time I ever heard of Charlie Hunter must have been around '94, I was managing
sales at Mesa/Boogie, the amplifier company in Northern CA. I was down in
the sales room with a couple of my team, and we heard some demo-ing going
on upstairs in the Tone Lounge, as we called it.
It was on the jazzy side, sounded great. We were kind of busy, as usual. Someone drifted through the office that had been upstairs, and I asked, "Who's playing guitar upstairs?" "Charlie Hunter," they replied. "Uh-huh...and who's playing bass?" "He's playing that too," they answered with a coy casualness. "Oh, really," said I. "I'll be right back. I'm a check this shit out."
I poked my head into the Tone Lounge; it looked a little lively at that moment. No wonder -- sure enough, this cat was playing guitar and bass at the same time. Not just walking the bass and comping a chord, but walking the bass and soloing over it...yikes. I heard at a later date that Charlie was playing at a birthday party for Kirk Hammett of Metallica, if memory serves. But I was not to own a CD or see him play again for a decade. In that space of time, he had created quite a few waves, both in the world of guitar and the world of jazz.
Though they had one of my favorite band names of all time, I had never seen his group The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, didn't know he was one of the founders. (Rap poet Michael Franti of Spearhead was also part of that unit.) But I sure wish I'd seen them now, or seen him play with Jay Lane, a great drummer I used to enjoy when he was with a legendary Bay Area funk rock act called The Freaky Executives. In his young career, Charlie has played with numerous players of incredible skill and expression, and he will continue to attract the cream of the crop with his daring musicality and soulful spirit.
In case you've never heard or seen Charlie play, let me set the stage for you, so to speak. He plays an instrument with three actual bass strings on the bottom, and five treble or guitar strings on the top. Each set of strings has its own dedicated pickup, and are sent to different amplifiers with their own speakers. The top strings are frequently going through a Leslie rotating speaker or a device simulating a rotating speaker, so those top strings sound like an organ. His bass side sounds more like the bass pedals of a great Hammond B-3 player than a regular bass player. And the artist himself clarifies that organ giants like Jimmy Smith, Larry Young, and Big John Patton were deep sources of inspiration for his great experiment.
Some months back, I was covering the Americana Conference here in Nashville, and had been all night at a great show of those artists at a little joint called The End, on the so-called Rock Block. As I ambled out on to the pavement around midnight, suddenly it hit me: "That's right -- Charlie Hunter is across the frickin street!" And I tore ass over to the Exit/Inn and caught a big fat groove comin in the door, and ran down front to see what was up. It was Charlie and two percussionists, and that was all! I couldn't believe it, I kept looking around for some other players. Then someone stood up and started playing the shit out of a saxophone, yo. There were a lot of young renegades dancing, it wasn't like no jazz show that I'd ever seen. It was a stone groove, that's what it was. I'd been there about thirty seconds, and I was already having a mighty large time. Luckily, they did several encores, so I got to look and listen and dance and generally revel in the atmosphere that had been building for hours... I went home super sated, like you are after a four or five course meal. Four good Americana sets, and then the Charlie Hunter group. I slept like a stone.
I got up with Blue Note and got the latest record (Songs From The Analog
Playground, see our review) and subsequently picked up earlier ones,
Bing, Bing, Bing and Ready...Set...Shango! They're all really
good. I caught up with Charlie on the phone at his home one recent morning,
and posed him a few questions. Join us now for that confabulation.