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Interview: Charlie Hunter - Life in the Pocket

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Interview: Charlie Hunter - Life in the Pocket

What do you listen to for inspiration?

I pretty much listen to any jazz before 1964, and any soul and pop between 1964 and 1975. After that I don’t listen to anything. [Laughing] I hate to say it but it just doesn’t interest me that much.

You’re like a seventy-five year old man! [Laughing]

[Laughing] I know, it’s terrible. I’m the worst. People are always like, “Oh this guy is so open.” No I’m not. I’m worse than Wynton Marsalis! I’m the worst guy! I don’t like English blues guitar players. I have no need for that because I grew up listening to Robert Johnson and Leadbelly, then ultimately B.B. King, Freddie King, and Hubert Sumlin. I’m spoiled. Everything is backwards just because of the way I grew up.

I think the fact that you draw from older influences informs your music in a different way than if you were into The Mahavishnu Orchestra.

It’s an interesting thing you bring that up because I never listened to that music. It’s not that I don’t like it, it never crossed my path. Whenever I hear it, it’s just something I don’t connect with. I did a gig with Ron Miles and we did a Mahavishnu song on a gig. I was like, “Ok, this is kinda cool!” It was just something that I never gravitated toward, the fusion thing. I have really good friends who make their living doing that. It’s just not something that I was ever interested in pursuing.

I think the juxtaposition between the modern guitar techniques and your old school sensibility makes for good music. Public Domain has a lot of soul and it’s not about how many strings are on your guitar.

Click here to watch a video of Charlie playing his Jeff Traugott seven-string at the 2010 Montreal Guitar Show.
Thank you. The guitar I’ve been using for the last couple of years was made by Jeff Traugott who lives up in Santa Cruz. He usually makes acoustic guitars, but made me the one I play now. I’ve changed my tuning a bit over the years. When I first started out it was all about, “I gotta show people how much stuff I can play and exactly in the same register!” [Laughing] I was making this instrument do something that it was ill suited for. The bass would never have a long enough scale length so it wouldn’t be punchy enough, but it was a sound and it was cool.

As I got older I wanted it to be more about the sound and not so much about impressing people with guitaristic flights of fancy. It’s great when you’re young, but as you get older and you get more of an understanding of music, it’s kind of silly. I never really wore tight pants, but I certainly am not going to be wearing tight pants when I’m seventy. [Laughing] Know what I mean? It’s embarrassing for everybody!

So I tuned up to F for a while and that was nice. Then I realized that the groove is just not driving or drumistic enough. I’m not convinced. The reason why I kept worrying about doing the tuning changes was because I was like, “Oh man, I’m really leaving the guitar community behind. It’s going to be so different.” Then I started to realize that, that’s what I want to do. That’s what I need to do in order to really develop this into it’s own thing. I need to let go of that community or whatever, and really just pull the anchor up and sail away.

So I tune up to G now, so my lowest three strings are G, C, F. The higher strings are C, F, Bb, and D. That’s been a revelation to me because I use heavier strings, and it ends up having a lot of tension but it springs to life. It’s more drumistic and creates all of that counterpoint which is really the strength of the instrument. It becomes a lot more powerful. It pops a lot better. You lose a lot of stuff like the bending thing, but I realized I’m not really interested in that. I don’t want to play overtly guitaristic stuff. It’s not a goal of mine. I’ve done that already. I’m also having more fun now than I think I’ve ever had playing.

What are you using for amps?

For the past couple of years I’ve been using a Headstrong Lil King for the guitar side. It’s just a Princeton with a 12, and that’s all I use. For the bass side I’ve had the same Mesa Boogie single 15 cab for like ten years. I use either an Eden or Mesa head and that’s about it. I don’t use any pedals, I just go straight into the amp.

Didn’t you used to use a volume pedal?

Yeah I use to use a volume pedal and this thing that use to make this insipid organ sound. [Laughs]

Man, I loved that organ sound.

Oh thanks. It was fun at the time, but to me it just sounds desperately cloying. Like a young guy trying to help the world. “Look at me! Look at me!” [Laughing]
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