CD Review : Legendary Session Guitarist Steve Hunter Releases "Before The Lights Go Out"

Steve Hunter is one of those musicians - in the wide and deep pantheon of rock music - who may not necessarily be known to the masses. Yet also to many other fans and musicians alike - and some of the names you may be familiar with – Hunter, also known as ‘The Deacon,” is very well-known and highly respected as a studio musician and live performer. He has recorded and toured with such artists as Alice Cooper, Peter Gabriel, Aerosmith, Lou Reed, Mick Jagger and Robert Fripp, to name some.


Review and item photos by Joe Milliken * Portrait photo courtesy of Steve Hunter

And as I take a glance at the credits and “thank yous” within his new CD, Before the Lights Go Out, I see such “supporting contributors” as Steve Vai, Joe Perry, Sammy Hagar, Alice Cooper, Joe Satriani, Jason Becker, Bob Ezrin and Johnny Depp. Yes, Mr. Hunter is well-known within some impressive music circles.

Recorded and produced (in Hunter’s home studio) over a seven-month period and released in August, Before the Lights Go Out is actually the studio/sideman’s seventh solo effort, and his first since 2014’s Tone Poems Live. It is an all-instrumental set, including nine original tracks, plus one cover song, “Happy Trails,” featuring a cameo vocal from Steve’s wife, Karen.

The title surely makes a reference to the guitarist’s failing eyesight, (Hunter suffers from pigmentary glaucoma, rendering him legally blind.) however, do not think for a second that it is some sort of “good bye” or “so long” from The Deacon. The album also features a few musician-friends as special guests, including guitar wizard Joe Satriani, and bassists Erik Scott (Alice Cooper) and Andy Stoller (Ann Wilson, Tracy Chapman).

Before the Lights Go Out is chock full of blues-rockin’ grooves, melodic structures and of course, incredible guitar tones throughout! From the opening guitar strains of “On the Edge of Uncertainty” - just like an ole’ smooth-cool Jeff Beck riff - I could certainly feel a distinctive vibe right away, and knew this music experience was going to be a unique one… it was going to take me for a ride.

Speaking of Mr. Beck, Hunter just so happens to utilize a Jeff Beck Signature Stratocaster guitar (with EMG David Gilmour pick-ups built in) on the album, as well as a Gretsch Black Falcon, plugged into a 1965 Fender Twin Reverb Re-issue amplifier. As for acoustic guitars, Steve plays a Godin Variac (using nylon strings) and a Taylor 410. But, I digress…

The slow, funky groove of the opening track certainly sets the pace, followed by the slinky drive of “Mojo Man,” complete with a blistering guitar solo from Joe Satriani. I get the feeling I’ll be saying that again (“blistering guitar solo”) to describe these songs. The lighter “Summer’s Eve” drifts in and calms things down a bit, as Steve shifts gears into an acoustic strum with a warm-toned solo over the top, which blends in gracefully.

“Cinderblock” is a groovin’ back porch romp with a killer slide guitar (on that Taylor 410), followed by “Softtail Deuce,” a cool rocker that gives off an old Peter-Green-Fleetwood Mac vibe and it smolders! “Tienes Mi Corazon (You Have My Heart)” is a beautiful and atmospheric acoustic number with a Spanish feel, complete with tight, flamenco-style solo. The track is dedicated to his wife.

“Ice Storm” creates a jazzy, almost new-age atmosphere with lots of space in the solos. Yes, sometimes it’s the notes that you don’t play, that creates the atmosphere, and this is a perfect example. “Under the Bodhi Tree” enters with a mystical, psychedelic India-influenced intro, which leads into a heavier bluesy riff with classic, slide guitar action over the top. Hindu-new-age meets rockin’-slide-blues (if you can follow that) and it is brilliant! Arguably, in this reviewer’s opinion, the finest moment of the album.

“The Other Side of the Coin” is yet another bluesy rocker, as Hunter creates a slow-cookin’ groove for his deft solos to float over. Meaningful, piercing guitar solos, full of feelings and emotions and impeccable tone… a guitar player’s song. The closing cover, “Happy Trails,” features the aforementioned cameo vocal from Mrs. Hunter, a sweet and beautiful touch at disc's end.

I have written a couple articles about Steve over the years and have had the pleasure of interviewing this great artist and person, therefore, I am admittedly biased in my opinion of his work. With that being said, there is simply no denying his virtuosity as a player. Hunter is one of those rare guitarists that can effortlessly shift gears through genres with his instrument and you hardly even notice. From hard rock riffs and heavy, bad-ass blues-rock, to lighter, jazzier passages or crisp, acoustic rhythms, The Deacon does it all with exceptional flair and style, and it’s all on display with Before the Lights Go Out.

When I got my copy of the new CD in the mail (directly from Steve and his wife), I was also lucky enough to receive a cool postcard and promotional, “glow-in-the-dark” pen as well. Nice touch, but I somehow get the feeling that Steve’s music and bright affect will never leave him in the dark. To learn more about Steve Hunter and to order the new CD, Before the Lights Go Out, visit his official website at www.stevehunter.com.