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    Guitar Expert

    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 , 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
    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 ,
    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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