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more... ArtistsBill HullettMarch 2009

Bill Hullett: Music City Session Man

Is there a certain situation, recording, session you’ll always remember?

One memorable moment was about 1979. I had just started doing some sessions for Pete Drake and a very few others in town. Pete had pulled some strings and got me on a couple of sessions for a guy named Eddie Fox. He was a guy that ran a sixteen track recording studio that Marty Robbins owned, and if someone that Marty met out on the road wanted to cut a little record he would send them to Eddie. Well, Eddie called me one day when I was hanging out at Pete’s studio—they were only about 1/2 block apart. He asked if I had my guitars with me, because he had some acoustic parts that needed redoing, and he asked if I would mind helping him out. I said “Sure,” figuring it might be a freebie but it would be worth it to get in Eddie’s good graces... I walked in the studio and there was Marty Robbins! Eddie introduced me and went on to say that Marty needed some rhythm guitar tracks on two or three songs. Marty asked the engineer to clear off two tracks per song and told him that I’d be laying down acoustic parts and doubling the parts (very common to the Nashville sound of acoustics). The engineer said to Marty that there was only one open track per song, so we had problems... well, Marty asked me if I had a second acoustic with me. I said yes, and we proceeded to put two acoustics down at once on one mic, and there I was two feet from Marty in a guitar face-off! He was incredibly nice and fun to work for, and to a newcomer at the time, I was in Session Heaven! By the way, he let me sign “leader” on the time card, which meant double scale. A real prince of a guy!

What was the funniest thing that ever happened to you while playing music?

I was recording an album one time for B.J. Thomas, and we were in the middle of the session when Leon Russell walked in. The producer, Pete Drake, stopped us in the middle of the take and moved Pig Robbins over to the electric piano, and asked Leon to play the grand piano. We didn’t even run it down any further. B.J. was cutting the gospel standard “Oh, Happy Day.” Pete said, “Leon, you know this song, just wing it.” We cut it in one take and it was fabulous... we all piled into the booth to listen, and Pete was really pleased. At the end of the playback, he looked up to ask Leon if he’d like to play on the next song, too. Leon had slipped off into the night… out the door and gone, just like the Lone Ranger or something. It was wild. Do you have any endorsements running? I don’t do many endorsements, because I actually play the ones I do endorse—I know, call me crazy… I endorse Fender guitars, Glendale guitar bridges, Alan Hamel guitar pickups, Bob Sweet pedals, a lubricant called “Nutsauce,” and my oldest son, Clay Hullett, builds all my amps. Currently, I use two of his Tweed 4x10 Bassman-style amps, and two of his Tweed Deluxe-style amps. I love all of these products. Any time you see me playing, you can rest assured that I’m using all these folks’ gear. I endorse all their stuff because it’s the absolute best of the best.

Do you have a favorite guitar, amp and effect and why they are your favorites?

My favorite electric guitar is a Fender Telecaster or Esquire. I’ve used them the most for over thirty years, and I think it’s too late to try to change me—although I carry a great Strat and a Les Paul with me to sessions, and use them as well. The Tele is my “go to first” electric. For acoustic, my favorites are two that I own. One is a 1961 Martin D-21. I’ve used it on many Nashville records—Merle Haggard, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Martina McBride, etc. The other favorite acoustic is a 1964 Epiphone Texan. It’s a perfect twin to one that Paul McCartney uses all the time. It sounds great… and very Beatles-like, I might add.

What was your first guitar ever, and do you still own and play it?

My first guitar was a nice, shiny new Japanese one-pickup electric called a Rodeo; it was awful… horrible action and even worse tone. I paid $39 for it in 1964. The real kicker though is that I passed up a Fender Broadcaster for $25 because it was too yellowed and beat up! (Ah, youth…)

What’s your standard equipment for a live gig and for a studio session?

Live, I usually use one Tweed Bassman-style— that my son Clay builds—and a pedalboard. On the pedalboard, I have a Keeley compressor, two Expandora distortions, a Fulltone Fulldrive II, a Dunlop Tremulator and a Line 6 delay pedal. I usually just use a Tele live. For sessions, I take that and much more of everything: amps, pedals and guitars. You never know what someone is going to ask for, so you always have to have that stuff handy.

If you had to go to a deserted island and could only take one guitar, one amp and one stompbox with you, what would they be? It would be a Telecaster for sure. I’ve built a Brian Poe bodied Telecaster with Alan Hamel pickups that may be the best Tele I’ve ever owned. I could get by with that one… If it’s an island gig I guess I wouldn’t have to play too loud! So I’d say the one amp that I’d bring would be the little tweed Deluxe that my son Clay builds… it’s a very beautiful amp—very touch sensitive. I’d load a bunch of NOS tubes in the back too! And one stompbox would be my Dunlop tremolo pedal because the amp can do all the variety of clean/dirty and that would be it. Maybe now that I think about it, maybe instead of the tremolo pedal, I’d take a Fulltone Echoplex! It is the best on the planet… yep, that’s what I would take! And lots of George L cables…

What do you think is the key to your constant success as a session player?

Well, first off there are a few guys (Reggie Young to name one) that have done a whole lot more sessions than I have! But I will say that I’ve been very blessed with all the work I’ve been called to do over the years. If I had to say what I thought was the reason I get called, it’s a couple of factors. One is that I consider myself a team player. If I strum acoustic all day, that’s ok. If I play a mandolin part, that’s ok, too. If you want me to bring in the electric, I’ll gladly do that as well. Some guys want to play “hot rod guitar” all the time… successful session guys realize that it’s the artists record that you’re trying to enhance, not your career. But even more important than that, I think I bring a good vibe to the session, because I generally have a positive attitude. There is nothing worse than being trapped in a small recording studio with someone who’s hard to get along with—those guys usually get weeded out pretty fast.
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