Gerry Hundt is a wunderkind of a blues and old-timey music multi-instrumentalist who plays as many roles as he does instruments, performing as a bandleader as well as a sideman, in full bands, quartets, trios, duos and solo.
But his “Legendary One-Man Band” has become Hundt’s alter ego, just as, say, Spiderman is Peter Parker’s. And to see him in action on his guitar/harmonica/bass drum/snare rig one wonders if Hundt was bitten by a radioactive boll weevil in his youth, enabling him to tear it up on his own terms, transforming from merely Gerry Hundt, musician, into “Gerry Hundt the Legendary One-Man Band,” sprouting stringed instruments, rack attachments and foot devices, and bursting into a set of hot, rag-time blues. I mean, I don’t know, but then there was that time he “went to Colorado,” and came back a full-fledged one-man-band-kind-of a musician. I’m just sayin’.
Okay, then how and why does he do it? Is it just because he can—like chewing gum and walking at the same time—but while solving a Rubik’s Cube, giving a fiery filibuster and dancing a tarantella? You know, there are musicians, and there are performers. And then there are entertainers. Hundt is an entertainer—in the classic sense of “all-in and fully involved.” In the tradition of musical gizmo geniuses Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller, Joe Hill Louis and Dr. Ross, he’s a guitar-pickin’, drum-thumpin’, kazoo-blowin’ kinetic combination of Rube Goldberg, Blind Boy Fuller, the Mississippi Sheiks and a medicine show at a tent revival meeting.
I mean, the boy lays one helluva racket!
His biographical notes mention how as a kid he loved Sesame Street, with its educational cameos from many great musicians (B.B. King, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Lena Horne, Celia Cruz and more), and he was nuts about the Jungle Book soundtrack (with vocals by Phil Harris, George Burns and the great Louis Prima!). A former teacher said: “Gerry has a great love for music and dancing...He has many friends who look forward to seeing him.” Picture this cute, perhaps slightly disruptive little guy who loves music so much that he can’t wait to get to school to share it with his loyal and happy friends.
Gerry Hundt is still like that as an adult. His friends are still happy to see him, and his audiences are, too. In fact, one of his favorite gigs is the outdoor farmers’ market in nearby Chesterton, Indiana.
“It’s as close as I’m going to get to Maxwell Street,” says Gerry, referring to the iconic former open-air Chicago market, famous for generations of street corner blues performers. “But you know, the cool thing is that people who don’t frequent bars—and children—have a chance to see the music and what I’m doing. And I hear this all the time, ‘We heard you from across the way and we just assumed with that much noise it must be a couple guys!’ I also recently bought a back-mounted bass drum and high hat, so every time I play the market I take a walk for about 20 minutes around the whole thing making noise. People kind of dig it.”
Being a one-man band has a few other advantages, too. Gerry can accurately claim that he never has hassles with sidemen; no one showing up late, or drunk, or both—but also there’s no one to blame if you’re out of tune, miss a beat or blow a chord change! When you’re a one-man band, you’re like a trapeze artist performing without a net.
In fact, isn’t a one-man band a perfect metaphor for modern man—the “multi-tasker”—who can be seen in any metropolis making notes while talking on his cell to seal a business deal while eating lunch in line at an ATM while making a mental note that Friday is his wife’s birthday and the kids need new shoes. A big difference is that Gerry loves what he does.
So how did this come about?
“It was sort of necessity,” says Hundt. “When I moved to Indiana [from Rockford, IL] I really didn’t know anybody. I offered to play this little restaurant, simply because I wasn’t doing much else. I played guitar and harmonica and dragged along a bass drum and a high hat. Then I got a gig over at the Coach Lite Inn [in Chesterton] where I played for about two-and-a-half years with my one-man band.”
Hundt’s college pal John Alex Mason had dabbled with the one-man band concept, and when living in Rockford, IL Hundt had regularly crossed the Wisconsin border to see guitarist Glenn Davis accompany himself with a bass drum at his Silver Moon club in Darien. “And one of the first blues shows I ever saw live—I think I was 12—I won tickets to see John Hammond at the Times Theatre in Rockford. Hammond got up there with the resonator and the [harmonica] rack. And when he stomped his foot, you could really hear it. He played with this intensity. And played harp as well as he played guitar. And stomped his foot hard. It made an impression on me.”
