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As a young guitarist growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Charlie Hunter was looking for a way to stand out in the '80s. His primary influences were jazz great Joe Pass and the fluid Tuck Andress (of the guitar/vocal duo Tuck & Patti), both six-string guitarists who were adept at blending bass notes into their standard guitar melodies to make themselves sound like two musicians at once. But Hunter wanted to take it one step further, and set out to find an instrument on which he could simultaneously function as both a guitarist and a bassist. For his self-titled 1993 debut CD, Hunter played a seven-string guitar for the duality effect, locking down the bottom with drummer Jay Lane and mixing melodically with saxophonist David Ellis. But on his trio's 1995 sophomore release, Bing, Bing, Bing!, Hunter unveiled his custom-made Novax eight-string, the guitar that finally allowed him to realize his capacity. Designed by Ralph Novak, the instrument featured special frets and separate signals for its guitar and bass portions. Picking bass notes with his right thumb while fretting them with his left index finger (while at the same time fingerpicking guitar chords and single notes with his right hand's remaining four digits as he frets with his left hand's other three fingers), Hunter achieves the real sound of two-for-one.
Hunter played with the side group T.J. Kirk in the mid-'90s, a band that derived their name from the cover material they exclusively played: Thelonious Monk, James Brown, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Initially wanting to call themselves James T. Kirk before being threatened by the Star Trek TV and film series, T.J. Kirk released a self-titled 1995 debut and the 1996 follow-up, If Four Was One, before disbanding. Hunter took drummer Scott Amendola with him for his next project, an ambitious instrumental remake of Bob Marley's Natty Dread album in its entirety. Also featuring saxophonists Kenny Brooks and Calder Spanier, the 1997 release beat the odds by becoming arguably Hunter's best album. After Spanier died from injuries sustained from being hit by a car, Hunter moved east to New York, taking Amendola with him. Teaming with vibraphonist Stefon Harris and percussionist John Santos, Charlie Hunter & Pound for Pound's 1998 CD Return of the Candyman is dedicated to Spanier. A departure from Natty Dread, mainly due to the work of Harris, the disc featured a vibes-heavy cover of Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle."
Hunter's modus operandi had now become shifting personnel changes, and in between tours he recorded a 1999 duo CD with drummer/percussionist Leon Parker and a self-titled 2000 CD that featured Parker and an otherwise ensemble cast. Hunter also contributed greatly to the 2000 comeback CD by drummer Mike Clark, Actual Proof. Hunter concluded his run at Blue Note with 2001's Songs from the Analog Playground, which saw him collaborating with vocalists for the first time, ranging from labelmates Norah Jones and Kurt Elling to Mos Def. 2003 found Hunter with a new label (Ropeadope) and two new bands (the Charlie Hunter Quintet) on Right Now Move, and the beginning of Groundtruther, a partnership with percussionist/composer Bobby Previte. They released Come in Red Dog, This Is Tango Leader before adopting the Groundtruther moniker. For 2003's Friends Seen and Unseen, it was back to the Charlie Hunter Trio, with drummer Derrek Phillips and saxman John Ellis, both members of the Quintet. By now, Groundtruther had taken on a life of its own, with Hunter and Previte joined by a rotating third member. Latitude was first, in 2004 with saxophonist Greg Osby, followed by Longitude with DJ Logic in 2005.
In 2006, the Charlie Hunter Trio resurfaced with Copperopolis and almost immediately announced that it was disbanding as Ellis wanted to further pursue a solo career. What to do? Form another trio! After recruiting Erik Deutsch on keys and Simon Lott on drums, they released Mistico in the summer of 2007, Hunter's first album for Fantasy.
Charlie Hunter (born May 23, 1967) is an American guitarist, composer and bandleader.
First coming to prominence in the early 1990s, Hunter has recorded 17 albums. Hunter plays custom-made seven and eight-string guitars, on which he simultaneously plays basslines, rhythm guitar, and solos. Critic Sean Westergaard describes Hunter's guitar technique as "mind-boggling ... he's an agile improviser with an ear for great tone, and always has excellent players alongside him in order to make great music, not to show off."
