Steve Hunter Takes the Spotlight for The Manhattan Blues Project

Categories: Q&A

Steve Hunter
There's a lot of Steve Hunter in your CD collection. If you read the four-point type, you'll see that he's played (with and without guitar buddy Dick Wagner) on three of Lou Reed's most revered RCA albums and over a half-dozen Alice Cooper albums, as well as albums by Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, Bette Midler, and David Lee Roth. He's even ghost-played on albums like Get Your Wings By Aerosmith and the original Cooper band's Billion Dollar Babies.

Hunter, who lives here in the Valley o' the Sun, recently completed a labor-of-love album called The Manhattan Blues Project that he qualifies is "not so much bluesy in the traditional sense. It's blues guitar playing, which means a lot of bending and a lot of vibrato. All the songs are not traditional blues. There's only one shuffle on the record, and that's the 'The Brooklyn Shuffle' that has Johnny Depp on it and Joe Perry."

That's right, that Johnny Depp plus Marty Freidman and Joe Satriani. Hunter wrote most of the songs, but there are two covers, Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and "Solsbury Hill," the Peter Gabriel classic on which Hunter played originally with bassist Tony Levin who also guests on The Manhattan Blues Project. We spoke to Hunter about the new album, the blues, his work with Dick Wagner, his failing eyesight, and the worst thing he ever did to a guitar.

A Steve Hunter CD Release Party is scheduled for tonight at The Rhythm Room.

Up on the Sun: Would you say that blues guitar is the backbone of how you play guitar?
I'm not a traditional blues guitar player. The stuff I've done -- I've worked with Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, and Peter Gabriel, and David Lee Roth, a bunch of people. It's all what we call blues rock; it's rock 'n' roll guitar playing, but it's all based in blues.

I was able to pinpoint the first time I'd ever heard your guitar playing. it was that intro to Mitch Ryder and Detroit's cover of Lou Reed's "Rock and Roll." I was living in New York and they would play that intro over Raceway Park's Funny Car radio spot. It took me years to find out what that piece of music actually was.

That's the first time I recorded an album, when I was in Detroit. That was my arrangement of "Rock and Roll." Somebody told me that, too, and we didn't even know it had been used for that. They heard it on the radio. I met Leslie West a few years ago and said people used to come to him and say that they really liked he new mountain song. They thought it was Mountain.

Raceway Park used "Mississippi Queen" in their commercials, too. Both songs have that loud cowbell going.

It kind of had a Mountain feel. I was a big Mountain fan back in those days, so it probably had a big influence on how I approach arranging a song. And Leslie said I got tired of telling people it wasn't us. I think Lou Reed first heard it that way, too. He heard it as a commercial. And that's how he found out who we were, Bob Ezrin and I. Bob produced the album.

When Bob Ezrin brought you and Dick Wagner in to play guitar on albums where the guitar players were incapacitated at the moment -- those Alice Cooper albums like Schools Out or Billion Dollar Babies -- was there any lingering resentment from the band? You have Joe Perry on your album, so I guess not.

I don't think so. Back in the '70s, especially the mid-'70s, there was a lot of what we called "ghost playing" going on. Drummers, too! A lot of the labels got angry about bands being signed who couldn't play their instruments, but sometimes you brought a guitarist in because it added a new flavor.

A recorded album is different than a live show. When it's recorded, it's cut in stone and it's going to be there forever. Sometimes you just want to bring something new to a track, and I think that's why a lot of people got hired to do that sort of thing.

With Aerosmith it was especially odd, since "Train Kept a Rolling" is like a faux live track that's etched in stone.

Bob was executive producer. Jack Douglas and Ray Colcord came up with that arrangement; they wanted to make it sound like it sort of morphed into a live version of The Yardbirds' version of "Train Kept a Rollin."

I've spent many years setting the record straight as to who played what. I'm soloing stuff on the studio version and Dick Wagner played the solo on the live version. I think they did that as an artistic thing that added more color to the album.

Then you played on the Lou Reed live albums, but Berlin as well?

I played all over Berlin. I was the lone guitar player except we had this guy Gene Martynec, a brilliant guitar player from Toronto, playing all the acoustic stuff. Wagner came in and may have played something on "Sad Song." I wasn't there at the time he did it.

After the jump: My main concern is being able to see the fretboard of a guitar well enough to see onstage.

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