Hundt began playing harmonica while at Middlebury College in Vermont, and took guitar and theory lessons from the talented Paul Asbell. Back in Rockford he played harp with the Fellartones, and after taking a construction job in Colorado, moved over to the bass to play with the ClamDaddys. He also played harp with his old friend John Alex Mason in Colorado and hosted a jam in Lakewood where he met guitarist and bandleader Nick Moss. From 2004 to 2009 Hundt then toured and recorded with Moss’ band, The Flip Tops, playing bass, guitar, harmonica, and mandolin. In quick order he appeared on or helped engineer dozens of recordings for others. In 2007 he recorded his own CD, Since Way Back, on Moss’ Blue Bella imprint, which won several awards for his blues mandolin playing. It was around this same time that his one-man band, originally called “Steady Groove, the One-Man Chicago Blues Band,” began. “As far as the development,” says Hundt of his one-man band concept, “it was an electric thing that developed into more of an acoustic thing.
“It was just a process. I started out with the bass drum and high hat and just kept adding on to the original rig. I added a snare and then another high hat. Started out electric. And then became more interested in doing the acoustic thing. And I downsized to a smaller rig: snare and bass drum and a high hat, just to save some tone and keep it more acoustic. I just went more and more that way. Then when I got the Farmer Foot Drum, that sealed the deal with the more acoustic sounds, because I could have a brush on a snare and play ghost notes. The rig I had before just had a bass drum pedal with this little wire brush attached to it and it wasn’t springy enough to play ghost notes effectively. See you have the back beat, which is the strong 2, then the ghost notes are what makes the train sound, the “chick-chick-a-chick,” the little accents in-between the back beats. All the triggers from the Farmer drum are spring-loaded, so if you bounce, they bounce. Bass drums are like that, but the Farmer instrument is just more sensitive and can pick up on those things.
“It’s basically a single integrated instrument with the bass drum, high hat and snare, and then seven pedals. It’s a lot easier than [my previous] set. That set-up took me about an hour to put together—per gig. Now with this set, it takes me about ten seconds to set up the drums and about 15 minutes to set up. So it saves me quite a bit of time. And aggravation.
“People ask, ‘how do you do all that?’ Well, you don’t think about it. I mean, I can’t. If I thought about it, it would never work. It’s like Charlie Parker said, ‘You learn your act, and then you forget about everything.’ That’s kind of the way it is. I don’t take a lot of guitar solos when I’m doing the one-man band. The guitar is the glue that holds everything together between the harmonica and the drums. The harmonica is sort of the variable in the equation. The harmonica and the kazoo get to be the melodic elements in the one-man band and they get to sail around and do crazy stuff. But the drums and guitar, they have to be locked together at all times.
“It’s just practice—doing it all the time. When you start out, you walk. [i.e., use both feet] Bass drum, high hat. Bass drum, high hat. And some folks don’t get past that. [But] Doctor Ross and Joe Hill Louis—it was just quarter notes on everything. And that’s a lot harder to do than you would think.
“The Big John Wrencher Maxwell St. Alley Blues record (Barrelhouse, 1969) was a touchpoint for me. I wanted to re-create that feeling of a Chicago blues band for myself and the way that I heard things. I was strictly electric when I started out and I got more acoustic over the years. There’s a couple electric tracks on that CD that kind of hearken back to that.”
Hundt is speaking of his new CD, Gerry Hundt’s Legendary One-Man Band (Steady Groove), and the electric tracks he is referencing are his originals Stompin’ and Shoutin’, Broadway Boogie and his take on Jimmy Rogers’ classic, Goin’ Away Baby. Hundt approximates the spirit of that drum-crashing, cone-rattling, shout-through-the-harp-mike, street-corner Maxwell St. scene where Big John Wrencher, Guitar Buddy and “Playboy” Venson played in the 1960s and ’70s. But of course, he is doing it all himself. As someone who was there and sat in with those guys, I assure you Gerry Hundt would have been a right fit.
