If you want to burn your fingers simply touch the strings on Peter Huttlinger's guitar after a gig. "Brown Bomber," the first cut off his new CD, Naked Pop, is just one example of some of the smoking hot licks sure to catch the ear of any guitar player. Peter Huttlinger isn't an "out of nowhere" guitar player. He's been around for years working hard and playing top-shelf venues like the Hollywood Bowl and London's Royal Albert Hall. He recently shared a stage with Ryan Adams, the Foo Fighters, Tenacious D, James Taylor, and Neil Young, at Young's annual Bridge School Benefit Concert. Currently Pete is rehearsing with country artist LeAnn Rimes, and in the past he has practiced his craft with artists such as George Burns and John Denver, with whom he recorded several albums. As one of the inaugural artists of the new Favored Nations Acoustic label, his latest CD, Naked Pop is garnering favorable praise from musicians and acoustic guitar fans alike.
Guitar.com recently caught up with Pete during a break in a recording session in Nashville where we discussed his new CD, his outlook on performances, equipment, and an assortment of his adventures in guitar playing.
Guitar.com: The first thing about you that caught my eye was a statement in your bio in which you said that your credo is: "Perfect your art, but play to the crowd." Does that still hold true for you?
Peter Huttlinger: Oh sure, and the reason I say this is you have to be the best player you can be. You have to understand, as a professional musician, the crowd doesn't always want to hear a bunch of artistic playing, they want to be entertained. Sometimes the best music I play is in my own living room except for those great times when an audience is incredibly receptive and I have the opportunity to play whatever I want. The bottom line is as a performer you have to remember who is paying your bills, the crowd is paying for you and you have to play what they want to hear. However you do have to be true to yourself and that can be a fine line but for me, so far so good! Now, there are performers who play just what they want regardless of the audience and that's a valid approach to playing and performing, it's just not the approach that I choose. In addition I would never try to convince another performer that they should try to perform my way, conversely I don't want them to try to convince me to perform their way! I got into music as a kid and I wanted to make a living. It is a business like everything else so you have to approach it as such.
Guitar.com: In 2000 you won the title of National Fingerstyle Champion at Walnut Valley. How influential has that title been for you in moving your musical career forward?
Peter Huttlinger: It has helped open some doors but things were rocking along good before that. But it did open some doors that might not have opened. In addition it gave me some confidence to move forward in some areas that I might not have. It's a real tough thing to be playing in front of hundreds of people and have five judges sitting in a booth just listening to every note you play. It's nerve wracking to say the least.
Guitar.com: "Brown Bomber," an original tune on your new CD, Naked Pop, sounds like it's the perfect fit for a venue like Walnut Valley.
Peter Huttlinger: I did play "Brown Bomber" at the festival as a matter of fact.
Guitar.com: Speaking of the Walnut Valley Festival, I get the feeling from reading about it that one needs to put sort of a bluegrass, country spin on their playing to be successful there.
Peter Huttlinger: I would agree with that. Over the years I've seen a lot of guys playing new age stuff, tapping on the guitar, and doing classical. But part of the rules of the contest are that you do have to fit the "flavor" of the festival. So I played a variety of tunes but I made sure I did something that was in a country, folksy vein so I fit the flavor of the contest, plus I like all kinds of music so it was an easy choice for me.
Guitar.com: How did you come to the attention of Steve Vai at Favored Nations Acoustic?
Peter Huttlinger: My manager sent a package to Steve. She simply read an article about Favored Nations Acoustic in a guitar magazine and she just sent a CD and see if he was interested at all. Several months went by and one day Steve Vai called my manager and said he had finally had a chance to listen to the CD and wanted to know more about me. It was very cool. I was at a recording session when my manager contacted me and said, "Hey, you're not going to believe who called me." I actually didn't know she had sent a package to Favored Nations. Well I asked her who called and she said "Steve Vai." I asked her why would Steve Via call you? (Remember that we're in Nashville!) She said, "Because he wants you!" "No way," I said. "Get out of here!" I really didn't think it was true but she doesn't usually BS me. I'm really thrilled to be a part of the Favored Nations Acoustic package. It's a great label and they have great people working there. They're just a good place for an artist to be because of the support. From their business dealing and just as people in general. I've been out there many times just to go hang out and have dinner with the people
Guitar.com: Your CD Naked Pop is very diverse in its musical content - clearly the Beatles and Motown are influences on you. Who else has driven your creative direction?
