Locals Only: : Hunting Down Noah Hunt

Famed local singer returns for annual holiday gigs

Brian Kothe

Noah Hunt

The "attack" dog that barks behind Noah Hunt's door is named Meesha. Inside, she's sweet. "Down, girl," Hunt whispers.

The clean house is relatively bare.

"Just moved here in July," Hunt explains.

The whole scene is two-sided. The place is freezing. The spongy chairs, warm. His hair, shaggy dark. An evenly cut beard.

His eyes, tired, yet soft. No visible piercings or tattoos. Just a black shirt, blue jeans. His face looks serious, whether or not he's smiling, hinting at hidden inner piercings.

Right away, he says, "Jason (Dennie) and I are working on a new CD." Eagerly, with a depth attached to his words, he starts into his past. There's no bullshitting.

In 1992, Hunt started the band Uncle Six. They played Clifton bars and recorded their own records. To pay bills, he scored a weekly acoustic gig at Stanley's, which paid $40 plus beer. Then, at Uncle Six' first headlining gig in Clifton, Hunt saw a "guy with work boots on. 'Jason from Mason' is what people called him. He played all this crazy shit with harmonics." The guy was Jason Dennie, who soon sat in with Hunt at Stanley's; they became instant friends.

By summer 1994, Stanley's management removed a wall to accommodate more fans. As for their ESP-playing-connection, Hunt says, "We appreciate the way we play." When Hunt and Dennie recorded the album Long Black Train, Hunt "played rhythm, and Jason came up with something." They never rehearsed.

Presently, Dennie lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and two children, where he teaches guitar at University of Michigan. At work on a new album (and four years since they've played out together), they'll play Stanley's again Thursday night.

Uncle Six gained national attention from RCA and later evolved into The 420 All-Stars. Hunt's journey with Uncle Six was put on hold in early 1997. Through a series of connections, he sent The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band (KWS) a video and demo, flying to L.A. to audition.

"I smoked 'em all," he says, laughing.

In one month, Hunt moved to Sausalito, Calif., and recorded Trouble Is. KWS went on the road with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith and Van Halen. Three singles were No. 1 Billboard hits. After touring Europe, KWS won the Billboard Music Award for Rock Song of the Year and Blues Song of the Year.

"We were young and partying hard," Hunt recalls. By 1999, he says, the band was "burning out." But a few months later, they moved to Austin, recording Live On. "In Too Deep" shot to No. 1. The pace, relentless.

KWS took a three-year break for each of them to find "their own positive places," Hunt explains. After this break, Shepherd recorded and sang on The Place You're In, while rumors soared that the band had dropped Hunt.

This album didn't sell as well, but Hunt comments, "I tried singing some, but it was personal to Kenny. We're closer than ever. He got on a roll. As artists, you have to try new things. They don't always work." He shrugs.

Recently, Hunt and Shepherd joined Music Maker, an organization that serves the pioneers of Southern music. Aiding impoverished musicians, they'll tour for the Music Maker effort in March, selling DVDs and CDs from the project.

"It's about shedding light on this great, disappearing way of life," Hunt says.

We head to the basement, where, leaning on the walls, guitars are lined up, soldier-style. Silent, the room seems aching to blow up with sound. Among other band paraphernalia are KWS posters, a Van Halen Baseball cap and a gold drum kit. Hunt glances around, holding a guitar pick.

"Soon, Kenny and I will make a new record ... the one we want to make," he says, firmly. His eyebrows are still, revealing nothing more. Then he smiles, getting ready to take Meesha for a walk.

Clearly, there's more than one side to this cat.

NOAH HUNT (noahhunt.org) and Jason Dennie play Stanley's Thursday and Noah Hunt and The 420 All-Stars play Stanley's Friday.

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