And the tracks on which Hundt plays resonator guitar faithfully elicit a pre-electric era, as his take on the familiar Walkin’ Blues, and his originals, the bouncy hokum number Take it Outside and the stomping, tear-down-the-jook-joint County Line. The latter deserves special mention for its marvelous Doctor Ross’ inspired doubling of the guitar and harp lines on a deceivingly bright and bouncy number with dark undertones.
“Yeah, I like that one, too,” says Hundt.
On Broke Down, yet another of his own numbers, he astonishingly finger picks through his own low-down harmonica solo.
The CD features a variety of styles, from fine finger-picking blues, sweet ragtime, trad old-timey, hokum and gospel melodies, all in some variation of a one-man band setting.
“Everything that I do kind of finds its way in there,” says Hundt. “And the solo guitar instrumental stuff: if you listen, it’s two different parts, there’s the alternating bass, then there’s the melody lines. So it’s sort of the guitar as a one-man band.”
Hundt’s original instrumentals include the lovely Mississippi John Hurt-meets John Fahey-style finger picked Sunset, plus Market Morning Reel and Kitchen Dance, as well as the frailed banjo (with bass drum) Coffee Creek.
Even his covers of the raucous trad number Salty Dog, Elizabeth Cotton’s classic Freight Train and Mississippi John Hurt’s Baby What’s Wrong With You sound as if they were Hundt originals.
The closing track is an instrumental medley combining two gospel classics, I Shall Not Be Moved with I’ll Fly Away.
“I changed up the tempo midway through,” says Hundt of the medley. “That whole half-time 4-4 beat played against a gospel thing, that was inspired by Ralph Kinsey [son of the late “Big Daddy” Kinsey of The Kinsey Report and a frequent musical collaborator with Hundt]. He would do that. The groove was so deep when he would do it that way.
“I want to push further, says Hundt. “I’ve been flirting with Me, Myself and I, that tune. Even guitar rag stuff like Blind Boy Fuller, Truckin’ My Blues Away, because it works well with the one-man band and people really like it at the market. It’s fun for me to play, too, of course. And it’s challenging. It’s physically demanding. And mentally as well."
Check out Gerry Hundt’s amazing Legendary One-Man Band. And swing it with someone you really like.
From low down Joe Hill Louis style boogies to delicate Elizabeth Cotton style fingerpicking, this set of one man band performances captures the versatility & skill of Gerry Hundt. Former sideman with NICK MOSS & THE FLIPTOPS and EASY BILL & THE BIG BEAT, Hundt is a multi instrumentalist who has mastered the solo style quite well. His take on the classics (tracks 3-6-7-9-14-15) shows an intuitive understanding of the thrust of the song while bringing his own style to the fore. His own songs reflect a thorough understanding of the genre without relying on cliche-ridden verses. This is a well played and different release from a truly creative soul..........
From BluesBlast Magazine (review):
Once upon a time, not so long ago, the word “legendary” was only used to describe the most marvelous wonders and audacious feats of humankind. Now it’s commonplace – so much so that there’s an Internet meme saying, “It’s legen…wait for it…dary!”. How can blues listeners help this word regain its former glory? One way is by testing any musician who makes such a claim, as Rockford, IL-raised, Chicago stalwart Gerry Hundt does while promoting his Legendary One-Man Band... On six covers and nine originals, Gerry Hundt plays foot-stomping, old-fashioned blues. No one will hear any New Millennium synthesizers here. Even though Hundt’s vocals are a bit flat, the album is first rate.
How does Hundt succeed as a one-man band? As he says in his informational promo sheet, “It’s just practice – doing it all the time. When you start out, you walk [i.e., use both feet] – bass drum, high-hat [cymbals]. Bass drum, high hat. And some folks don’t get past that.” Assuredly, Gerry is not just “some folks”. He’s a veteran of the blues full of dedication, not a dilettante.
