March 21, 2012 —
James Hunter appeared at the Nutshell Arts Center in 2006 and, according to a press release about his next performance there, scheduled for March 23, that first performance boosted his profile in the United States because of a favorable review in The New York Times.
Hunter confirmed that account in a recent phone conversation. “Yeah, it was a review of that gig, and that might have been the first big bit of publicity that we got, and we’d only just started to make headway in the U.S. and we got that straight away, so the lottery gods were smiling on us.”
These days, enter his name into any search engine and you’ll find numerous reviewers favorably comparing him to rhythm and blues artists like Sam Cooke. With a self-deprecating laugh and thick cockney accent, Hunter said, “That was me mum; she said, ‘compared to Sam Cooke, your rubbish,’ that’s where that come from.”
But the accolades are genuine. When Hunter first performed here, a reviewer for People magazine wrote, “Hunter channels Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and Jackie Wilson on a U.S. debut that uncannily captures the essence of vintage ‘50s and early ‘60s R&B.”
Why that particular genre? He said, “It’s got a kind of a warmth and sexiness. I could never quite put my finger on it, but I think most of all it has a kind of a groove.”
Hunter travels with a six-piece band, with two saxophone players, which has been together for 23 years. He writes all of the songs himself and said he has never found anyone that he could write the songs with. But these days he does count on the band members to help with the arrangements. He said he’ll come up with a sort of skeleton arrangement, but “I find these days I can’t do it unless they’re in the room. I give the tenor player one part, and the baritone the other and we sort of see how it sounds, and they throw things in to improve it.”
The performance at the Nutshell is a benefit for Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy. Asked if he was familiar with the issue of hydraulic fracturing, he answered yes, that he had read up about it and it seemed to him that “it hasn’t been fully tested to determine whether it’s safe, so it’s an ecological question, and we’re up for it for that.”
Additionally, he said, the appearance is a benefit for WJFF, “because they were one of the first radio stations in the U.S. to play our stuff, so we’re old mates, really.”
Go to www.nutshellarts.com  for more information.