Gerry Hundt – Feed the Kitty!
by Aaron Porter
Gerry Hundt has become a staple of acoustic excellence at Legends. His incredible guitar licks and unique style of mandolin playing (among his numerous other instruments) have garnered him a strong reputation amoung his peers and fans. While he may not have decades of music under his belt, Gerry more than makes up for it in his love for the music.
Bluesletter: When did you decide music is what you wanted to do?
Gerry Hundt: I have a pretty specific date when that happened. In early spring 2001, I was working in New York as a stage hand and my college friend John-Alex Mason called me. He had been playing some solo acoustic Blues and wanted to know if I was interested in doing a week’s worth of shows with him out in Colorado. That sounded pretty good to me, so I went and it was a lot of fun. A couple months later he called me again, I went out there for another week and he said, “We’re moving out to Golden and we’ll have an extra room to rent, what do you think?” I had paid my student loans by then and I thought, let’s give it a shot.
BL: What was the first instrument you got your hands on?
GH: The harmonica. In the first half of the first game in my junior year of varsity soccer, I ended up with a season-ending injury. While I was out, I volunteered as a kids’ soccer coach and also picked up this harmonica that I had gotten as a stocking stuffer the Christmas before. I went through the little book that came with it, learned that stuff, and then went to a local record store in Rockford and bought Junior Wells and Buddy Guy’s Alone and Acoustic. I was also a big fan of Jimi Hendrix at the time so I’d play along with their music and others until I finally got the gumption to go out and play with the bands in high school and college.
BL: You have a college degree correct? Has your field of study ever had an influence on your music?
GH: That’s true, I graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Classics (Latin and ancient Greek) and minored in French. I went to Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. It was a little amusing when my parents asked me, “You’re going to study Latin and ancient Greek, what are you going to do to that?” I’ll admit I was a little cheeky at that age and I said, “Anything I want.” So here I am, a Classics scholar living the dream. As far as influencing my music, I think it helps my writing in that certain elements of the human condition are timeless – Aristotle knew what the Blues was, man! I have a fascination with language, and music is the perfect extension of that.
BL: I knew a little about this prior to this meeting but you are a pretty big deal with the mandolin, at least that’s what I hear from other artists.
GH: You know, when I was out touring with Nick Moss I saw there were a lot of guitar players, a lot of harmonica players, and a few piano players. I always loved blues mandolin but I only knew of Billy Flynn and Rich DelGrosso as contemporary players go. It is such a cool Blues instrument and it was a little bit forgotten when guitars went electric so [pullquote]I just wanted to make a really raw Blues mandolin record.[/pullquote] So that’s what we ended up doing in Nick’s studio. It ended up doing reasonably well sales-wise, garnered some pretty good reviews, and the “mandolin world” received it very well. It also led to a slot in the Montreal Music Festival; a promoter, Christian Boncour, flew me over to France to do a 90-minute show that featured the Blues mandolin, which was amazing. It has definitely led to some very cool opportunities.
BL: You said for the most part Since Way Back got good reviews, were there some that were less flattering? How were you able to work past that as an artist?
GH: That’s an excellent question. You can get all the good reviews that you want but there are always one or two bad ones that stick with you. They came from two pretty well known publications and it was a little tough to deal with at first. One of the reviewers, from his previous articles, was more of a Rock/Blues fan than a traditional Blues fan. In doing that research though, I realized one of the most important things for an artist – what you create isn’t necessarily for everyone. I made this record for the people who enjoy traditional Blues – just a really good Chicago Blues album that just happened to have mandolin in it.
BL: You’ve appeared on roughly 600,000 (joke) different albums playing various instruments, and you’ve also put out albums under your own name, do you have a preference or do you feel like it is more of a symbiotic relationship?
GH: As far as being a sideman goes, you’re there to do a job and your job is to is to walk the line between interpreting what the leader wants and providing your own creative input. You have to read the situation and play what the leader wants you to play and see if they’re comfortable with you putting in your input. I really like recording in general, whether it’s my own stuff or someone else’s, I’m always up to do anything like that. I’m going to be on the new Cash Box Kings record and I’m really excited about that. I also have a little analog recording studio here in Indiana so I’m still working on my own stuff. We just started recording an EP for Corey Dennison so that’ll be really cool.
BL: When you were touring it took you all over the US and Europe, is there a venue that you loved the most or found most memorable?
GH: Well, those are two very different questions (laughing).
BL: You’re absolutely right (laughing)
GH: It was a really exciting time when I was in Nick Moss’ band; we were working and traveling a lot, all over the place. Certainly some of the less luxurious places left an impression. One that comes to mind is a certain band house down in the South. I had pretty bad allergies so I went out and slept in the van, but all the guys in the band woke up with spider bites the next day.
BL: Oh no!
GH: Yeah it was pretty unpleasant. We played lots of great gigs: Harry’s over in Cape Cod, Chan’s in Rhode Island, Café Boogaloo in California and many more. I always like going down to Key West to the Green Parrot. I can’t recall a single bad night that we ever had over in Europe. There was one place that really took care of us, the Sang a Klang in Luxembourg. It is an old chorus hall, and they would have Blues shows in there. The promoters took us out to this amazing Italian restaurant for a meal I’ll never forget. I could say my favorite venue was in Tournon d’Agenais, France when they flew me out to do the mandolin show. Rolling into town and seeing my face posted all over was just fantastic. Those guys over there treated me so well. It was a 400-seat capacity and it sold out. It was awesome, and you know only in the Blues can you sell seats for $40 a head, and sell out, only to come back and play my normal Tuesday night gig in Indiana to no one. There was literally no one.
