What's Hot with Jazz Guitar: 8 String Wiz, Charlie Hunter

by Doc Dosco

This week we feature 8 string guitar wizard Charlie Hunter.

Online Bio

"I knew that I wanted to do this with my life from when I was 16", says
Hunter about his musical career. His early recognition of this may have
been influenced by the fact that he grew up in homes where his mother
repaired guitars for a living in Berkeley, California where he has lived
since he was eight years old. Charlie picked up his first guitar when he
was twelve years old for $7, and a few years later was taking lessons
from Joe Satriani, who at that time was just another guitar teacher.
"People can't believe that but I was just another Berkeley kid and every
Berkeley kid took lessons from Joe Satriani. He must have had a hundred
students. He's a great teacher."

Charlie graduated from the same Berkeley high school whose music program
produced saxophonist Joshua Redman and pianist Benny Green, but Hunter
did not participate in the school's prestigious music program. "I really
wasn't an institutional-type person. I had to go out and do my own
thing. I was a naughty kid who went through the crazy angst-driven
hysteria many teenagers experience," says Hunter, who doesn't deny not
making it to class much. "Because I was from a low-income family, I was
tracked into the lowest level of academic courses. You didn't get a
chance to develop much self-esteem there, so I decided to focus on
something that made me feel good. I graduated by the skin of my teeth."

"I was into everything at that point - blues, rockabilly, funk and
soul...", but it wasn't until Hunter turned 18 that he discovered jazz.
"My friends said, 'You got to get into jazz, you've got to listen to
Weather Report.' And I thought, 'This is fusion. I'm not really into
that.' So then somebody told me I should listen to Wes Montgomery, but
the album I got was one of those with strings, and I was totally turned
off. Finally, somebody said, 'You need to check out Charlie Parker and
Charlie Christian and John Coltrane,' and it was like boom! I was
instantly turned on. Their total sound and the reality of their playing
just cut through everything. I suddenly wanted to play like that."

Hunter soon discovered and became heavily influenced by such organ
legends as Jimmy Smith, Larry Young, and Big John Patton. Mix this with
some of his favorite artists from other genres such as Stevie Wonder,
Marvin Gaye, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Little Walter, and you can see
where Hunter's sound came from. But it was the exposure to so many
various genres of music that Charlie is thankful for. "Growing up in the
Bay Area had a profound effect on my music. I was exposed to everything
from the Dead Kennedy's to P-Funk to Art Blakey. In the Bay Area, you
have all of these different musical cultures living together and all of
these different musical cultures and their music gets semi-assimilated
into this non-polarized state of being where hybrids are free to grow,
and there are all of these genres and cross genres to play in and

Michael Franti Charlie had his first 7-string guitar (2 bass strings, 5
guitar strings, 2 pickups) made for him in the late eighties, and, after
figuring out how to play his custom-made toy, left for Europe to perform
on the streets of Paris and Zurich. Upon returning to the states and
gigging around South of Market clubs in San Francisco and in Berkeley
playing by himself (covering both bass and guitar parts) he hooked up
with poet/rapper Michael Franti. They performed together as a duo from
time to time until Franti formed the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and
brought Charlie with him. In 1993, Charlie joined them on their tour
which included a year's worth of huge stadium gigs opening for U2 along
with Primus.

Dave Ellis Charlie left Disposable Heroes in 1993 in search of more
jazz-oriented music. "It was interesting, but that whole pop art scene
was an overall drag. I love pop music, but it's a lot different when you
get to sit back and be on the receiving end. It was difficult for me as
an artist who's dedicated to searching for the spiritual core of music
to have to deal with being in a situation where the quest is in the most
superficial, consumer-driven aspects of the recording industry. It's
hard enough driving for hours to get to the next city. When you get
there, you at least want to play music that excites you." He recruited
his old elementary school friend Dave Ellis who was first chair tenor in
the Berkeley High jazz orchestra. Although they traveled in different
social circles, they remained friends throughout the years. "We did play
together occasionally. As a matter of fact, I think Dave still has
blackmail tapes." It wasn't until now though that he and Ellis hooked up
for serious jazz sessions. With the addition of Jay Lane, who played
drums in the original lineup of Primus, the Charlie Hunter Trio was

Jay Lane After a few months of gigging around the Bay Area, the Trio
landed a weekly gig every Tuesday night at the Elbo Room in San
Francisco. This is where Hunter says they began to jell as a group
playing a distinctive Bay Area style of jazz. "That's where we learned
to study the past and practice the present." Primus leader, Les
Claypool, soon talked the band into recording an album for him on his
own label, Prawn Song Records (the logo spoofs Led Zeppelin's Swan Song
label portraying a shrimp with wings) a subsidiary of Mammoth Records.
The self-titled Charlie Hunter Trio album was released at the beginning
of 1994.

It wasn't long before Trio gigs were packed with curious listeners at
such clubs as the Elbo Room and the Up and Down Club in San Francisco.
Around this time, Charlie had another guitar made for him adding a
bass-string to make it an eight-string guitar. It didn't take long for
Blue Note Records to come along and snatch Hunter up for a recording
contract. In 1995, Charlie Hunter Trio released their first major label
record, Bing, Bing, Bing.

Attracting a younger, more rock-oriented audience to his gigs amuses
Charlie. "I think that because we covered a Kurt Cobain song on the
first Blue Note Record, people have decided we are really into
alternative rock. Actually, Nirvana is probably the only alternative
rock band that I know," Charlie adds with a laugh, "but Cobain was a
really good songwriter."

"I think our music is an alternative to the suit-and-tie club that says
you have to be well-to-do and super-intellectual to understand jazz
music", Charlie continues. "We don't have that attitude. We play at
places where people aren't interested in pigeonholing instrumental
music." As a result, most Bay Area gigs were priced at no more than $5
and Charlie began exposing jazz to an audience that may otherwise have
stayed away from it. "We're jazz musicians, but we're jazz musicians
from their generation. That's who we share aspects of a common life with
and that's who we are trying to reach."

"We know the lineage of jazz and we're completely in debt to it. We've
built the foundation of our music on John Coltrane, on Charlie Parker,
on Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk, all the way back through Louis
Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton to the turn of the century. We want
people to know that this is the music that means the most to us. But we
also want our audience to know that we are from the twenty something
generation, that we share the same experiences as a lot of people our
age. That's what we want to communicate; that's what inspires us. I am
very proud of the fact that our audience is very diverse. There are a
lot of women who come to our shows. There are a lot of kids-I mean teens
and young adults-who bring their parents. And there are a lot of moms
and dads who bring their kids, and that makes me feel like we're doing
something right."

Read on at:

Charlie Hunter homepage:

Doc Dosco is a jazz guitarist, composer and audio consultant living in
Los Angeles, CA. His website is located at http://www.docdosco.com ,
where you can find more information on the 'What's Hot with Jazz Guitar'
columns, audio clips of Doc's playing, and many additional features. Doc
endorses Heritage Guitars and is a featured artist on their website.
He also endorses the new Pignose Valve Tube Amps -- great for jazz (and anything else!

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