TOM HUNTER/Here I Go Again: This guy almost looks like a cabaret singer and I wasn’t in a cabaret mood when I was opening the mail. Surprise, he’s a dripping with soul, blues belting, white boy that can even bring soul to Billy Joel songs. Clearly in the pocket of making music for adults, this is how Steve Tyrell would sound without the budgets and big labels behind him to tweak and sweeten the project relying on little more than real soul to power the proceedings. Pretty interesting outing that comes at you from leftfield but you won’t let it go back there.
Over the past 15 years, keyboard man Tom Hunter has played with or appeared on recordings by Bill Perry, George Davis, Murali Coryell, Little Sammy Davis, Big John Dickerson, and Bernard Allison. Hunter’s third solo release, Here I Go Again (FS Music), is a lively disc that mixes blues, pop, jazz, and soul standards with a couple of Hunter originals. Hunter is a talented musician, playing piano, Fender Rhodes, and Hammond Organ, and is a robust singer, able to tackle any of the genres he chooses.
Any song list that includes three covers of Doc Pomus tunes has to be a strong one. Hunter selected wisely from that catalog and shows a real gift for interpreting these songs (“I Underestimated You,” “Imitation of Love,” and “The Night Is A Hunter”). Hopefully, he will cover more Pomus tunes in future releases. Other solid selections include Tom Waits’ “New Coat of Paint,” Ray Charles’ “Drown In My Own Tears,” Spencer Williams’ classic “Basin Street Blues,” and Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.” Hunter also takes an interesting stab at Sonny Rollins’ “Tenor Madness.”
Two original compositions by Hunter, the title cut and “Nothing’s For Free,” stand up well with the standards. The band provides exemplary backing, particularly Jon “Gunnar” Gunvaldson’s jazzy guitar work.
There just aren’t enough blues albums out there these days featuring the piano as the lead instrument, but Here I Go Again is ready and able to buck the trend, with some great music covering a broad range of styles.
Tom Hunter is one of those voices that only comes along once in a blue moon. Honed by years of experience, Hunter brings a passion to his music that started as a child in church. Eventually, Tom Hunter would travel to various destinations in order to find his sound. He settled in Minneapolis, MN, in 1997, and has not looked back.
Here I Go Again features songs covering a musical spetrum that stretches from smoky jazz to gut-bucket Chicago blues. Hunter recently took time to answer some questions via email. Enjoy the conversation.
What type of music was heard in the Hunter household growing up?
There wasn’t a lot of music in the house. I’d get most of it from church and school, but two of my sisters took piano lessons, so I’d here that. My parents watched a lot of PBS, so I’d see performances when I was growing up, and had a great appreciation for some of the jazz I would see, i.e. Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie. My parents would play music on our old stereo at Christmas time. Loved Bing, still do. He was the best. My great grandmother, Margaret Cerussi, could play anything, and would play a lot of ragtime and period stuff when she came over.
Did any one musician or band stick out as you were growing up?
In addition to the artists mentioned above, I also listened to my grandfather’s Chet Atkins albums, Billy Joel, and anything else coming off of FM radio in New York.
Gospel played an integral in your youth. Elaborate on the influence gospel music had on your life growing up as well as in your fledgling music career.
All of the organized music I participated in was thru the local church in Cornwall, NY. I was taught to play the blues by the preacher’s son. He showed me the blues progression on the church he would sing while I played.
Tell me about the first gig you ever played. How vividly do you remember the details?
The first gig I ever played was at The F&J Tavern in Cornwall, NY. It was filled with all our friends and we had a ball. They didn’t normally have music there and I don’t think they were ready for the crowd. We were all very drunk, so I don’t remember if we played well or not. It didn’t seem to matter.
What life lessons did you learn in the navy that have transferred over to your music career?
I learned how to show up on time in the navy. They were into that whole prompt, punctual thing!
Why choose to do an album of covers?
I wanted to do an album to record the band. They’re a great band, and it’s a privilege, and a lot of fun working with them. I didn’t have enough original material, so we recorded some of the tunes we perform regularly that truly speak to me.
Let’s talk about the songs and artists that you have chosen to cover. The one who stands out the most is Doc Pomus. I’m guessing he is/was a profound influence on your music.
It’s not so much Doc Pomus, but Johnny Adams turning me on to Doc Pomus. I met Johnny Adams in Mountain View, CA at a place called JJ’s Blue Cafe. He was on a double bill with Nappy Brown and it was great. I would go out there on business trips when I worked for IBM, and check out bands. Johnny was the greatest singer I had ever seen. It blew me away, and I was an instant fan. I went out the next day and bought Room With A View, and kept going back for more. When he did an album of DocÂs work, I heard it. That was probably Johnny’s best record, which shows the emotional content of the tunes. I do “The Night is a Hunter” because of one line in particular: “I played the honkytonks, and the upholstered sewers, and all the square sets in between, do up/ Every kind of high, legit, and otherwise, and make every unknown scene…” That one really got me.
