STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
It has taken English blues artist James Hunter decades to attain notoriety beyond his native U.K.
The talented guitarist has a quirky humor and a fond opinion of the Philadelphia scene, so much so that he once made his home here. Hunter’s R&B catalogue harkens back to an earlier time, when soul pervaded the airwaves. His music, like his wit, makes one smile.
As a member of “Howlin’ Wilf and the Vee-Jays,” Hunter gained critical exposure by appearing on a handful of the group’s albums, including “Cry Wilf!” (1986), “Blue Men Sing The Whites” (1987), “Howlin’ Wilf & The Vee-Jays” (1988/89) and “6 By Six” (1990).
By the 1990s, Hunter was a frequent performer in and around London’s lively club scene. Gracing the stages of the legendary 100 Club and Weavers Pub, Hunter’s passionate guitar playing and soulful vocal caught the attention of Van Morrison. Morrison appeared on Hunter’s 1996 album “Believe What I Say,” lending backing vocals to the songs “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do” and “Turn On Your Love Light.” In a show of mutual respect, Hunter returned the gesture by singing back-up vocals on Morrison’s live album, “ A Night in San Francisco” (1994) and on his studio release, “Days Like This” (1995). The friendship led to a tour by the duo in the late 90s.
Hunter has since shared the concert stage with Sharon Jones, Allen Toussaint, Susan Tedeschi and Chris Isaak.
With his debut album, “Kick It Around” (1999), under his belt, Hunter released his first solo album in America, “People Gonna Talk“ in 2006. Earning a Grammy nomination for “Best Traditional Blues Album,” Hunter was now gaining recognition beyond his U.K. roots.
“Most audiences there are quite quick off the mark picking up on some of our peculiarly British on-stage banter,” says James Hunter in an email interview from his home in Brighton, East Sussex.
“(That’s) especially impressive when most people in England don’t understand us.”
Hunter has fond memories of the time he spent in Philadelphia prior to his Grammy nominated release.
“I lived in Philly in 2006,” remembers Hunter. “I thought Philly was a marvelous place. Much more cosmopolitan than most American cities, and it still hasn’t had all the character “gentrified” out of it like London has.”
As a follow-up to his 2013 “Minute by Minute” album, Hunter is currently working on his next release.
“I have a few songs ready,” says Hunter. “Some of them are quite good. I’ve written one song which was inspired by a kind of catchphrase I heard a friend of mine from the South use quite a lot. When he was detailing some traumatic experiences he was undergoing, he would shrug and say resignedly: “Good times….”
There was something in the gently ironic way he would deliver this phrase “good times” that stayed with me, so I wrote a song based on it. Another song is something I’ve never attempted before, and it’s about those particularly unsavory religious maniacs who prey on the sick in the hope of getting an easy conversion.”
“There’s one thing I’ve always wanted to do and that is to write the perfect B-side,” added Hunter. “There’s no such thing anymore, but I mean the kind of song that would have been written as a throwaway until the DJs discover it’s better than the designated A-side and play that instead.”
At 52, Hunter understands the harsh realities of the music business and what it takes to achieve longevity in a challenging creative environment.
“I’ve had to stay in this field as long as I have, partly because I’m unqualified for anything else and partly because it’s taken us a long time to get any good at what we’re doing,” reflects Hunter. “I’m lucky in a way. Some artists start off great and tail off quickly, whereas we got off to a slow start, which turned out to be an advantage. It’s a bit like on-the-job training when you’re doing an apprenticeship. Ideally an audience should feel mildly entertained during the performance yet leave with a vague feeling of having been sullied and violated,” added Hunter, tongue-in-cheek.
IF YOU GO
What: The James Hunter Six
When: Concert is at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30.
Where: The Sellersville Theatre, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville.
Admission: Tickets can be purchased by calling (215) 257-5808 or online at www.st94.com.
Info.: To stay up to date with James Hunter visit www.jameshuntermusic.com