Peter Huttlinger: Well you know I spent most of my life making a living as an electric guitar player. I always did play acoustic guitar. It was always my first love, but to make a living as a musician you've got to play in a band. I've played the weddings and did the private gig circuit in bands with electric guitars. Consequently there are a ton of electric guitar players like Larry Carlton and Robben Ford who were a huge influence on me as were Joe Pass, Steve Morse - a bunch of those guys. But over the years sitting at home I was checking out guys like Tony Rice, Chet Atkins, and Merle Travis. I listen to a pretty wide variety of stuff. At one point in time I took serious classical lessons so I was exposed to Christopher Parkening and John Williams and those guys. So I've been very fortunate to have a very diverse group of influences and fortunate that I like a lot of different types of music.
Guitar.com: What was your goal with Naked Pop and how would you describe the content?
Peter Huttlinger: Describing the content is easy. I presented original arrangements of a bunch of great pop tunes, not contemporary pop, but at one point they were all pop tunes with the exception of one jig on the CD which was done with an orchestra in addition to a tune of mine called "Brown Bomber." I wanted to showcase my playing and arranging of these tunes and I wanted to do tunes that I hadn't heard everyone do. For example "Josie," The Steely Dan tune. I've never heard anyone do a solo guitar arrangement of that. It took awhile to put it together. The most difficult one to do was the Jackson Five tune, "I Want You Back." In fact I had never played it live until a few weeks ago. I was talking to an audience during a gig about how I had planned to play the song at Winfield but I chickened out and played something else. Someone in the audience said "Hey man, play it now." Considering that I did open up that can of worms I did play it and it worked out well. In any case, you know who really influenced the type of arranging that I did on this album was Tuck Andress. He is one of the most phenomenal solo guitarists who plays all the parts of a tune, he cops all the bass lines, the horn licks, everything. He's absolutely at the top of the heap.
Guitar.com: I found the inclusion of the orchestral versions of three songs on the CD quite refreshing. What motivated you to include those versions?
Peter Huttlinger: That came out of a gig that I did in Nashville with the National Chamber Orchestra. They asked me to host one evening of a three-night guitar festival featuring guitar players and string players. As part of the deal they would arrange some music that I selected. Well in the end we ended up recording the tunes I selected with the full orchestra and I was knocked out by the results. I gave the tape of the orchestral arrangements to my manager who gave them to Steve Vai at the Grammy Awards. My manager told Steve that I really wanted to use this material and he said, 'Let's go for it.' We really were hemming and hawing over what songs to put on the Naked Pop CD. Should we just the acoustic versions or the orchestral versions? In the end we decided to include both versions.
Guitar.com: The CD not only contains a myriad of musical styles, but guitar playing styles, from fingerstyle, to flat picking and can I assume a fair amount of hybrid picking as well?
Peter Huttlinger: If you mean using pick and fingers yes, I do try to attempt it all!
Guitar.com: How did you develop your style?
Peter Huttlinger: My style has been developed through my interest in a lot of different things. I actually got into arranging tunes for solo guitar from working with students. They would come in for a lesson, wanting to learn a particular song but they weren't playing in a band or didn't jam a lot but wanted to play a specific song and they would ask if I could work something up for them. After doing this for a few years I wound up having a quite a few songs that I really liked and then I started doing local gigs, playing restaurants and such. You know where you're essentially wallpaper or a glorified fig plant in the background where no one is really paying attention.
