As a studio player and touring musician Steve Hunter has worked with the best. We're talking Alice Cooper, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Mitch Ryder, Meat Loaf, David Lee Roth, Julian Lennon, Dr. John, Tracy Chapman and Glen Campbell. Just released is Steve Hunter's own CD titled "Tune Poems Live".
Q - I actually saw you in concert with Alice Cooper, along with my two brothers. The date was May 1st, 1975 at the Onendaga County War Memorial in Syracuse, New York. A decade later or so, my brother, Steve Steele got an offer to join Alice Cooper's band as his bassist for his North American / European tour. Just thought I'd share that with you.
A - Oh, that's terrific. That's pretty cool.
Q - Who would've guessed that my brother would get that opportunity. But strange things do happen.
A - (laughs) Yeah, they do.
Q - So, how did you get that Alice Cooper gig anyway? Was that what we would call your "big break" in the music business?
A - Well, I don't know if I had one definitive "big break." It sort of all just kind of happened. Mainly it was from meeting Bob Ezrin. I met Bob Ezrin because I had just gotten a gig with Mitch Ryder. Mitch Ryder had reformed a band called Detroit and Box Ezrin was scheduled to produce an album for them and that's how I met Bob. We worked together in the studio on that album. It's just called "Detroit featuring Mitch Ryder", and Bob and I got along really well. I loved his production and he liked my playing. As it turned out, the next album I did was the Lou Reed "Berlin" album and then I did some overdubs on the "Billion Dollar Babies" album and of course Alice went out solo and did the "Welcome To My Nightmare" album and we were all asked if we wanted to do the tour. So, it was all kind of stepping kind of thing, a stepping stone kind of deal, from one project to the next until I actually found myself on the road with Alice.
Q - You played on several Alice Cooper albums, didn't you?
A - Yeah, I think it's up to six now. I also played on "Welcome 2 My Nightmare", the sequel to "Welcome To My Nightmare", the first album in 2010, 2011, somewhere around there. I played on that album. I also toured with him in 2011, but think it's up to six now.
Q - Well now, Alice Cooper had two guitarists in the band, Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton.
A - That's right.
Q - If you're playing on the albums, what does that say about the guitar playing of these other two guys?
A - That's an unfair thing to say really and I'll tell you why. A lot of people think that. It's great to give me an opportunity to clear that up a little bit. (laughs)
Q - That's what I was aiming to do.
A - Yes, I know and I appreciate that. It wasn't so much that they weren't up to snuff. They wrote all the songs, especially on "Billion Dollar Babies". That's a fabulous album.
Q - Right.
A - It's the first one I played on so I don't know what happened before that. They didn't do too badly on "Eighteen". They didn't do too badly on "School's Out" and some of the other albums, "Killer". They did just fine. But I think on the "Billion Dollar Babies" album what they were trying to do was they were following up "Eighteen" and "School's Out" and they just wanted to make an album as absolutely as good as possible with as much different textures and different players as they could do. I think that was just an artistic decision amongst Bob and Alice, the band Alice. I think it was an artistic move because it just wasn't me and Dick (Wagner, Alice's other studio and touring guitarist). I think Rick Derringer played on the album. There were other guests on the album. I think they were just trying to flush out the album into a bigger spectrum, a broader spectrum. Those guys were great players. I saw them several times in the early Alice Cooper band and they were awesome. They were incredible players. So, it wasn't so much that. They were just trying to go for some different flavors on that album.
Q - Are recording studios a thing of the past or becoming a thing of the past? I ask only because so many musicians have their own home studios these days.
A - You know what? That's a good question because I think they are generally going by the wayside. I have my own studio. In fact, the album "Manhattan Blues Project", I did entirely in my own studio with the exception of the guest players. There's one track, "Twilight In Harlem", which has a drummer on it that I had to take him into the studio and record it. I don't have a big enough studio to actually record drums. So I had to record the drums in the studio, but yeah, I think you're right, unfortunately. I think it's a real shame because I still think in a recording studio, in a more controlled environment, a studio built for recording is generally going to sound better than just somebody's room. (laughs) Or, throwing the amp in the bathroom, although we did that in recording studios. But I think you're right. I think it's very sad because there's some incredible studios out there that just sound fabulous when you go in and record a band. That was one reason I was so drawn to doing the "Tone Poems Live". Back in the day, when Miles Davis and John Coltrane were recording, it was recorded 'live' in a recording studio. There's something really special about getting a bunch of guys in a room and recording and that's hard to do in a home studio. So, to some extent I think recording studios will stay around because of that very thing, but I think they're getting used less and less and I think that's sad really.
