One of the finest musicians to emerge from the sleepy locale of Denton, TX (later the home of the eclectic polka band Brave Combo as well as the place where they jailed serial killer Henry Lee Lucas), historic fiddler Prince Albert Hunt packed a lot of significant events into his short lifetime. Many of these happenings were out of his control. He was shot to death outside a bar, putting him in the category of other innovative musicians that met their fates at the end of a gun barrel, including the exciting jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan. Prince Albert's death happened on the same date as that of guitar inventor Leo Fender, some 60 years later. Prince Albert also is considered an inventor, credited with fiddling up the style of Western swing, and although it is always a mistake to give a solitary individual total credit for a style, the recordings he made for Okeh don't have a whole lot of company in terms of early sides that predict the Western swing phenomenon.
The Prince Albert style is also called "hot fiddling," the groups who play it "hot string bands." It developed in Texas and Oklahoma from the late '20s onward, a bit like a hungry camper trying to set up a larder in the village grocery, grabbing at blues, ragtime, jazz, and old-time fiddle music as if these traditions were cans of beans, loaves of bread, and packs of wieners pulled off the shelves. It was music meant for dancing, before working up an appetite; it was also music that combined black and white influences to the point where terms such as "racial mongrel" have been used, although some may find this type of language distasteful. "Blues in the Bottle" was one of the great tracks cut by Prince Albert Hunt's Texas Ramblers, an amalgam of country blues, ragtime, and old-time that was so good that it was no wonder so many later recording artists wanted to take credit for writing it. "Blues in the Bottle" sounded perfectly fresh when recorded by the Lovin' Spoonful, a great folk-rock band of the '60s, so it is safe to say that this artist had a long-range influence on the American music scene. Some of his records were released under the name of Harmon Clem & Prince Albert Hunt. Guitarist Clem was a frequent sidekick of the fiddler's, and although he is certainly obscure, he also can be said to have done much better in the credit department than the third member of the Texas Ramblers, good ol' "Unknown." A survey of sides by this group seems a bit like a conversation with a travel agent. The tunes include "Canada Waltz," the slippery "Houston Slide," and a pretty oily "Oklahoma Rag." "Wake Up Jacob" became a fiddle standard, frequently covered through the years, and sometimes known under other titles such as "Wild Horse" and "Wild Horse of Stoney Point."
The prince of Texas fiddle was born Archie Albert Hunt in an area just south of Dallas. Besides developing his own group, which featured superb interplay between guitar and fiddle, Prince Alpert also played with his Terrell neighbors Oscar and Doc Harper. A television documentary was done on the fiddler in the '70s by Houston Public Television, bringing to light many interesting aspects of his life. He was sometimes described as a kind of Texas version of the great North Carolina fiddler Charlie Poole, and like Poole, his real specialty was blues music. Both fiddlers may have found fame in different genres than pure blues, but their blues specialty is certainly one of the reasons both Western swing and Appalachian old-time music have such a completely solid blues feeling at their core.
Prince Albert sometimes performed in blackface and had a reputation as an ornery character, to the extent of inspiring hyperbole such as the following excerpt from a Texas music website: "The fiddler who was shot to death at the age of 30 for stealing another man's wife. He growls through dirty teeth, rolls on the floor, punches his fist through his stovepipe hat, passes out, gets up, falls down, and after every verse kicks up a dance-call with a single down-stroke so fat and sweet you're ready to hire him to clean up your yard." If the image of the so-called inventor of Western swing raking one's yard isn't bad enough, Prince Albert Hunt has also been mistaken for a can of tobacco, in the case of a country music devotee hustling transcriptions of a '50s Grand Old Opry production, the Red Foley/Prince Albert Show. Despite claims that the Denton fiddler is present, impossible unless he came back from the dead in some sort of weird collaboration with Henry Lee Lucas, the show's title is surely a reference to its tobacco company sponsor. ~ Eugene Chadbourne