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James Hunter

James Hunter possesses an iconic, reedy tenor voice and signature phrasing; he is one of the finest British blue-eyed soul singers to emerge from the late 20th century. Hunter's recordings feature rhythm & blues in the style of the 1950s, pitched between R&B, early rock & roll, and early soul. His 1994 solo debut, ...Believe What I Say, included guest appearances by Doris Troy and Van Morrison. Hunter appeared on some of Morrison's mid-'90s albums. Further, Hunter, is a skilled guitarist and songwriter as evidenced by 2001's Kick It Around, and 2008's The Hard Way. He enlisted Gabriel Roth to produce for 2013's Minute by Minute for Concord and signed to the producer's Daptone label shortly thereafter for 2016's Hold On! 2018's Whatever It Takes was inspired by Hunter's recent marriage. In 2022, Daptone released the 12-song JH6 compilation With Love. Hunter was born into a working-class English family in Colchester, Essex. Among his earliest musical influences was a collection of rock & roll and rhythm & blues 78s given to him by his grandmother. His older brother Perry Hunstman (Hunter's given surname) taught him his first chord on a guitar ("G"). Vintage roots music, singing and playing the guitar became Hunter's primary focus in life before he was ten. At 16, Hunter left school and began working for the railroad while honing his guitar and singing chops. Six years later, he played his first paid gig at the Colchester Labour club as Howlin' Wilf & the Vee-Jays. In 1986, at 24, the band issued its first of four independently issued albums, Cry Wilf. The mini-album Blue Men Sing the Whites followed in 1987. In 1988, Hunter won European acclaim for the band's Unamerican Activities. Their final outing was 1990's 6 by Six. Van Morrison caught Howlin' Wilf & the Vee-Jays at the 100 Club on Oxford Street, and was knocked out by Hunter's singing. After the Vee-Jays split, he hired Hunter as a backing vocalist and guitarist. (The band also included Candy Dulfer and Kate St. John.) Hunter appeared on Morrison's live 1994 outing A Night in San Francisco and 1995's The Healing Game. The Celtic soulman returned the favor; he appeared on Hunter's 1998 solo Ace Records debut ...Believe What I Say. Hunter wrote most of the material for his 2001 release Kick It Around. Go Records/Rounder picked him up a few years later, and he released his globally celebrated third album, 2006's People Gonna Talk. The album was nominated for a 2006 Grammy Award. Hunter left Rounder after the its release and signed a deal with Hear Music. He released The Hard Way in 2008. While on tour, Hunter's wife Jacqueline was diagnosed with cancer and he took time off to care for her; she died in October 2011. Hunter wanted to acknowledge the band, who had been with him since the early 1990s. When he decided to record again, it was as the James Hunter Six. In 2012, they teamed up with producer Bosco Mann (Gabriel Roth), co-founder of Daptone Records. The album Minute by Minute was released by Go Records in February of 2013. The James Hunter Six toured relentlessly in support of it. They played high-profile club and festival dates as headliners, and shared stages with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Budos Band, and others. Based on both the quality of the music they made and the easy touring camaraderie the group shared with Daptone acts, Roth signed Hunter to his label. In 2015, JH6 holed up with Roth again at the producer's Penrose Recorders (aka Daptone West) in Riverside, California, and recorded live-to-eight-track tape. They cut new originals in a variety of rhythms, culling some 35 songs to get ten. On January 22, 2016, the single "Something's Calling" was released and followed a month later by the full-length Hold On! on Concord. That same year, England's Mojo magazine proclaimed Hunter "The United Kingdom’s Greatest Soul Singer." The band toured England, Europe, and the United States where he met his second wife Jesse. 2018's Whatever It Takes contained ten original tracks that experimented with a plethora of rhythms; it was studio recorded live to eight-track (analog) tape. Issued in February 2018, it was produced by Mann and followed by a nine month world tour. The album's title track, as well as singles "I Don't Wanna Be Without You" and I Got Eyes," were directly influenced by Hunter's love for Jesse. The title song was offered as encouragement as she underwent a particularly grueling process to gain residency in the United Kingdom. The James Hunter Six re-teamed with Mann for 2020's Nick of Time. Its first single, "I Can Change Your Mind," was a midtempo rhumba that reflected the band's continued experimentation with vintage dance rhythms. The recording was released in early March during the band's U.S. tour. Shortly after, the tour was canceled due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Two years later, Daptone issued With Love, a compilation of 12 romantic ballads and songs plucked from his label catalog.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo


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