Q - And that means that studio musicians of the future won't get the opportunities you got.
A - Except, I must say I have done a lot of sessions here in my studio over the internet. In other words, somebody will send me a track and then I'll play some guitars on the track and send them back. I've still been doing the some kind of thing, but now I'm doing it in my own studio, with my own rigs and my own gear and just sending it back to 'em over the internet. It's still there, but it's never going to be quite the same. There are advantages to both things. For one thing, in my my own studio it's an advantage because I can take my time. I'm not on the clock. I can try different things. I can try different sounds, but in the studio when you're on the time, and maybe it's costing you $700, $800, $1,000 an hour, you're on the clock, so you're under a lot of pressure to get a good take right away or as soon as possible 'cause of the price. So, in some ways there's good and bad on both sides.
Q - You did a European tour with Meat Loaf?
A - Yes. It was a very short tour. I don't know a whole lot about what was going on then. At the time I got the call I didn't even realize he needed a guitar player. I just thought he needed a band. But for whatever reason, they usually had two guitar players, one of 'em, Mark Doyle and I don't know who the other guy was at the time, but he couldn't go. They were kind of stuck. They needed to get somebody fairly quickly and my name came up somewhere. Somebody called me and the next thing I know I'm in Connecticut rehearsing with Meat Loaf. (laughs) But it was a short tour. It was only about two and a half, three weeks, something like that. It wasn't very long.
Q - You know that Mark Doyle is from Syracuse.
A - Yes, he is. He and I became really good friends on that tour. He's a really funny guy. We had a lot of fun hanging out together. And he's great guitar player.
Q - He did the "Saturday Night Live" show with Meat Loaf.
A - That's right. I think Mark was touring with him before I met up with him. He had already done a couple of tours with him and some other things. Then, I joined the band and met him. Like I say, we got along really well. I liked him. We had a lot of fun. He's a great guitar player. Great to play with.
Q - Why do people call you "The Deacon"?
A - That's actually funny. That actually is a joke. One time Bob Ezrin called me. We hadn't worked together for about, I don't know, eight months. I'd been out on the road. He'd done other projects. I'd gotten back home. I didn't have a permanent place to stay. When I was off the road I always went back to my parents. I usually hung out there for a couple of weeks and then I was off again until I could decide where I wanted to live. So, he called me there one day. My mother was listening and thought it was really funny. The first thing he said, as a joke, "Steve you haven't gotten into drinking and drugs have you?" I said, "No. I'm clean as a whistle. I'm still the Deacon of Rock 'n' Roll." He thought that was really funny. We both laughed and my mother thought it was funny. When I got to Canada where we did a lot of the work with Alice and Peter Gabriel in Toronto, that's what my nickname became. So, it just kind of stuck. But it's really kind of a joke.
Q - No one bills you as Steve "The Deacon" Hunter?
A - No, because really it's a joke. I would never take myself so seriously to think I was a real Deacon. (laughs) I think it's funny. I said it as a joke and everybody's takin' it as a joke. There are people who call me The Deacon, but it's really kind of tongue-in-cheek.
Q - I guess a guy like yourself who didn't drink and do drugs was pretty rare.
A - Well, yeah. There were times when I was kind of indirectly ostracized from parties. People would offer me cocaine and I would refuse. No thanks. I appreciate it. (laughs) I wouldn't drink. The only reason I didn't drink was because I have an allergic reaction to alcohol that makes me very sick. I tried drugs just like everybody else, but I just never enjoyed 'em. I just didn't enjoy it as much as everybody else did. It kind of was a bummer. Here I was tryin' to be a Rock 'n' Roll guy and none of the stuff was working, but then after awhile I said I just prefer being straight because I can think better and I can play better. I remember when I used to smoke dope and I'd get high on a joint and wish I was straight. (laughs) I thought, well this isn't working. This is not how it's supposed to be. I thought I was supposed to see colors and magic and all that, but it just never worked for me like that. So, I was I think kind of a rare bird. I made some people uncomfortable.
Q - I never really understood the connection between Rock 'n' Roll and drugs.