Ray Charles – “Drown In My Tears”
I love Ray Charles, that’s natural, but I really love this song. We’ve been doing it for a long time, and it felt right.
Tom Waits – “New Coat of Paint” – I’m guess Waits is not the easiest person to interpret.
I’m a fan of Tom Waits, and this is one of the tunes of his that speaks to me, which made it easy to interpret.
Billy Joel – “New York State of Mind” – I loved how you took his pop song, and turned into more of a jazz number. What makes New York a special place for you?
I’m from a town, about 50 miles north of New York City, called Cornwall, NY. It was also the first actual song I ever learned. So I guess I’ve been playing it for almost 30 years. It’s kind of grown into something after all these years. My ex-wife just told me she liked the way I used to do it…what did she mean?
Sonny Rollinterestingor Madness” – Intersting choice.
I learned this song because Rick O’Dell, a friend who passed away, wanted me to learn it. He played a great tenor sax, and is missed. I’m sorry he’s gone from us now. This song swings, and I really like what Gunner does with it.
300 SHOWS A YEAR. That’s a massive load. I take it you have a bit of the Energizer Bunny in you. What keeps you going?
Well, I started slowing down, so I had to clean up my life and start working out. It keeps me on top of my game.
Tom, you’ve had the privilege of playing with, and/or opening for, some amazing musicians. Give me two or three life or musical lessons you’ve gleaned.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you have to stay positive. Every great artist I’ve had the privilege of working with or near taught me that you really have to love your audience. It’s really them that you’re there for. It doesn’t matter if your black or white, it’s really what’s inside that counts. A man’s got to say what’s on his mind, and what better way than a song.
Finally, what plans are in store for 2006?
I hope to find an agent, or agents to work with so I can go out and promote this recording. And I’d also like to be in the studio by the year’s end to do an album with Jon Gunvaldson.
TomHunter appeared on NBC’s “Today Show “ – KARE 11 on January 26, 2006 with HOST – BRAD WOODARD –
unveiling his new CD release…
Using his big, booming baritone voice, Tom Hunter sings jazz and blues with a convincing delivery. Much of the program on Here I Go Again, his third album, recalls the traditional spirit of Dr. John and like-minded artists from the Big Easy. Coincidentally, he also plays organ and piano, making those keys sparkle alongside each vocal selection. However, Hunter has put so much variety into his program that there’s just no way to pigeonhole him.
Never trust a man who hasn’t paid his dues. Hunter has been there, done that, and it shows up in each of these twelve selections. After music school, he joined the navy, then moved around a bit, from New York to South Carolina and settling in Minneapolis. While in the South, he worked for three years in a down-home setting at Myrtle Beach. Today, he continues to work more than 300 nights a year.
The Sonny Rollins classic ”Tenor Madness” is offered up as an instrumental number. Hunter’s piano swings and romps along with acoustic bass, electric guitar, and drums. The quartet drives with plenty of spirit. Hunter’s vocals give the rest of the album a soulful element that comes loaded with genuine, deep-down soul. The songs that he’s selected represent unique and familiar individuals such as Ray Charles, Tom Waits, Dr. John, Billy Joel, and Doc Pomus.
Two original songs reveal the true blue spirit of Hunter’s character. He’s just a tad over forty, but he’s seen the world through a bluesman’s eyes and a jazzman’s ears. And he continues to do his thing night after night.
”Basin Street Blues” carries a big load of tradition. As Hunter explains in familiar terms,
Ain’t you glad you went with me
Way on down the Mississippi
We took a boat to the land of dreams
Heaven and earth, they call it Basin Street.
Jim Santella has been contributing CD reviews, concert reviews and DVD reviews to AAJ since 1997.
His work has also appeared in Southland Blues, The L.A. Jazz Scene, and Cadence Magazine
See Review on All About Jazz web site
Tom Hunter, “Here I Go Again” (FS Music) ***
Blue-eyed soul-blues singer Tom Hunter infuses his strong baritone with a N’Awlins inflection, but he’s actually from a “New York State of Mind,” to borrow a phrase from fellow piano man Billy Joel. And why not borrow? Hunter does with the Joel number and nine other tunes out of the dozen on “Here I Go Again,” including three from Doc Pomus.
The church-music-trained artist wisely draws on material that suits his talent, including Tom Waits’ “New Coat of Paint,” Ray Charles’ “Drown in My Own Tears” and Sonny Rollins’ “Tenor Madness,” an instrumental track.
Hunter spent some time in the Navy before settling in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He’s currently holding court almost nightly in the clubs of Minneapolis. His road-hardened delivery and tight four-piece band, which features guitarist Jon “Gunner” Gunvaldson, make him a good bet to re-create the studio magic in a live setting.