The Manhattan Blues Project is the fifth studio album by guitarist Steve Hunter. Released April 30th 2013, this blues guitar album features instrumental interpretations of New York City. It is particularly notable for its all-star lineup of guest musicians: Phil Aaberg, 2Cellos, actor/musician Johnny Depp, Marty Friedman, Michael Lee Firkins, Tommy Henriksen, Tony Levin, Joe Perry, and Joe Satriani. The album also includes a composition by Jason Becker co-founder of Cacophony.
Hunter left the Alice Cooper – No More Mr. Nice Guy Tour in Jan 2012 to work on this album. He used the experience gained by his many years of studio recording under the direction of legendary producer Bob Ezrin to self produce this album. He invited some of the artists that he has met and performed with over his musical career to appear with him on the album. Jason Becker, who is afflicted with ALS and is able to communicate only with the movement of his eyes, composed "Daydream by the Hudson" with the use of computer software.
Hunter made his reputation in vintage hard rock but on this album he delves deep into his blues roots, capturing the rhythm of New York through his "Debussy style" interpretations of images of the City. He interlinks sketches, moods, grooves and full blown songs on an instrumental album subtly coloured by prepared vocal parts.
Manhattan Blues needed help from the people who pledged on the Kickstarter.
It was their contributions along with the invaluable help from Alice Cooper, Sheryl Cooper and Kyler Clarke that gave Steve and Karen the funds and the encouragement to see it through. Many other people helped along the way, Kim Makki kept up the positive vibes and Bob Ezrin was the first person to pledge.
Doing a Kickstarter is a huge undertaking and not to be taken on lightly, there is a responsibility to the people who cared plus discipline to organizing the pledge gifts, the list of who gets what and the posting out around the world. Most importantly though, it helped Steve be encouraged to put his heart into this album. He was very moved by the support and was determined to make this album great for them.
The first guest Hunter approached to play on the album was bass player Tony Levin. He and Levin had worked together on Peter Gabriel's first solo album and tour in 1977 Peter Gabrieland Hunter is a huge fan of Levin's playing. Tony played on two tracks of Manhattan Blues, Solsbury Hill (from that first PG album) and 'Sunset In Central Park'. Next came Joe Satriani. Satriani and Hunter had met a year earlier on a benefit show for Jason Becker. Much to Hunter's surprise, Satriani had invited him up to play on his encore and a friendship was formed. Satriani did not hesitate when asked to play on 'Twilight In Harlem' and offered up an inspired solo that blew Hunter away. Gaining courage for who he might ask next, it was decided to try the 2Cellos. Hunter had played the melody on 'Every Breath You Take', a bonus track of their 2012 album In2ition which had been produced by Bob Ezrin. With Ezrin's help the 2Cellos were contacted and to Hunters joy they said yes. They play hauntingly beautiful Cello over the outro of 'Sunset In Central Park' which also happens to be the final track on the album.
Meanwhile, as Tony Levin had been brought on board, Hunter decided to track down his old keyboard buddy from that same 77 Gabriel tour and so Grammy Nominated Phil Aaberg also contributed. Hunter met Johnny Depp in London in 2011 when, as part of the Alice Cooper No More Mr. Nice Guy Tour they had stopped in the city for a one off show at The 100 Club where Depp sat in on guitar during the set. With the help of Tommy Henriksen (Alice Cooper) who also contributed some rap vocal to the album,
Depp was asked and he said yes. Steve pretty much wrote 'The Brooklyn Shuffle' specifically with Depp in mind and then throwing caution to the wind he decided to ask Joe Perry of Aerosmith about doing a solo on the same song. Back in 1974 Hunter had played the opening solo of Train Kept A-Rollin' and it seemed somehow fitting that 40 years later Perry would put a solo on Hunters album. Depp and Perry are also good friends, so that sealed it. They both played solos on 'The Brooklyn Shuffle'.
Hunter had initially asked Steve Vai to play the second solo on 'Twilight In Harlem' , they had known each other for many years. But Vai was in the middle of a major project with an imminent deadline and did not have the time. Hunter asked Jason Becker who he would suggest to fill that spot after the Satriani solo. Jason immediately said Marty Friedman who had been the other half of the band Cacophony. Hunter did not know Friedman who lives in Japan but after an introduction though Becker, Marty said yes and sent over a stunning second solo for that track.
Jason Becker also recommended Michael Lee Firkins to Hunter for a perfect slide solo in '222 W 23rd', Michael is now a good friend.
It is fairly well known that Hunter and Jason Becker are close friends, they met whilst recording the David Lee Roth album A Little Ain't Enough. In 2012 Hunter had asked Jason if he had any compositions he could add guitar to for his new album and Becker sent over a beautiful programmed piece that eventually became Daydream by the Hudson.
Glenn Astarita in All About Jazz says "each track on this enjoyable album casts an alternating vibe via Hunter's deft acoustic and electric work, conveying great sensitivity while reaffirming his stature as one of the best in the business".
In his review for Classic Rock Revisited, Jeb Wright notes; "This album is Steve Hunter's masterpiece and if one is not careful, one will find this album quietly creeping its way back onto your playlist, time and time again. One of the most poignant moments on the album is the tune "Daydream by the Hudson" written and programmed by guitar virtuoso and Lou Gehrig disease victim Jason Becker. This collaboration brings the album to a new level of virtuosity."
Danger Dog reviewer Craig Hartrant wrote " Steve Hunter's The Manhattan Blues Project is superb, some of the most beautiful melodic blues rock I've ever heard. Strongly recommended."
In TMR Zoo reviewer, Joe Viglione affirms: "The Manhattan Blues Project is a superb and visionary exploration of the guitar that sets a mood and lends itself to repeated spins".
The Manhattan Blues Project
Daydream By The Hudson (programming by Jason Becker)
Steve Explains About The Album
Twilight In Harlem
Prelude To The Blues
222 W 23rd
Background Vocal – Karen Hunter
Slide Solo – Michael Lee Firkins
Vocal Rap – Tommy Henriksen
Background Vocals – The Karen Hunter Singers From Cloud 9
A Night At The Waldorf
Piano – Philip Aaberg
Bass – Tony Levin
Daydream By The Hudson
Composer And Programmer – Jason Becker
Flames At The Dakota
Background Vocals – Karen Hunter
The Brooklyn Shuffle
1st Guitar Solo – Steve Hunter
2nd Guitar Solo – Johnny Depp
3rd Guitar Solo – Joe Perry
Background Vocals – Karen Hunter
What's Going On (Marvin Gaye Cover)
Twilight In Harlem
1st Guitar Solo – Joe Satriani
2nd Guitar Solo – Marty Friedman
Drums – Todd Chuba
Keyboards – Philip Aaberg
Sunset In Central Park
Bass – Tony Levin
Cellos – 2Cellos
Steve Hunter – guitar
Karen Ann Hunter – vocals
Todd Chuba – drums
Notable guest appearances
Phil Aaberg – Piano, keyboards
2Cellos – Cellos – Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser
Johnny Depp – Guitar
Marty Friedman – Guitar
Michael Lee Firkins – Slide guitar
Tommy Henriksen – Vocal rap
Tony Levin – Bass guitar
Joe Perry – Guitar
Joe Satriani – Guitar
Todd Chuba – Drums
Production and additional personnel
Produced by Steve Hunter for deaconrecords
Composer, programming – Jason Becker
Cover design – Karen Hunter
Photography – Michael Woodall
Mastered by Dave Shirk for Sonorous Mastering
Sampler For The Album
222 W 23rd
Behind The Scenes 3
Behind The Scenes 2
Behind The Scenes 1
Main Photo By Mark Maryanovich