was Tom Broadie, both from the Class of ’63. Well they went and got their stuff, came back and they started playing, and it blew me away. I said my god, this is something else. They, neither one sang, or anything like that, but they played very well. Accomplished musicians. And I said, we got to start something. You two, myself, we’ll find a drummer, we’ll find other people, and we’ll get going. And we found a drummer as a senior, in Canon Club, by the name of Kenny Myers. Who was replaced after he graduated by a guy named Marty Edelman, Class of ’63. Now Dennis ended up, ended up not staying any more than a year and a half at Princeton, which is unfortunate, so we needed another bass player, and we ended up with Homer Russell, Class of ’64. Homer Russell.

We originally started off as the Omegas. That was our lead-guitarist’s idea. Eventually it all evolved, there was a guy named Ivory Joe Hunter, who was a piano player, a black guy, and ivory, his ivory moniker came from playing the keyboard. And he was kind of a bluesy player. I would say, my recollection that he’s probably, I don’t think he’s alive anymore, but he probably would be like 80 years old. Or maybe more, if he were alive. But I somehow got the moniker Ivory Jim Hunter. After Ivory Joe Hunter, there’s no question about it. I don’t remember giving myself that, but some of the band members say that it just evolved that I called myself Ivory Jim Hunter, so maybe that’s what it was. I don’t remember. Ivory Jim Hunter and the Headhunters, is what ended up being, and that’s who we are today, is Ivory Jim Hunter and the Headhunters.

The band reunited at Reunions in 2012 and again last year.   

We still play the old driving rock-and-roll, you know, the Chuck Berry, and some of the Bo Diddley, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and Bobby Darin, some of his rock and roll stuff. All stuff that was in the ’50s and ’60s, basically.

I was a singer. None of the other band members ever sang, so that was fine. You know, no problem. Wish they did, in a way. But, so we began to form this band and play at parties in rooms like this. After the football game, I would play as a sophomore in the game – I didn’t play much as a sophomore, but I was on the team – and after that, you know, coming and playing up here for four hours in the dorm. Or go over to the clubs, later on, and play at the clubs. Eventually, we had one of the agents notice us on the streets. The streets were beginning to be more and more rock ’n’ roll. And they would hire bands. We were the first band on the Princeton campus to do rock-and-roll, but they began to hire other people. As famous as Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, and you know, all of those old-time rock-and-rollers. So we began to play; this agent would get us jobs, he would get us jobs all up and down the East Coast. And this worked out fine. During the football season I could play on Friday, Saturday night, if it wasn’t too far away: here, or maybe Rutgers.

We played at Yale, once. We played at Centenary College for women out in the middle of the state, you know? What a bunch of crazy young ladies, I’ll tell you. Unbelievable.

We used to go in, to the Peppermint Lounge, before it was even famous or even known. And watch the band, and what have you. Well, then it became very well known. The Twist craze was unbelievable. And it got so crowded, there were lines of people around the block. Well, we ended up playing at the Camelot Night Club, which is just around the block, and around the corner. And so we had a gig there, alternating with three other bands, we were the fourth band, and we were there from like nine o’clock until like three in the morning, and get up and do it again for 10 days straight, in between Christmas and New Years. Made me realize I never want to do that nightclub stuff.