Sunday, October 10, 1999

Hunt grows into rock star role with Shepherd's band

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Life has gotten a little easier for Noah Hunt.

        In April 1997, when the local singer landed the gig of fronting the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, he was immediately rushed into the studio to record the band's second album, Trouble Is...The combination of stress and allergies got the better of him and he lost his voice.

        He got it back through a regimen of herbal teas and other homeopathic remedies and was able to record the album. In fact his voice came back so well that Trouble Is...has sold 1.5 million copies, earning the KWSB a 1998 Billboard Award for Rock Track of the Year for “Blue On Black.”

        “There was a big learning curve,” he says during a recent visit, recalling his first days with the band as he sits in one of his favorite local hangouts, Allyn's.

        “I gave myself some room. "Don't get down on yourself if you really (screw) up here in the beginning. Just go out there, do your best and just try to learn on the way.' And I think I did better every night, and I think everyone in the band did better every night.”

        With the new album, Live On, Mr. Hunt had a much easier time, having had a part in the complete creative process, songwriting, arranging, production. It shows on the CD, which has a more cohesive band sound.

"A whole lot better'
        “We've just gotten a whole lot better,” he says. “The writing has just gotten more depth, Kenny's rhythm playing is something that kind of stands out on in this album. His leads are still smokin', but he's gotten more depth as a player and you can really hear his own sound. And I think I've become a better singer, a stronger singer, I've gotten my own sound, too.”

        But Cincinnati probably won't hear that sound in concert in this millennium. Plans call for playing smaller markets through the end of the year and then some dates in Australia, where Trouble Is... just went gold.

        Life in the KWSB is pretty much non-stop touring, which suits Mr. Hunt. The band just finished a tour with blues great B.B. King that played “everywhere. It was the modern-day equivalent of the old chitlin' circuit.”

        All that traveling can get nerve-wracking, he admits. Which is why he never leaves home without “the Christ Knife,” a combination crucifix and pen knife.

        “We were in Milwaukee and this big guy was up in front and he was holding it out and I bent over and he put it on me. It just felt really natural. It says "God protect,' it's a protection fetish. I saw him the next year and he gave me another one. And I just don't feel right when I don't have it. We travel on a lot of planes and it just sets my mind at ease.”

        He admits to missing the simpler days when he was part of the Cincinnati scene and traveling to a show meant driving a couple of blocks.

        “I lived in Columbia Tusculum and played at Stanley's. I didn't have a lot of money, but it was one of the best times of my life.”

        Of course, when he joined the KWSB some criticized him for leaving his band Uncle Six.

        “It was selfish,” he says of his decision. “I was heading out to make it. That's just the reality of the situation. I turned down a deal (that didn't include the band). Then RCA made an offer (that included Uncle Six). And that's what I had wanted to hear (but the offer never got past the demo recording phase).

        “I loved those guys, and I still do. But I had to make a choice. In the end I saw it as an opportunity to achieve what I'd set out to achieve.”

Work on songwriting
        His goal now, he says, “is to become a more established songwriter. I think I've got the performance end of it down, the whole rock image thing. Now I think I just want to become a better songwriter. And I'm surrounded by talented artists all the time, so we just try to keep creating and try to learn at every turn.”

        As he closes in on his third anniversary with the KWSB, Mr. Hunt is confident he made the right decision.

        “All the good things are exactly how I thought they would be and all the bad things, you never expect,” he says with a laugh. “It's everything I expected and everything I didn't.

        “But the difference is now that I've had a few years under my belt, I'm accustomed to it and I'm really enjoying myself. It's not that hard anymore.”


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