James Hunter makes Aspen debut
ASPEN – Listen to James Hunter, and it’s impossible not to think of Sam Cooke. Hunter’s got the early ’60s soul thing going on rhythmically, lyrically and vocally (including the grunts and the “yeah, ye-AHs”).Go a little further, though, and it’s hard to see where the connection stems from. Where Cooke was black, American and a pioneer of the classic soul style, Hunter is white, British and 48 – born two years before Cooke died. Hunter might not be as well known as Cooke, who wrote such hits as “Bring It on Home to Me,” and “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which became an anthem of the civil rights movement and was voted No. 12 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. But Hunter has only recently started his ascent: Not until 2006, with “People Gonna Talk,” did he release an album in the U.S.; it was nominated for a Grammy in the category of best traditional blues album. In 2008, he stepped it up with “The Hard Way,” which entered the Billboard charts as the No. 1 blues album.Hunter even has a few things on Cooke. The former is a standout guitarist, and is apparently possessed of that signature Brit wit, as he demonstrated in an e-mail exchange on the eve of his Aspen debut, Saturday at the Wheeler Opera House.The Aspen Times: The 80th anniversary of Sam Cooke’s birthday was Jan. 22. Did you do anything special to mark the occasion?James Hunter: Eighty? Wow. I didn’t know. Strange to think, if he was alive he’d probably be dead by now.AT: When and how did you develop an appreciation for this style of music?JH: I had a colleague on the railway who used to introduce me to stuff I hadn’t heard before. He had been to Chicago in the early ’70s and to his own amazement, found himself hanging out with Howlin’ Wolf and his wife. On one occasion, he was ’round their house, and Wolf’s missus put a record on, which was Wolf’s ill-advised psychedelic album. She asked what my mate thought of it and he saw both of them were looking at him expectantly. He took a deep breath and said, “Terrible.” She reacted to this by joyously throwing the disc at the wall and pouring him a whiskey.Apparently, he had passed the test.AT: Was there a time when you played radically different kinds of music than you play now?JH: Not really. the nearest thing was early on, before I started singing, there were three of us used to bash away at instrumentals in my mum’s kitchen in Essex. I suppose it was what you’d call “surf” music over your side, but nobody goes surfing in Clacton-on-Sea (with good reason, I might add).AT: Do you ever wish you were old enough, and living in America, to have seen Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding perform? If you could have been dropped back in time to one concert by one performer, what would it have been?JH: I wouldn’t have minded being in the audience when James Brown was doing his live album at the Apollo in 1962. As I was 20 days old at the time, it was theoretically possible, but word was slow getting round to Colchester.AT: Do you find your music nostalgic for another time? If not, what makes it contemporary?JH: No, our music is just music. The themes are the same stuff people have always written about and probably always will. AT: Is there any kind of retro-American scene going on in the U.K. that you are part of, or are you pretty much it?JH: There might be, but if there is, it’s nothing to do with me! People always call you retro when you don’t have a mullet and rolled up jacket sleeves.AT: What music have you been listening to lately that’s made an impression? Anything that listeners would not associate with the music you make?JH: I recently bought a compilation of stuff by Lou Johnson [another early ’60s American singer in the R&B vein]. Nothing like what we do (for the most part) but it’s great.AT: What is your audience like – young, old? If you have a significant audience of younger people, what do you think attracts them to you and your music?JH: It depends where we go. In Petaluma we got mobbed by young girls. At a gig in Maine we got roundly heckled by old ladies in deck chairs with blankets over their email@example.com
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