A - I didn't get it either really. It all really started in the Hippie generation when smoking a joint in those days, in the '60s... there were people smokin' dope in the '40s and '50s and in fact I think there's some evidence of people smokin' dope in the '30s. It was used as a way of enlightenment. It was sort of like if you get high you see things differently. Now, I don't know whether that's good or bad, but it is different. The same way with acid. You would take acid and you would see the world in a whole new way. It was hallucinations and all kinds of fun, but for me it started worrying me when I started seeing a lot of my heroes die, when Jim Morrison died, when Jimi Hendrix died, Keith Moon, Janis Joplin. All my favorite heroes were dying. It was telling me this drug thing isn't working. It's killing my people. I was about the same age as all of them when they were dying. I thought man, that's too young to be dying. So, this drug thing is not working. It's not coming out the way it's supposed to. But, by that time I think it was too late. It had just become part of the culture. It was a cultural thing then. I understand cocaine can make you feel really good, euphoric and feel good about yourself, but it never worked for me. Heroin? I didn't want anything to do with that. A lot of people are seeing it's not a fun drug. It shocks me sometimes when I look at the younger generation, it's sort of like they didn't learn from our mistakes. It kind of worries me a little.
Q - They're not making the connection.
A - It doesn't seem to be connected and it worries me a little.
Q - There's not much you can do about it.
A - Listen, I've known a lot of people in my life that have used drugs in a recreational sense. It didn't become 99% of their lives. They can have a drink at night. They can smoke a joint. I know a lot of people like that who can do it and not go over the cliff and I've also known a lot of people who just dived right off the cliff and it's scary. I understand it 'cause I've had some bad experiences. I had a couple of bad experiences with drugs way back in the late '60s. It shocked me into reality that I don't want to mess with this stuff. It's messing with my brain and I don't know if I like that.
Q - And it didn't make you more creative, did it?
A - No, it did not make me more creative. In fact, it made me less creative because my attitude changed when I was high and didn't like that.
Q - How do you promote your CD "Tone Poems Live"? Do you approach Sirius Radio with it?
A - Well, we're looking at that possibility. "Tone Poems" just came out recently, within the last couple of weeks. We're pursuing a lot of different avenues. Promotion nowadays is way different than it used to be because labels used to take charge of that, but now we're sort of doing a lot of that on our own. It's difficult sometimes to figure out what's the best way to do it. Most of it, for us anyway, is trial and error. So, we're just doing the best we can. We'd like to get it on Sirius, but that takes some effort to figure out who to contact and the little dancing around stuff you gotta do, which we're in to doing, but we just got started really. It's a little early, but we're trying. Sirius is a good idea.
Q - Where do you draw inspiration for your songs from? Is it effortless on your part?
A - No. Some of it has to be real effort. It's like a writer sitting in front of a computer screen that's blank and he's got to put the first words down. You sort of look around the room and you start. Suddenly sometimes the title will come to mind and if this title was a picture, what would it look like? That kind of thing. And then sometimes I try to think of a picture and then I'm going to write music to that picture, like the photograph or picture is actually a movie and I'm going to write a score to it. That's how I do some things. Other things, it may be a story somebody told me and this is the music that would go with that story. Or sometimes it's just really simply nothing more than having a little melody kicking around in your head and you just sort of develop it. It comes in all kinds of different forms. Sometimes you can write a song in fifteen minutes. Sometimes it takes months. It's a weird thing, painting, writing music. Anything artistic is a weird thing. You sort of have to get your head in some zone that's sometimes hard to find. Sometimes you just fall into it. Sometimes you're just looking around for it. It's really weird. It's a weird experience, but it's also a very satisfying, fulfilling experience when you finally come up with something and you really like it and it feels good. It's a wonderful experience. You get hooked on that, you know. It's the same as playing 'live' and getting a great audience response. You get hooked on it.
Q - That you enjoy performing and writing is unique. Some musicians will enjoy one or the other.
A - I wouldn't be able to do it if I didn't just love it. Tony Bennett said, "I've never worked a day in my life. I'm doing something I really enjoy." It's the same for me. Sometimes rehearsal is hard work and recording sometimes can be hard work. You put long hours in, but there's never a more satisfying tired than being in the studio for eight to twelve hours. It's the most exhilarating tired. Going on stage, the interaction between you and the audience is one of the most satisfying things ever. I mean, it's just so incredible to get this energy back from what you've given them a hundred fold. It's just back and forth the whole night. It's just like the audience is as exhilarated and exhausted as you are. It's like a wonderful experience. The same holds true for a record because you're communicating to somebody just like a writer would through a book. You're writing a story in a book and you put the book out there and people will respond to the story. It's the same feeling. It's the same thing as putting an album out.
Q - Do you think less of a song that you write in fifteen minutes compared to a song you labored over for months?
A - No, because the one that only took fifteen minutes, I really see that as a gift. It it came out of me in fifteen minutes, it just feels like I didn't have a whole lot to do with it. (laughs) Sometimes those are the most magical songs. There's been songs that I've written like that. I wish I could write them all like that, I really do. That's really an incredible feeling.