BL: The Chicago Blues community has lost a lot of friends over the past few years, one of which was a frequent collaborator of yours, Bob Carter.
GH: I’m not sure anyone who knew Bob has really come to terms with his passing. For me, I don’t know man, I could always count on Bob for some off-beat commentary or just the odd phone call in the middle of the week to kind of catch up and he’d tell me about what he was watching or something he had heard on the radio. I had all of these messages from him that I didn’t really think to save and I wish I had because they were pretty outstanding. When you play music with someone you develop a deep bond with them, and it left a void when he passed. He was such a great guy, friend, and musician. He was a wealth of knowledge on any subject you can think of. There are a lot of stories out there about Bob that people have. One time we were missing a mic stand and Bob said, “I’ve been playing in this town 40 fucking years, if I can’t find a mic stand between here and the Blue Bayou then forget it!” Sure enough he got on the phone when we were driving down Ashland and out of nowhere he says, “Turn right!” Sure enough we turn right and there was a porch light on with someone standing there holding a mic waiting for Bob. Turns out it was one of his drum students (laughing). “Another recent loss that hit me hard was John-Alex Mason, who I mentioned previously. He was in his mid-30s and left behind a wife, young daughter and son – who was not even born yet, and has been named after his grandpa Jack. He’d also just released what many thought was his best record ever, Jook Joint Thunderclap, which fused Delta, Hill-Country, Chicago Blues, and even Hip-Hop. I wrote a song for him, “Jaybird,” that was included on a tribute CD and performed at the memorial concert last January in Colorado Springs. There’s a great video of it on YouTube. He had a great voice and presence – he was just luminous, physically and spiritually – everyone who knew him loved him. The combination of his and Bob’s deaths this last year was really a blow to me… but, at the same time, I feel all the more inspired to play my best because this is it, you know?”
BL: Are you still involved with the Blues in schools?
GH: You know, as much as I can be, I don’t get out there as much as I like. The Crossroads Blues Society out in Rockford have hired me a couple of times to do presentations, one of which that was at my alma mater. That was a really rewarding experience. I really try to involve them and tailor my presentation to the audience; the youngest kids are really fascinated by the guitar and the sounds they make. I always have so much fun doing the presentations and they always seem to go by so quickly.
BL: I saw that you have some instructional videos on YouTube.
GH: Yeah, I was inspired by my friend, Ronnie Shellist, who basically made a career out of being an online harmonica instructor. He had this great YouTube video of him just kind of blowing some riffs along with a prerecorded track, and it got over a million views. He parlayed that into a teaching career and now he does lessons over Skype. I wanted to increase my YouTube presence a little so I put a couple of instructional videos up there. The videos are kind of an outlet for me to show folks what I’ve figured out and pass it on, because a lot of beginning mandolin players and even some of the intermediate players find themselves getting bogged down in the details. I want to show them that this is music to have fun with, to have a beer with; you don’t want to get to technical with it. I mean you can just beat on the thing and it’ll make some noise – isn’t that great? (laughs)
BL: You have a fairly significant online footprint or presence if you will, with the YouTube, your own web site, and a Wikipedia page, did you create all of that stuff yourself?
GH: No, I didn’t actually create the Wiki page, and we might be pulling the curtain back a little bit, but my brother in law who happens to be a professor at Oklahoma State created that for me. I was kind of taken aback to see that too, and I happened to mention it to him and he said, “Yeah, I did that.” (Laughs) It was pretty great, but I do manage most of it. I put together the Weebly website – it’s pretty easy to use, most of it’s just drag and drop. I had a web site before where I coded the entire html, but when I switched it made things a lot easier.
BL: Do you still have the beard?
GH: Yes. It’s magnificent, and still not finished.
BL: I had to ask about it, because it was quite a change from how I was used to seeing you. The beard was getting pretty serious so I was wondering if there was some mad Blues magic contained therein?
GH: I don’t think so, I mean it came about while we were touring in Florida and it was really hot. We were playing a bunch of places and really some of the places were a little difficult to deal with so I did the only sensible thing, I grew a protest beard.
BL: Well that’ll learn ‘em! (Laughing)
GH: Right! (Laughing) Once I grew it I just kind of decided to keep it. It’s been a couple different shapes and sizes but now it’s just growing out. So now I’m trying to do the Billy Gibbons thing.
BL: I saw of photo of you doing your one-man band and you had a bucket that said “meow” on it, do you still have it and is there a story behind it?
GH: Oh yeah – Phil DeBucket! He comes with me on every one-man-band gig I do – he helps keep the tank full and the drummer out of jail – he’s an important part of the band. It also makes it easier for people to buy a CD, they can just drop the money in the bucket and grab a CD. Those were letters that were left over from another project. At gigs, people will say “Meow?” and their friends will nudge ‘em and say, “Feed the kitty!”