Robert Hunter (lyricist)

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Robert Hunter
Robert Hunter Town Hall 2013-10-10.jpg
Robert Hunter, 2013
Background information
Birth name Robert Burns
Born (1941-06-23) June 23, 1941 (age 73)
San Luis Obispo, California, United States
Genres Folk rock, bluegrass, country rock, rock and roll, psychedelic rock, blues-rock
Occupation(s) Musician, singer-songwriter, poet, translator
Instruments Guitar, harmonica, mandolin, upright bass, trumpet
Years active 1962–present
Labels Relix Records, Dark Star Records, Round Records
Associated acts Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan
Website www.dead.net/band/robert-hunter

Robert C. Hunter (born June 23, 1941) is an American lyricist, singer-songwriter, translator, and poet, best known for his work with the Grateful Dead and for collaborating with singer-songwriter Bob Dylan.

Biography[edit]

He was born Robert Burns in San Luis Obispo, California. An early friend of Jerry Garcia, they played together in bluegrass bands (such as the Tub Thumpers) in the early sixties, with Hunter on mandolin and upright bass.

Around 1962, Hunter was an early volunteer test subject (along with Ken Kesey) for psychedelic chemicals at Stanford University's research covertly sponsored by the CIA in their MKULTRA program. [McNally 42] He was paid to take LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline and report on his experiences, which were creatively formative for him: "Sit back picture yourself swooping up a shell of purple with foam crests of crystal drops soft nigh they fall unto the sea of morning creep-very-softly mist...and then sort of cascade tinkley-bell like (must I take you by the hand, every so slowly type) and then conglomerate suddenly into a peal of silver vibrant uncomprehendingly, blood singingly, joyously resoundingbells....By my faith if this be insanity, then for the love of God permit me to remain insane." [McNally 42-43]

The first lyrics he wrote for the Grateful Dead were composed while on LSD, and mailed to the band from Arizona: a suite that would later become "China Cat Sunflower"/"The Eleven" (these were originally performed together for a short time). "China Cat Sunflower" would later find a partner in "I Know You Rider". After battling moderate drug addiction, he abandoned his Joycean/Western vision quest and joined his old friend's band, the Grateful Dead, on the first weekend in September 1967, at the small Rio Nido, California, gigs. The association was at first informal, but began on an auspicious note, as that weekend he wrote the first verse of one of his better-known songs, "Dark Star". It is perhaps not a coincidence that some Deadheads argue that the Rio Nido gigs were the first in which the band accessed the full power of their psychedelic improvisation style.[citation needed]

Hunter's relationship with the band grew until he was officially a non-performing band member. When the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, Hunter was included as a band member, the only non-performer ever so honored.[1] The majority of the Grateful Dead's original songs are Hunter/Garcia collaborations, where Garcia composed the music and Hunter wrote the lyrics. Garcia once described Hunter as "the band member who doesn't come out on stage with us." Hunter also collaborated as a lyricist with the other voices in the Dead, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, although over time Weir, the other principal songwriter besides Garcia, switched to using John Perry Barlow as a lyricist.

Hunter called 1970's "Friend of the Devil" the closest he and Garcia came to writing a classic song.[2] Hunter's best-known line is probably What a long, strange trip it's been, from that year's "Truckin'".

In 1974, Hunter released the solo album Tales of the Great Rum Runners featuring himself as a singer songwriter. It was followed the next year by Tiger Rose. Neither attracted a large audience. Another of his solo efforts is the extremely rare recording Jack O' Roses, containing the extended version of "Terrapin Station Suite" (sans the non-Hunter "At A Siding") and a solo rendition of "Friend Of The Devil".

In 1983, Hunter convinced Relix magazine founder, Les Kippel, to start a record company. Hunter wanted an American outlet for his new project Jack O'Roses.

Robert Hunter performing in the early 1980s.

Hunter has collaborated with Bob Dylan on several occasions; he co-wrote two songs on Dylan's 1988 album Down in the Groove, all but one of the songs on Dylan's 2009 album Together Through Life,[3] and "Duquesne Whistle" from Dylan's 2012 album Tempest.

Since the dissolution of the Grateful Dead in 1995 Hunter has successfully continued his writing career, working on new songs with Jim Lauderdale, Steve Kimock, David Nelson, Pete Sears, and Rob Barraco, among others. He also is seen occasionally playing solo acoustic guitar and performing his classic works, as well as newer songs. In 2004 he opened most of the Dead's summer tour. "He also co-wrote, with Nelson, many of the songs on the 2009 New Riders of the Purple Sage album Where I Come From. Hunter is a former Scientologist.[4]

Hunter wrote "Cyclone" for Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers' Levitate album, released in 2009. Bruce Hornsby said about "Cyclone" in a recent interview:[5]

MR: "Cyclone" gets more philosophical, especially with lines like, "I've got no answers of my own, and none have been provided."
BH: You know those are Robert Hunter's lyrics with a couple of additions from me.

Bruce Hornsby commented on his work for Levitate ("Cyclone") at Express Night Out website[6] (a Washington Post Company): "Well, I've always loved [Robert Hunter's] writing. I've loved so many of the Garcia/Hunter songs. They're just timeless sounding to me, could have been written hundreds of years ago. I had this song that had the same feeling as, say, 'Brokedown Palace'."

In 2010 Robert co-wrote Patchwork River with Jim Lauderdale. The album was released on the Thirty Tigers Label. Also in 2010 Robert Hunter with Cesar Rosas co-wrote the song "All My Bridges Burning" for Los Lobos' album Tin Can Trust. In 2010, Hunter also wrote lyrics for 7 Walkers' debut album including "Louisiana Rain," "Chingo," and "Sue From Bogalusa." In 2012 Hunter co-wrote lyics for the Mickey Hart Band's albums, Mysterium Tremendum and the follow-up, Superorganism. In an interview with American Songwriter, Hart categorizes Hunter's lyrics compared to other great lyricists saying, "When you’re in a situation in the future and you can’t explain it, very often a Hunter line or two or three will explain something that’s unexplainable."[7] Also in 2012, Hunter co-wrote four songs on Little Feat's album, Rooster Rag.

In 2013, Hunter announced a tour to commence in the fall.[8]

Translations and poetry[edit]

Hunter published translations of Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus and has published several volumes of his own poetry.[9]

Notable songs[edit]

Discography[edit]

  • Tales Of The Great Rum Runners (1974 - Round Records, RX-101)
  • Tiger Rose (1975 - Round Records, RX-105)
  • Alligator Moon (recorded but unreleased - 1978)
  • Jack O'Roses (1980 - Dark Star Records, DSLP8001)
  • Promontory Rider: A Retrospective Collection (1982 - Relix Records, RRLP2002)
  • Amagamalin St. (1984 - Relix Records)
  • Live '85 (1985 - Relix Records)
  • Flight Of The Marie Helena (1985 - Relix Records)
  • Rock Columbia (1986 - Relix Records)
  • Liberty (1988 - Relix Records)
  • A Box of Rain (1991 - Ryko Disc)

Books[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame". Rockhall.com. Retrieved 19 September 2014. 
  2. ^ "The Annotated "Friend of the Devil"". Artsites.ucsc.edu. Retrieved 19 September 2014. 
  3. ^ "Bob Dylan Rep Confirms Robert Hunter Co-Wrote 'Together Through Life' Lyrics". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2009-04-15. 
  4. ^ Jackson, Blair (1999). Garcia: An American Life. Viking Adult. p. 62. ISBN 0-670-88660-2. 
  5. ^ "Huffington Post, Entertainment writer, Mike Ragogna, 2009-09-14.". 2009-09-15. Retrieved 25 June 2011. 
  6. ^ "Liner Notes: Bruce Hornsby, Levitate 9/14/2009". Express Night Out website (a Washington Post Company). Retrieved 25 June 2011. 
  7. ^ Verity, Michael (May 18, 2012). "Good Vibrations: A Q&A with Mickey Hart". American Songwriter. Retrieved May 31, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Robert Hunter Announces Fall Tour". JamBase. 
  9. ^ "Standing in the Soul - Robert Hunter Interview". University of California Santa Cruz. Retrieved 2009-04-13. [dead link]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Robert Hunter (lyricist) at Wikimedia Commons