But then I would notice that when I played certain specific tunes everyone would stop, turn around and listen. I thought, 'Hmmm, maybe I have something here.' I started playing a little game, just for me, where I wanted to see if I could get the attention of the people in attendance. I would try to find cool tunes, arrange them and then go and do them at a gig the next weekend. If it worked, great, if not, oh well, shelve that one! "Josie" is one of those tunes, I play the intro and everyone turns and say's, "OK, now what's he going to do." A lot of times guys will laugh and they will think I'm just kidding but I keep on playing it and they end up with their jaws hanging wide open. It's a great feeling to know I can draw an audience in and keep their attention like that.
Guitar.com: What do you do to maintain your creative energy and to keep your skills polished and moving forward?
Peter Huttlinger: For creative energy, I try to listen to a lot of different things, I try to listen and keep up with what is on the radio. I listen and study a lot on my own and as far as keeping the chops up I take a metronome with me where ever I go. Whenever I get the chance I will take a couple hours in the morning woodshedding, just maybe take a solid hour just to warm up before I start to practice and then take an hour and a half or so playing tunes. It's all about playing; you have to play all the time to keep it up.
Guitar.com: Who are you currently listening to and why?
Peter Huttlinger: Lately I've been listening to the Bach Chaconne for solo violin. I told my manager I needed a mountain to climb and it's an incredibly hard piece so it is going to take me years to get it down. I'm also listening to Robben Ford's Live in San Francisco. It's an awesome CD; not an acoustic guitar CD at all but one of my favorite blues electric guitarists. I'm also listening to Norah Jones, who is a young jazz singer. She is incredible. I recently found an old Chet Atkins record where he plays with Les Paul.
Guitar.com: What caused you to adopt the acoustic guitar as your primary voice instead of the electric guitar?
Peter Huttlinger: I thought I had more to say as an acoustic player and I thought that was far more important for me to have something to say with the instrument, rather than just playing it. I didn't feel as deeply about electric guitar. I mean I still play it but I don't live for it the way I do for acoustic guitar. It's hard to say exactly why we are attracted to one thing and not others. I like the physicality of playing the acoustic guitar, it's a much more physical instrument. You have to have a pretty strong left hand to be able to do that all night long. When I play electric guitar for a couple weeks and then go pick up an acoustic guitar, man it takes me days just to get my hand back in shape to play these acoustic tunes.
Guitar.com: What kind of guitar and equipment do you use and do you do any special modifications to your instruments or equipment?
Peter Huttlinger: My main acoustic guitar is a Collings OM1-C, right off the shelf. I did order it from them but there were no special modifications other than I wanted two dots at the 12th fret so I could see where I was. Currently I'm using a Fishman Matrix under-the-saddle pickup and I run I through an L.R. Baggs, Para-Acoustic DI. I run that through a rack interface, a Rocktron, and then I use a Lexicon MPX-1 multi effects unit I use sparingly. We did a couple different mixes on the new CD and we really decided to showcase the playing so the effects are minimal.
Guitar.com: As graduate of the Berklee College of Music, what advice can you give to new practitioners of the acoustic guitar?
Peter Huttlinger: Play because you love it. You have to do that first, you have to play because you love music and you have to let the chips fall as they may.
Guitar.com: What's your next goal as a working acoustic guitarist?
Peter Huttlinger: I've got a lot of new tunes for another record. On the next record I want to do a lot of my own stuff. I've got a lot of my own tunes but I thought a good way to introduce myself to people was through tunes they already knew. I think that gives them a yardstick to go by when they hear a tune they know and they get my interpretation of it. That is in comparison to putting out a record of original tunes, especially with instrumental guitar stuff. There's so much stuff that kind of wanders around and not real melodic so I thought, OK, we'll give them tunes they know. However, the next record will have just a few tunes they know and more of my own stuff. As for my long-term goal, well that is to win a Grammy some day.