The Headhunters have been strutting their cool, percolating jazz-funk rituals on and off since 1973—most famously with keyboardist Herbie Hancock—which rather proves the theorem that you can’t trip up an insistent groove. But stepping into an iconic band known for shaking butts out of seats still requires some surehanded moves.
"I'm playing with guys who are so locked down and tight that if I breathe wrong, they’re looking my way,” laughs Jerry Stucker, who joins ’70s-era Headhunters Paul Jackson (bass), Mike Clark (drums), and Bill Summers (percussion)— along with keyboardist Brian Jackson—on the band's latest single, “High Fly” [Basin Street Records].
Stucker started out in Chicago, soaking up the city’s blues and R&B styles, and developed a smooth, crystal-clear tone characterized by cagey dynamic shifts and slap-like pops and pick attacks. But while these techniques let Stucker chug along in the belly of the groove, he can also soar, as shown by his long, slinky solo on “High Fly.”
“Whether playing lead or rhythm, I strive to get control of my attack, so I can put the dynamics where I want them,” says Stucker. “Then, it’s getting my listening so sharp that I can drop a part almost anywhere and not step on any of the other rhythms that are going on. For the tones, I have this old ESP Navigator with EMG pickups that has a lot punch, but doesn’t produce overly strong mids that can interfere with the other instruments. I like a solidstate sound for rhythm, so I plug into a modified Roland Cube 60 loaded with an Altec speaker. For heavier parts, I’ll use a Tech 21 SansAmp, because I can get distortion that isn’t too fat and takes over. I use a heavy pick to get more snap and dynamic range, as well as to keep a strong, even strum going—which is crucial to the Headhunters sound.”