The Road to CukoRakko: A Conversation with Charlie Hunter September 24, 2018 20:49
Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
If you're a music lover in Alabama, you've more than likely heard about an amazing grassroots festival known as CukoRakko Music & Arts Festival. Founded in 2014, the festival has been held twice a year at Horse Pens 40 in Steele, AL. As we prepare for another unforgettable CukoRakko weekend on October 5th - 7th, we're sitting down and getting to know a few of the performers on the 2018 Fall Festival lineup. For our second installment, we caught up with famed jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter, whose trio will close out the festival on Sunday, October 7th. See below for the full interview, as well as several videos of Hunter performing live.
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I always like start these by getting some background info. How did you first get started playing guitar and enter the world of music?
Charlie: Well, I grew up in Berkeley, California in the 70's. My mom played music and repaired guitars. I spent a lot of time growing up around music in general. I was around some amazing musicians, and I guess I didn't really know any better. That's just how I ended up in that universe. You definitely have to have an affinity for it, and you have to have a calling to do this as a career. It sure ain't a hobby, 'cause there are much better hobbies. (laughs)
Was there a particular experience or 'aha' moment that made you realize the potential to play professionally?
Charlie: No...for me, it's just all about the work. You know what I mean? That's the glory. Performing is awesome, and that's where you prove whether your work has had any success. I love playing and communing with the audience, but really, the joy for me is in the community and in the work. When I was a young guy in my teens, I was playing a lot of gigs with older guys, and that's just kind of how it all started.
Your debut album 'Charlie Hunter Trio' was released in 1993 on Les Claypool's Prawn Song Records. How'd you get hooked up with Les?
Charlie: The drummer that I was playing with, Jay Lane, used to play in Les's band Primus. I knew Les from when I was playing in a band called Disposable Heroes of Hyphoprisy. Primus opened for U2 on the same tour that I was on with Disposable Heroes, so that's how we initially met. He's just a real good dude. He's always trying to help people out and go to bat for others, so that was nice.
Speaking of Jay Lane, I was curious about how the lineup has worked with the trio over the years. Has there been much consistency with the lineup?
Charlie: Oh I'm always changing it around, just depending on what direction I'm going in. I usually have a trio. It's the biggest sound you can get, with the least potential for losing tons of money on the road (laughs). For this specific gig, I'll be playing with Derek Phillips, who I've played with for many years, on drums, and a woman named Dara Tucker from Nashville will be singing. It should be a grand ole time.
You've become well known for your unique style with the seven/eight string guitars; playing bass lines, chords, & melodies simultaneously. What led you in such a unique direction?
Charlie: That's a great question. I was a street musician in Europe for a number of years back in the 80's. I really just fell under the sway of people like Joe Pass and Tuck Andress and that real self sufficient type of playing guitar. That just tickled me, and I felt like I really needed to learn how to do this. I also played a lot of drums and bass guitar. It just kind of made sense. Then I went down this road of figuring the whole thing of my own out, and I'm still kind of figuring it out.
You were a co-founder of Garage a Trois, back in the late 90's, right?
Charlie: Well I didn't found it. I was really just one of the guys. Skerik and I went there because we were playing on Stanton's (Moore) record back in the late 90's. It kind of grew out that.
I know there have been some great players involved. I saw the band with Marco Benevento in Atlanta back in 2010.
Charlie: Yeah, yeah I kind of left around that time and Marco joined.
So originally that was you, Skerik, Stanton Moore, and who else?
Charlie: Mike Dillon on all kinds of percussion.
That's right. How could I forget Mike Dillon?
Charlie: Yeah, right? He's an awesome dude.
You've had the opportunity to collaborate with such a wide variety of world class talent. Looking back, are there any moments in particular that stand out?
Charlie: Not really. I think the stuff that people know, like D'Angelo's Voodoo and (writing and recording with) John Mayer...those were just really quick days in the studio, you know? Then you have the people who you're on the road with year after year, learning a lot...those are the things that last with you a lot longer. Again, it all just has to do with feeling like it's an honor to be able to do the work and be on the path at all. That's kinda what keeps me going. Knowing that there is always another experience down the road with someone who knows something that you don't know, and you can learn from them.
Absolutely. I think that's something that can be applied to all walks of life. There's always more to learn, even if it's how not do something.
Charlie: Amen. Exactly. Yes. (laughs)
You've definitely linked up with some killer drummers along the way. Stanton Moore and Jay Lane, just to name a few...
Charlie: Yeah...and those guys are my peers, but the really, the heaviest experiences have been with guys like Bobby Previte, Idris Muhammad, Bernard Purdie, Mike Clark, Ed Thigpen. Those have been the real incredible experiences.
That's amazing. Did I hear that you're getting ready to record a new album in Nashville?
Charlie: Well yeah, interestingly enough, it's not my record. Dara Tucker, who's singing with the trio, I'm going to be producing her record. We're going to do that right after the Alabama gig. In November, I'll be recording an album with Lucy Woodward and Derek Phillips, the drummer who's playing with me this tour. All kinds of shit is goin' down.
It appears so. Looking at all the albums that you've been a part of, there is a wide variety and quite a lengthy list.
Charlie: Yeah...I really feel lucky to have been a part of it all. Again, I'm just juiced that I get a chance to do it all.
You're closing out CukoRakko Music & Arts Festival in Alabama on October 7th. For those who haven't seen the trio before, what can they expect?
Charlie: Oh man, I don't know. I guess I'd just tell them to get on YouTube and check out some of the recent stuff.
That's a great answer in 2018.
Charlie: Exactly, exactly.
Well thanks so much for your time Charlie. Look forward to seeing you in a few weeks.
Charlie: Sounds great man. Thank you. Take care.
Watch Charlie Hunter Trio perform "Spoonful" here:
Watch Charlie Hunter Trio's full performance from The Acoustic in Bridgeport, CT here:
Watch Charlie Hunter's "No Money No Honey" here: