In 2011 I was lucky enough to interview San Francisco based lo-fi funk artist Doug Hream Blunt, the man behind such incredible (and incredibly obscure) cuts as ‘Gentle Persuasion’ (sampled by Hype Williams on ‘Get Choong And Look AtThe Sky’) and ‘Wiskey Man’. Three years on, I decided to take advantage of medium.com to re-present his incredible story to a new audience.
Speaking down the line from San Francisco, Doug Hream Blunt is coming to terms with my accent. To be fair though, he has probably never had a phone call from the South Pacific before. The loud background noise of a TV set playing and several children running rampage around the house isn’t helping either. For a moment I consider abandoning ship. “Oh, you’re from New Zealand right?” says Blunt, abruptly shifting tone in a manner which makes me realise he knows exactly who I am and why I’m calling.
Whist holding conversation with this cult San Francisco singer and musician, dynamic switches like these characterise all. With an accent which mixes American and Caribbean, Blunt will swing from having no idea what I’m saying, to connecting completely with my questions, in the process displaying an amazing degree of enthusiasm. On the other side of the scale, he’ll just as quickly disconnect, his sentences slowly trailing off. And as someone familiar with his highly prized musical output, every answer or reaction sits perfectly with his sound.
I first became aware of Blunt’s work while trawling the internet for a Dam Funk remix of an Ariel Pink song. Googling both artist’s names together, the first entry to come up was a blog post in the Line Out Section of thestranger.com. Titled ‘Dam-Funk X Ariel Pink = Doug Hream Blunt’, writer Dave Segal’s post included a YouTube link to ‘Gentle Persuasion’.
An incredible song, ‘Gentle Persuasion’ blends hazy lo-fi aesthetics with early eighties boogie funk/RnB feels; even throwing some Caribbean/tropical touches in for good measure. I was absolutely floored over by this waking dream of a tune. Faded as hell, the song sees Blunt alternate between singing macked-out sexual innuendos, and noodling away on his guitar. The sort of player who goes so out of key on his solos that he actually comes back into key, Blunt is aptly supported by some super beached keyboards, strutting bass, snappy drums and a gorgeous female backing vocal.
Completely captured by ‘Gentle Persuasion’, after some specific digging, I made contact with Blunt’s LA based label, OT Records and Fun. Through them I purchased copies of both Blunt’s 12inch ‘Gentle Persuasion’ record and a CD album of the same name. OT Records and Fun also put me onto a series of video clips on a vimeo.com channel registered under dougblunt. Taken from CITYVISIONS, a public access TV channel in San Francisco, the three incredible clips show Blunt and what looks like a band of high school music students syncing along to three of his songs: ‘Ride The Tiger’, ‘Love Land’ and ‘Caribbean Queen’. The clips are incredible.
Rocking a mini-afro, slender black aviator shades and a cream suit, Blunt holds down guitar and vocals. His backing players consists of three young ladies who epitomise casual eighties fashion catalog dress on guitar, keys, and bass, a funny little bearded guy on vibraphone, and a spiky haired guy in a striped blue shirt on drums. Backed by a black backdrop, and positioned on a blue stage, all three videos have a weird quality to them which makes you think they might not actually be real. It’s kind of like the sci-fi/fantasy story trope about the shop weird shop you visit once and get a gremlin from. The strange shop you can’t ever find again and seems to have been replaced by a brick wall. I was obsessed and I needed to know more.
Juggling talking with me on the phone with entertaining his three children (“They really are a handful,” he says with a happy sigh), Blunt slowly lets me in on the best kept secret that is his back story. The facts are interspersed with constant laughter and a reoccurring sense of disbelief that someone from New Zealand is talking to him on the phone. “I was born in Arkansas originally, but I came to San Francisco when I was younger, when I was seven,” he says, after repeating my question about where he is from back to himself several times. This parroted verbal repetition is a habit he displays throughout our interview.
While his parents were music lovers, they didn’t play any musical instruments themselves. That was something Blunt would have to pick up for himself later in life. Still, between them and the rest of the people on his street, he had the love of music drilled into him from a young age. ” I was raised in this poor neighbourhood in San Francisco,” he passionately reflects, placing emphasis on the word “poor”. “The only thing we had to do was listen to music. You know? It was really poor. You couldn’t go outside and stuff. All you could do was just listen to music. It was funny. I got addicted to it.” Raised on RnB and Rock and Roll, Blunt quickly became a record collector. As he puts it, in a very matter of fact way, “I was of that generation, so I collected [a lot of vinyl], you know?”
Name-checking The Whispers and Jimi Hendrix (a name he will come back to later), Blunt had been playing guitar and singing for, in his words, “six or seven years,” when he hooked up with a young studio owner named Victor Flaviani. Bluntrecorded the 12" and CD album I prize so deeply at his Flaviani Recording Studios in San Francisco. As to when exactly this occurred however, Blunt is close to blank. The best he can hazard is sometime in the late 90s. “Victor [Flaviani] was a music teacher,” Blunt happily recalls. He had a music workshop so he was able to do the album for me in there.”
As to why he wanted to record a record at the time, Blunt is just as faded as he is with exact dates. “I don’t know why man? I have no idea?” he laughs. What he does remember though, is he recorded it in less than a week. “Victor was new to studio work,” Blunt says. “Since he was new, he didn’t ask a lot. And I didn’t ask a lot, cause I didn’t know a lot,” he explains, trailing off with a giggle. In terms of his studio band, Blunt teamed up with some musician friends, a couple of Flaviani’s music students, Flaviani’s sisters and even Victor himself on drums. It sounds pretty ad hoc and somewhat slapped together, and it kind of was, but not completely. “It was just whoever I could get though,” Blunt passionately states. “I felt that they could all do it you know. If I thought you could do it, I’ll let you do it!”
Defining a capable musician as one who, as he puts it after a lot of serious thought, “Can keep a beat and keep the time and knows his chords,” Blunt’s ultimate musical icon is Jimi Hendrix. “I like Jimi Hendrix,” he enthuses with a touch of frustration. “I’ve been trying to get a weird sound like that, but I can’t get it!” “I want to sound like that, but,” seemingly on the verge of a big statement, he just trails off, dropping into silence for a few semi sad moments. Ironically, what Blunt doesn’t seem to realise, yet is constantly ticking over, and occasionally interjecting my questions with his own questions about, is his lionized cult status.
On Gentle Persuasion, an album inspired by, like he explains, “the life experiences of living all over California,” Blunt and his ragtag band of players throw down a series of seven fundamentally Californian (and cross-genre jams). Musically, the record is the sound of spending your whole life in a haze of weed smoke, whiskey and women on the beaches of California. They’re the sort of daydream funk meets glazed over radio rock jams that make doing nothing but staring at the wall all day seem like a pretty cool idea. You can literally feel how much time Blunt must have spent chilling on corners and stoops across the state, taking it all in, one breath at a time. Subconsciously drawing his lyrics from these languid days, Blunt views music as something which just pops out and comes through you. His favourite jam is his tune ‘Wiskey Man’, a tune built around the repeated refrain “I got to be mellow”. And if you ask him where he got his sound from, his answer is simple, and so damn cool. “I got it from California man!”
In terms of what he has done on the live circuit, Blunt is just as vague as he is with recording dates. He mentions having held a few gigs singing and playing guitar at the local hospital. Then there is the CITYVISIONS performance, which in typical Blunt fashion, he has minimal factual memories about and a maximum emotional response. “I don’t know man,” he says, speaking with a special emphasis which makes you realise those televised song were a special moment for him. “It was just something that happened, and I just did it. It was good. It was good to be on TV, and I did it!”
These days, Blunt is a lot more low-profile with the music. He’s a father with a young family. Worryingly though, the major reason he hasn’t been playing is he had a stroke recently. “I’m getting back on my feet, but that took it out of me,” he admits, with an underlying mixture of strength and sadness. “That was a lesson man. It doesn’t really bother me that much though, not now.” Still, as a result he isn’t playing guitar. As a replacement, Blunt has been playing the congas (perhaps an extension of flourishes of tropical feel on his earlier work?) and taking trumpet lessons. Alternating between happy and sad, he makes and amusing and really exciting musical threat. “When I’ve finished studying trumpet I will probably go back to record with Victor Flaviani and try and do some singing behind the trumpet.”
Blunt doesn’t use the internet and as a result is more or less ignorant of his cult artist status and the astronomical prices people attempt to retail copies of his twelve inch record and CD for on the internet. During our conversation I actually get the sense that processing the stories I tell him about the niche interest in his music and the manner in which it presages plenty of contemporary musical trends is probably making it difficult for him to focus on my questions. As alien as the idea is to him, he is very enthusiastic about it. The thing is though, as you can tell from listening to his songs and his earlier comments, he is one hell of a chilled out dude. People find him, he doesn’t find people. Equally, as opposed to seeking out opportunities, opportunity seeks him out. It’s situations like this which have lead to his current arrangement with OT Records and Fun, who have been pumping his CDs and vinyl records out to music lovers across the globe, for a fair, affordable price. Similarly, it’s thanks to OT Records and Fun that I’m able to interview Blunt.
Doug Hream Blunt might be unknown, he might be underrated, and he might even stay that way forever. I get the sense that none of that really matters to him though. He’s made music, played music, has a family and is experiencing a late career resurgence he probably never even imagined would occur. It’s the “well ahead of your time” scenario that so many truly greats suffer from. Regardless of what happens from here on in, one thing is certain, Doug Hream Blunt is gonna remain chilled out as hell, just like his awesomely casual musical output.
Bottling the essence of everything carefree about California isn’t easy, unless you’re so laid back, you didn’t even have to think about trying. Which in a nutshell is — the Doug Hream Blunt story.
If you want to purchase Doug Hream Blunt’s Gentle Persuasion CD or LP, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org