IT’S ABOUT SEVEN ON A SUNDAY night in Port Arthur, and Procter Street—the main drag downtown—is deserted except for two men standing in front of Andrew’s Club. “In the old days this whole street would have been packed with people,” bluesman Long John Hunter says to his brother Tom, who nods in agreement.
The “old days” means the early fifties, when Hunter, fellow guitar slinger Ervin Charles, and drummer Leroy Stelly dominated the Beaumont—Port Arthur blues circuit in the form of the Hollywood Bearcats. After Hunter, who turns 68 this month, left town in 1955, he and Charles, now 67, fell out of touch. But two years ago, Austin producer Tary Owens—another Port Arthur expatriate—arranged for the old friends to play a European blues festival with Lonnie Brooks, 65, and Phillip Walker, 62, two Port Arthur veterans based in Chicago and Los Angeles, respectively. The foursome—with Charles billed as a guest because of his smaller role and lesser star power—fell back into it so easily that they teamed up for Lone Star Shootout, a blazing primer on Gulf Coast blues and R&B that was released in late May by Alligator Records, and they’re playing festivals this summer.
So it’s no surprise that recently, when Hunter found himself with an open night after playing Houston and New Orleans, he asked his brother—a journalist and blues deejay—to book a mini-reunion with Charles. But Port Arthur hasn’t been a music town for at least three decades, and the reunion proved more “mini” than planned. The audience was so small that Hunter and Charles thanked nearly everyone present by name. There was Elmer “Big Opelousas” Harris, a onetime professional dancer who owned the Beaumont club where they played their first gig. There was Stelly, who proved he knows his way around a dance floor as well as a drum kit, and Alnetter Metoyer, a former owner of the Blue Moon, the Port Acres club where the Bearcats ruled