Born Charles Hunter 1968, RI; grew up in Berkeley, CA. Addresses: Record company--Blue Note Records, 304 Park Avenue, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10010.

As the "hip-hop" or "acid jazz" movement of the mid-1990s gained momentum in the United States, Charlie Hunter was leading it in the San Francisco Bay Area. Young groups of avant-garde jazz musicians were mixing traditional jazz with hip-hop, funk, and rock. Hunter was the first out of the pack of groups of the area to be released on CD. "We study the past and practice the present," Hunter told Down Beat in 1994. That blend of past and present was what Hunter used to push several incarnations of his own bands, including his trio, quartet, and T.J. Kirk--a separate Hunter group altogether--through a number of successful releases and tours. His inventive use of a custom guitar earned him astute musicians as fans, and his talent for creating infectious hip-hop dance grooves made Hunter's live shows guaranteed good times for college crowds.

Born in 1968 to Greenwich Village bohemians in Rhode Island, Hunter was raised in Berkeley, California, by his mother, who fixed instruments at Subway Guitar, a Berkeley guitar shop. He started playing electric guitar at 13, on an amp his mother made for him. At 14, he started taking lessons from now-famous guitarist Joe Satriani, a Subway instructor at the time. Satriani was demanding of Hunter, building in him the discipline that he lacked. The eclectic Bay Area environment also molded his musical talents. "Growing up in Berkeley, we were exposed to all kinds of music from the Dead Kennedys and Parliament/Funkadelic to Art Blakey," he explained to Down Beat . "As for my playing, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane are big influences. So are Stevie Wonder and old country blues players like Robert Johnson and Lightnin' Hopkins."

Hunter met Michael Franti, of the disbanded hip-hop group the Beatnigs, when Franti was working at Subway in 1991. Franti liked Hunter's developing style and so the guitarist joined Franti's new group, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, as an accompaniment to Franti's raps. Hunter played on the Heroes' Hiphoprisy is the Greatest Luxury in 1992 and toured with them, most notably opening for Irish pop icons U2 and alternative-funk stars Primus. He left the band shortly before it dissolved completely and set out to create his own sound with his own musicians. "It wasnt what I wanted to do," Hunter told Guitar Player in 1994, the year after he left Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. "It was great to see the world in that rock and roll environment, but it makes me realize how good I have it now, writing and playing what I want with musicians who can make me feel small every night."

If Charlie Hunter felt small every night when his played with his Charlie Hunter Trio, it didn't show. They recorded their first record, Charlie Hunter Trio , in Primus frontman Les Claypool's basement and released it in 1993 on Claypool's brand new Prawn Song label. Hunter garnered attention with the bassless trio by providing simultaneous bass lines, melodies, and chords as well as for his style that was more like that of an organist than a guitarist.

Hunter's hallmarks are his custom, guitar-bass hybrid Novak eight-string instrument and the way he uses it. He was into playing a seven-string guitar until a friend suggested he check out Larry Young's organ playing. Young played bass parts with his left hand and melodies and chords with his right. To Hunter, Young's style made sense and set him to design the instrument he became known for using. "The bottom three strings are tuned E, A, D, like the lower three strings on a bass," he explained to Guitar Player in 1995. " The top five are tuned A, D, G, B and E, as on guitar. I send the bass strings directly to a bass amp. The guitar strings go through a Korg G4 Leslie speaker simulator, a volume pedal, a wah, and then into the guitar amp." He does it all with his bare hands. "Picks are for kids," he told Guitar Player in the same article. "I don't mean to dis people who use a pick, but it doesn't work for me. Fingers are the way to go"

Hunter's singular style also caught the attention of legendary jazz label Blue Note, who signed him on the merit of his first release. He was simultaneously signed to Warner Brothers as part of T.J. Kirk--formerly known as James T. Kirk, until trademark concerns were raised by Star Trek producer Paramount. Fronted by three guitarists--Hunter, John Schott and Will Bernard--T.J. Kirk was as successful with its 1994 release T.J. Kirk and its subsequent tours as was Hunter's trio. "It's a total guitar nerd's fantasy band," Hunter told On the One in 1995 of T.J. Kirk.

In 1993, the Charlie Hunter Trio performed on the second stage at traveling alternative-rock fest Lollapalooza in San Francisco. For a group still new to the rock world, "it was scary," Hunter admitted to Guitar Player . But he also felt that his trio brought something to the festival that was new and different, yet easy for crowds to get into. "We put out hard-hitting energy, and people our age related to it because we related to them. And if they go out and buy a Charlie Parker or John Coltrane record after hearing us and realize how vital it is--not the de-clawed, sugar-factory stuff on mainstream jazz radio--that's great."

In 1995, Hunter was juggling his two major record deals, a new release, Bing, Bing, Bing , on Blue Note and still was arranging all his own shows. "20 gigs a month, ten phone calls a gig, work it out for yourself," he joked with On the One about his hectic schedule. Yet he still found time to record ReadySetShango! for Blue Note and If Four Was One with T.J. Kirk on Warner Brothers, both for 1996 release.

In 1997, Hunter, this time with the Charlie Hunter Quartet, got involved with the Blue Note Cover Series, reinterpreting Bob Marley's classic Natty Dread , alongside Everette Harp covering Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Fareed Haque doing Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's Deja Vu . Although the series wasn't reviewed favorably, Hunter declared his good intention on the Blue Note Website. "It's culturally the duty of the younger generation to help the music evolve" he said.

Hunter teamed up with drummer Scott Amendola, percussionist John Santos, and Blue Note vibraphonist Stefon Harris in 1998 for Return of the Candyman by Charlie Hunter and Pound for Pound. Hunter composed all the tracks on the release, save "Electric Relaxation," by Ronnie Foster. Critical reviews were lukewarm. Down Beat opined in a 1998 review that the CD "may satisfy his fans, but to someone not familiar with Hunter's music, it's fair to say his self-penned tunes hover somewhere between pop's idea of jazz and jazzy sketches at best." But despite the album's lack of critical praise, Hunter and the group toured for the release successfully.

by Brenna Sanchez

Charlie Hunter's Career

Started playing guitar at age 12; took lessons from Joe Satriani at age 14; joined Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, 1991, played on the group's 1992 release Hiphophrisy is the Greatest Luxury; toured with U2 and Primus; released Charlie Hunter Trio, Mammoth label, 1993; played second stage on the Lollapalooza tour in San Fransisco, 1993; released T.J. Kirk with T.J. Kirk, on Warner Brothers, 1994; signed to Blue Note; released, Bing, Bing, Bing!, 1995; released with T.J. Kirk, If Four Was One, Warner Brothers, 1996; released Ready Set Shango! on Blue Note in 1996; released remake of Bob Marley's Natty Dread, Blue Note, 1997; released Return of the Candyman with his group, Pound for Pound, Blue Note, 1998.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

October 5, 2004: Hunter's album, Charlie Hunter Trio, was re-released with a bonus track. Source:,, October 11, 2004.

Further Reading



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