English R&B and soul singer James Hunter has quite literally done it all. The 52-year-old is a veteran of the road, the studio, and the writing room. Over the course of his 30-year career, Hunter has fronted numerous groups, been on multiple labels, and toured through more countries than he can count. And while many of us with a stat sheet as stuffed as Hunter’s might be eyeing retirement, perhaps somewhere warm and sandy, he himself is only thinking about doing exactly what he’s been doing since 1986.
Before the Englishman was fronting his first group, Howlin’ Wilf and the Veejays, the Colchester native was just a young lad who was quickly getting inspired by the sounds of American soul and rock & roll. He cites Eddie Cochran as an early influence, yet he said his ears really perked up when he starting listening to African American R&B like Billy Ward and his Dominoes and later on, former Dominoes member Jackie Wilson.
Soon thereafter, as a young man, Hunter was working maintenance on the rails in his hometown when he began playing open mic nights at local pubs. It didn’t take long for his natural talent to become evident, and he was quickly connecting with talented English musicians and looking forward to a career that didn’t take place on the railways.
Hunter’s story of local boy who made it big is not terribly unique, yet his perspective and attitude certainly are. For someone as accomplished and renowned as he is, he is almost painfully humble when discussing his career and successes.
A prime example of this is when I asked him over the telephone how his experiences were like recording and performing with the legendary Van Morrison. Genuinely, Hunter could not recall what specific tracks of Morrison’s that he has been involved on, and when I mentioned that he had (according to the liner notes) played electric guitar and sang backing vocals on “Melancholia” on Morrison’s 1995 album Days Like This, he simply remarked, “Oh yea, and my only job was to sing ‘Melancholia’ over and over again. It really was quite an easy job!”
Over the course of our conversation, Hunter broke out into laughter numerous times, and his thick English accent was often hard for me to understand. It’s obvious that Hunter is true to his roots, still residing humbly in England while not on the road, and it doesn’t seem that fame and recognition are all that important to him.
His Instagram is a collection of goofy selfies and memes, yet sandwiched in between is a casual picture of Hunter singing with the late, great Solomon Burke. In every sense of the word, Hunter is an enigma, an undeniable good guy, and someone who clearly values happiness and laughter above all else.
Hunter will perform at The City Winery in Nashville, TN on May 10th, 2016 in support of his new album Hold On! from Daptone Records.
-Joe Rapolla Jr.