Track 02: “Stompin’ and Shoutin’” – Sometimes “raising sand,” as the blues saying goes, just isn’t worth the hassle in a relationship: “Stompin’ and a shoutin’ ain’t gonna do you no good. You gotta calm down, baby, like you know you should.” Is this funny or sad? For a clue, check the back of the CD cover. Above this song’s title is a high-heeled shoe with a broken heel. The best part of this song is the harmonica, rueful and witty at the same time.
Track 05: “Sunset” – Does acoustic reverie belong on a blues album? Yes, indeed! Sometimes the low-down aching chill of regret arrives gradually. On a different note, relaxation and peace are what the blues helps people to find. Kick back and enjoy the mellow “Sunset” while it lasts.
Track 11: “Take It Outside” – When tranquility can’t be found, however, it’s time for a battle. Featuring high hat, drums, and a kazoo that kicks tail, track eleven contains a suggestion for proper combat: “When you’re getting drunk and you want to fight, put the beer down and do it right. Take it outside – that’s just what you’ve gotta do.”
Without a doubt, Gerry Hundt’s got a Legendary One Man Band!
From BluesJunction Productions:
This brand new album is a beauty...The album visits so many different styles. I think it is a lot of fun. I also don’t think that it needs to be explained to people in any esoteric terms to enjoy it.... I know I was moved by your music. You should be very proud of the new CD. It is simply marvelous. Congratulations!
From BluesBlast Magazine (feature):
...Hundt’s latest album, Gerry Hundt’s Legendary One-Man Band (SteadyGroove, 2015) grew out of his performing solo in local farmers’ markets and clubs. The fifteen songs on the album—featuring nine Hundt originals—capture Hundt’s shouting blues vocals, his energetic, fluid fret work, and his funky harp playing... The album leaps off to a rollicking start with “Market Morning Reel,” a down-home country blues that shows off Hundt’s facile finger picking. “Stompin’ & Shoutin’” jumps off with Hundt’s chooglin’ harp work that weaves under and around his electric guitar work and his blues growl. He’s making all this music himself, establishing a groove that he keeps up on other tracks on the album, especially “Broadway Boogie,” which lives up to the promise of its title, letting your backbone slip and getting up off your chair to dance, and his cover of Jimmy Rogers’ “Goin’ Away Baby,” which starts out with a mournful mouthful of harp, then escalates to a chuggin’ harp rhythm that imitates the rocking and rolling of going down the road feeling good and bad. With its lilting finger-picked guitar, underscored by Hundt’s ability to provide his own bass line on his guitar behind the melody, “Sunset’—with many of its phrases coming from “Silent Night”—would be just at home on a jazz album, and on “Coffee Creek,” Hundt creates a multi-layered cascade of beauty on his banjo. Hundt’s jaunty kazoo playing sparks the opening of the traditional “Salty Dog,” and on this one song, Hundt demonstrates quite readily the ways that blues and bluegrass intersect in old-time music. On “Take It Outside,” Hundt uses his kazoo to create the frenetic pace of ragtime, blues boogie that captures the anxious, jumpy, sauciness of what happens outside the doors of the bar. “Broke Down” is a traditional blues at its very best, and Hundt closes the album with an instrumental medley of two traditional gospel songs; he slows down “I Shall not Be Moved” almost to a march in a finger picking style on his resonator guitar that captures its forlorn determination, and then he picks up the pace on “I’ll Fly Away” to capture its joyful spirit, ending on a riff that resembles the sound of flight.
One of the most entertaining features of Hundt’s new album is the cover art, which was drawn by Colby Aitchison. The back cover illustrations capture each song’s subject in one drawing; so, a jaunty-looking dog in sailor’s hat depicts the tune, “Salty Dog”; “Kitchen Dance” is represented by two lovers dancing next to their stove, while in the background two mice also waltz across the floor. On the album’s front cover, Hundt, the one-man band, sits smack in the center of these depictions from the back cover. Spry and lively, the cover art of the album signals the promise of the brisk, bracing, and lively songwriting and music within the sleeves.