"The indeed very
extraordinary and very British James Hunter, ... possesses a "tight,
slithery soul groove" and a "sweet growl"
- New York Times
seen or heard James Hunter perform is already hip to his remarkable
talents as a singer, guitarist and songwriter. This includes Van
Morrison who asserts, ďJames is one of the best voices, and best kept
secrets, in British RíníB and Soul....
no denying that Hunterís musical style harkens back to the days of
classic 50ís and early 60ís R&B. Whatís remarkable is that the same
timeless quality inherent to the R&B innovators, including Sam Cooke,
Bobby Bland and Ray Charles, can exist in music that is being written,
performed and recorded today. Hunterís voice is smooth, brilliantly
controlled and unapologetic. Through his infectious vocal and guitar
performances, clever songwriting and tight horn arrangements, Hunter
proves to be a man of impeccable taste who has learned from his
influences rather than simply imitating them....
natural ability as singer and guitarist brings added excitement to his
music, evidenced by the frenzy he can stir up among hardened gig-goers
and young hipsters alike. About the frenzies, Hunter concludes, ďItís
simple really - itís music you can groove to.Ē
After several attempts I
finally caught up with James at the Great British R&B Festival, Colne:
Alan: What were your first musical memories growing up in
James: That's a really good question. When I was little I think I was
dimly aware of who the Beatles were, I did sort of know they were 4 or 5
blokes who were quite well known. I used to sell their merchandise at a
corner shop we had. There used to be a glove puppet, plastic bag, in
the shape of a random Beatle holding a guitar, full of sweets, so I was
dimly aware of them on that level.
Alan: Did you come from a musical family - is there a long
James: Noooo. Although I only recently found out that on the Burmese
side of the family, my Dadís mumís brother-in-law had a band in Burma,
but apart from that nobody in our family apart from my brother can carry
a tune in a bucket.
Did you always want to become a musician?
James: No, when I was 15 I thought Iíd be a doctor because I thought
Iíd pull the birds like that but when I found out you had to qualify I
thought I wouldnít bother. I just knew I wanted to get through the rest
of my life without working!
Alan: So howíd you get started in music?
James: I got together with some mates in Colchester and we had a trio.
The first person I ever spoke to was somebody at a Charley Gracey gig at
the Embassy Suite in Colchester and I used to go round this drummerís
house and we used to bash out some stuff.
Alan: Tell me about the time you had with your first band 'Howlin'
Wilf and the Vee-Jays'?
James: Ah, 1986 and Iíd just moved to London. Iíd sent the tapes to
Ace Records of my trio and these two musicians got in touch through Ace,
Dot & Tony, and I started busking with them and it went from there.
Alan: Which artists do you admire the most?
James: I think my favourite is Lowman Pauling from the Five Royales. He
was a good writer and guitarist.
Alan: And did he influence you?
James: Yes, but also Ray Charles early on, but Lowman was pretty much
in that groove that I like.
Alan: Are there any particular songs that you play that have
special meaning or fond memories?
James: Not really, no.
Youíve had a lot of musical success in the States, how does the
musical scene compare over there with here?
James: Same thing really but thereís more of it. Itís a bigger country
but itís pretty as much as simple as that. Itís a nice thing about
Yanks, thereís a sort of innocence over there and theyíre always up for
stuff. They are never blasť, even at their most annoying they still
have a certain innocence about them.
Alan: Youíve toured extensively with Van Morrison, how did you
originally meet up with him?
James: We played at a place in Newport, South Wales and it was owned by
a mutual friend who invited him along and we got chatting afterwards.
We didnít talk about collaborating and his mate kept saying ďI think he
wants to work with youĒ but we were mainly talking about Jerry Lee
Lewis and Sam Cooke but later in the year we got in touch.
Alan: You've sang alongside or opened for
such music legends as B.B. King, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy
Witherspoon, Junior Wells, Etta James, Aretha Franklin. You must have
some fond memories of those times.
James: I see youíve got Junior Wells written down there. He was a very
funny bloke and he took a shine to me and we got on really well. He
showed me this Star of David pendant he had around his neck and he said,
ďMy father-in-law gave me thisĒ. And I said, ďIs that how you spell
Junior...J E W N I O R....?Ē He liked that.
Tell me about your band and how long youíve been together?
James: About 20 years, and they are still waiting for me to pay them!
Alan: Youíve been nominated for a Grammy award for the People
Donít Talk album. That must have been a big milestone for you?
James: Which album? Oh, that one, yes, itís been a big millstone ... !
Tell me about the making of your latest album 'The Hard Way',
which features Allen Toussaint and all your own material I believe?
James: It is, there arenít any covers on there, this and People
Donít Talk are all original. And yes, itís got Allen Toussaint on
and we really had to arse-lick him to do vocals. Heís pretty reluctant
because he doesnít like his voice as much as we like it but he was well
up for doing the piano.
Looking back at your career, what are you fondest memories?
James: I was thinking just the other day when I first left the railway
we did a busking tournament in Brighton. Iíd only just left my job
after seven years and weíd had a really hard day busking and I went and
sat on the seafront with a coffee and a cheeseburger, watching the sea
coming in, and there was a sense of having escaped. It was just great.
Alan: So, what about future albums?
James: We are working on one now but just putting the songs together.
Alan: When is that coming out?
James: Donít know yet, weíve got to record it first!
Alan: Iíll look forward to it. James, thanks very much for your
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