Steve Hunter on Classic Sessions: Going Pro

I thought I might go a little off topic this month, just to give you a little history as to how it all began for me—at least professionally.
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I thought I might go a little off topic this month, just to give you a little history as to how it all began for me—at least professionally. And, in next month’s column, I’ll fill you in on what it was like the first time I was in an actual recording studio environment.

Not long after my discharge from the Army in January 1970, I began playing in a number of local bands in my hometown of Decatur, Illinois. I knew I had to do that in order to figure out how to become a musician. One of my favorites was a band called the Light Brigade. I think it was a pretty good band, and we had a lot of fun, although we didn’t make a lot of money. I got a phone call one day from a friend of mine—a great bass player named John Sauter—who told me he was with a band called Detroit featuring Mitch Ryder. Of course, I knew who Mitch Ryder was—I was a huge fan of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. He said they were auditioning guitar players, and that I ought to come up to Detroit and give it a go. My gut told me this was a chance of a lifetime, so I threw my Gibson SG into the back seat of my beat-up Ford Falcon, and I hit the road for the six-hour journey to the Motor City. (Throughout my career, I’ve learned to rely heavily on my gut, and it has never let me down.)

I arrived at a condemned building on Cass Avenue near downtown Detroit. It was in a not-so-good neighborhood, and I really thought I had come to the wrong place, but the door was open, so I went in. As I was climbing the stairs of this cold and dreary building, I started hearing people talking. As there were no cell phones back then, I arrived unannounced. There was a lot of activity, and I later found out this was the headquarters of Creem Magazine. I told somebody who I was and why I was there with a guitar in my hand. That somebody made a couple of phone calls and came back to inform me that Mitch, Johnny Bee (the original drummer for the Detroit Wheels), and my friend John Sauter would all be in the building for rehearsals in a couple of hours. So I settled into a funky old sofa, listened to the loud blues playing on the radio, and watched everybody run around doing stuff.

When everyone showed up, we went up another flight of stairs to a sort of giant boardroom. (Luckily for me, I didn’t notice the bullet holes in the widows until later!) Drums and a P.A. were set up, and, then, I saw it—a Marshall half-stack. I couldn’t believe my eyes! This was something I had wanted to play through since I saw pictures of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton using them. Suddenly, it didn’t seem to matter if I got the gig or not. I was gonna play through a Marshall, and that was all that mattered.

I plugged in, and the sound that came out was absolute bliss. As I didn’t know any of the band’s tunes, we decided to play the Cream version of “Crossroads.” All I can remember was that the whole experience was heavenly. Great players, Mitch was in top form, and the sound of that Marshall was to die for. And, to top the whole thing off, I got the gig. That day began my longtime love affair with the sound of Marshall amps, and it also began my professional career.

While we were playing, another person entered the room. His name was Bob Ezrin.

To be continued...

Sometimes called “The Deacon,” Steve Hunter is an American guitarist best known for his collaborations with Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, and Alice Cooper. Hunter has played some of the greatest riffs in rock history, including the opening solos on Aerosmith’s version of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” and Alice Cooper’s “Cold Ethyl,” and the acoustic intro to Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill.” He also wrote the legendary “Intro” for Lou Reed’s 1973 live version of “Sweet Jane.”