Charlie Hunter: Seven-String Samurai
CH: Oh, it was huge. At that time, we were being courted by Warner Bros, Interscope, Blue Note and few others. In retrospect, I could have gone much bigger had I chosen one of the other labels. But I chose Blue Note because I liked all the records that were on it and they gave me a bunch of free records. And also Bruce Lundvall was a real person. He came from an era that I could really respect a lot more than the other labels we were being courted by.
AAJ: Did you see Blue Note at that time as the jazz seal of approval?
CH: Absolutely. Yeah, we wanted nothing more than that, even though we maybe didn't realize it. We were maybe too "grubby and street" for that. It's ok. Ultimately you just make your own thing.
AAJ: Have your priorities changed now that you've settled down in Montclair, NJ with the wife and kids? Is much of your time spent being a family man?
CH: Yeah, especially with the economy being what it is, there are a lot less gigs. So I find new and inventive ways of making rice and beans, you know, and take care of the kids. But I also spend a lot of time on the road like I always have, doing mostly doing duo setups now with just me and a drummer, although sometimes trio setups when it's affordable.
AAJ: Do you prefer to play smaller, more intimate venues? I mean, there was surprisingly a lot of sound from the duo sessions at Rose Live Music.
CH: Yeah, thanks. I love that kind of scene. But I'll play anywhere and I usually do. I'm at the point in my career where I'll go play a gig somewhere and have to sweep the cigarette butts off the stage and make sure everything is clean enough for a human being to inhabit. Then I'll do other gigs that are simply amazing, like somewhere in Europe, playing in a 19th century opera house. And everything in between.
AAJ: Do you prefer that duo setup?
CH: No, I mean, it's fun. I've really been working on a solo thing, to make it interesting, to not think so much. Back in the '90s, when I was beginning with the guitar and bass thing, there was a real emphasis put on difficulty, even in jazz. Can you play the odd time signatures, can you play the fast passage, can you do this bebop passage with this bass line? And I had that youthful energy where I was ready to run up a mountain with a boulder on my back and the band clenched in my teeth, you know what I mean?
So I spent a lot of time trying to work out this really complex stuff. And sometimes it came off well. It was always impressive, the way that youth is impressive, all that energy, it doesn't have to be terribly well executed. But now I understand that all of the guitar flashiness is not necessary, that's not a big part of what makes this thing really run effectively. What makes it run effectively is the drum aspect of it, in that you really have to always be in the pocket with both sides of it. And if you want to make the bass a little bit behind and the guitar a little bit ahead, that's fine. But I spend a lot of my time just listening to the interdependence of the parts and realizing that's where it all flows from.
CH: Well, I've always played drums, I like to play the drums. A lot of my contemporaries just took off way ahead of me on their instruments. And for what I do, there's so much more difficulty technically in terms of the sheer amount of combinations you have to learn, left-hand combinations, right-hand combinations and putting those two together. It's just taken a lot longer... but I think I'm finally coming to a point where this instrument is really starting to make a lot of sense and become something special that you wouldn't be able to do on a guitar or bass separately. And that's the real part, that's really what I wake up for.
AAJ: But what was the origin of the technique?
CH: Well, it's always been happening. As street musician in Europe, I always had to be very self-sufficient, and this is going back twenty years, because I played in a lot of bands on the street and you never knew if you would have to do it all yourself and backup a singer. So it started from that and I played a lot of acoustic bass on the street because I was in situation where the guitarists were a lot better than me.
AAJ: Where was this?
CH: In Paris, in Zurich, wherever the money was.
AAJ: And this was when you were really young, right?