Hunter was born in Rhode Island. When he was four his mom packed him and his younger sister in an old yellow school bus and headed west. After several years living on a commune in Mendocino County they settled in Berkeley, California. Hunter graduated from Berkeley High School and took lessons from famed guitar teacher Joe Satriani. At eighteen he moved to Paris. Returning to the Bay area, Hunter played a seven-string guitar and organ in Michael Franti's political rap group, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. In 1992, they were one of the opening acts for U2's Zoo TV Tour.
Since the debut of his self-titled Charlie Hunter Trio (which included John Ellis on sax and Jay Lane on drums) in 1993, Charlie Hunter has recorded seventeen albums. He co-founded Garage A Trois, a jazz fusion band with Stanton Moore and Skerik. He has collaborated with Bobby Previte for an ongoing project entitled "Groundtruther." He also recorded and toured for Bobby Previte's The Coalition of the Willing in 2006. He appears on acclaimed jazz bassist Christian McBride's Live At Tonic. On both The Coalition of the Willing and Live at Tonic he plays 6-string guitars. His earliest known released recording without unusual guitars is as a guest bassist for the band Sweet Potato from California's East Bay. The song "Crankshaft" can be found on the Ubiquity Records compilation Mo Cookin from 1994 and the song "Monkey Wrench" can be found on the Ubiquity Records compilation Still Cookin from 1995. He also played guitar on the track "Me and Chuck" from the Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel album, Highball with the Devil, released in 1996.
Charlie played in the band T.J. Kirk active 1990s that merged the music of Thelonious Monk, James Brown, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. T.J Kirk is: Will Bernard - Guitar, John Schott - Guitar, Charlie Hunter - 8-string guitar and Scott Amendola - Drums. Three recordings of the time are called: T.J. Kirk August 8, 1995, If Four Was One September 24, 1996 and Talking Only Makes it Worse released in 2005. Hunter contributed to three songs for D'Angelo's Voodoo (2000), including "The Root". Hunter has stated that the session for the song was the most challenging session he has worked on.
In the summer of 2007, Charlie toured with a trio that included New York keyboardist Erik Deutsch and New York/New Orleans drummer Simon Lott. This trio recorded the July, 2007 Fantasy release Mistico. In 2008, Hunter recorded his first self-release, Baboon Strength. Featured on the record are Erik Deutch on keys and Tony Mason on drums. Hunter returned to the studio in Fall of 2009 to record with drummer Eric Kalb.
In 2008, eminent clarinetist and composer Ben Goldberg put together a project entitled "Go Home" with Charlie on guitar(s), Ron Miles (trumpet) and Scott Amendola (drums). The alternately funky, beautiful, spacious and deep compositions showcase all the musicians. The group performed at the Jazz Standard in New York from October 29 to November 1, 2009 with Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, replacing Miles on trumpet.
Hunter was also an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards' judging panel to support independent artists.
Charlie Hunter is represented by Tree Lawn Artists, Inc.
Hunter currently plays a custom-made, seven-string guitar made by Jeff Traugott.
Previously, Hunter played a custom-made, eight-string guitar made by luthier Ralph Novak of Novax Guitars. He plays chords and lead guitar solos on the top five strings (tuned ADGBe), and simultaneously plays basslines on the bottom three strings (tuned EAD). With the addition of a Hughes & Kettner Tube Rotosphere (a Leslie rotary speaker simulator), his unique style produces a sound similar to that of a Hammond organ -- an instrument he set out to imitate.
In 2006, Hunter removed the top guitar string and had the neck of his guitar reworked and now plays a modified 7-string on the formerly-8 string body. Hunter has mentioned that because of his small hands, he had to move out of position to make use of the 8th string and thus wasn't using it much. A change in Hunter's style away from the organ sound into a more blues and distortion based sound happened at the same time. After removing the 8th string, Hunter retuned all of the strings up a half step: F-A#-D# on the bass and A#-D#-G#-C on the guitar. As of 2008, he had once again retuned up another whole step: G-C-F on the bass and C-F-A#-D on the guitar.
He has recently begun using Headstrong amps. Headstrong is based in Santa Cruz, California.