Doug Hream Blunt is a jovial grandfather who lives in Visitation Valley San Francisco. He’s retired now and spends his days caring for his children and granddaughter, looking after them and taking them wherever they need to go. Sometimes he plays the trumpet or attends a trumpet class.
But it wasn’t always this way.
In the early 90’s Blunt released Gentle Persuasion, one of the most remarkable and idiosyncratic private press albums you will ever hear. His music was a kind of super cool super funky soul, yet strange and elongated, blown out, almost hypnotic, punctuated by these quite demented guitar solos that would send everything off the rails to the point of abstraction, before the song would calmly proceed again. It was astounding mind numbing music, on one hand familiar, yet on the other totally out of this world. Blunt didn’t distribute the album very far, just around the Bay area, though over the years crate diggers uncovered his music and started trading it for ridiculously high prices. He also influenced a legion of high profile artists, who integrated Blunt’s unique approach into their sounds, most notably Ariel Pink, though also UK’s Dean Blunt, who named himself in homage to Doug.
“Yes Dean,” laughs Blunt happily on the line from his home in San Francisco. “I’ve heard of him. They really liked the album.”
After a false start I managed to catch Blunt on a scratchy cell phone that falls in and out of coverage throughout our discussion. And although it’s frustrating as hell, with me screaming into the phone and Blunt saying ‘I didn’t get that, did you say something about the album?’ The conversation is populated with an abundance of Blunt’s laughter and he seems genuinely pleased with the attention. In fact when I tell him that the first time I heard Gentle Persuasion I couldn’t believe how amazing it was, he pauses for a few seconds before offering an incredulous “really?” Before erupting into guffaws.
“Thank you thank you thank you so much,” he offers when he has suitably recovered. “It’s gratifying to me that you like it and other musicians do too. It’s really good. I’m glad that they like it and they can add to the music. It’s just for the music.”
Some time in the late 1980’s at the age of 35 Blunt took an adult education class that was organized by a high school music teacher and his wife, and held in their small garage in the Golden Gate Park. It was this class that was the impetus behind Blunt’s subsequent musical career. At the time though he wasn’t considering making an album or even forming a band. In fact there was only one thing on his mind.
“I really like that Jimi Hendrix,” laughs Blunt, “and I wanted to try and play some of the stuff that he played. I tried to play it. He used these kind of effects that it was uh, he just used so many effects that I couldn’t get into it. I couldn’t play the kind of music that he played because he used so many effects.”
The teacher of the class, Victor, was a percussionist and he was to prove instrumental to Blunt, teaching him guitar (despite not knowing how to play it himself) and exposing Blunt to a world of sound that he never knew existed.
“I learnt there are other styles,” he remembers of the class. “There’s a whole lot of other styles. You could pick the one that you like, the one that you could master and love, and play that way.”
It was through a combination of Victor’s instruction and Blunt’s own inspiration that despite being unable to replicate the guitar theatrics of Hendrix, he was able to create something distinctly his own – particularly when it came to guitar solos.
“When I was thirteen I was learning how to box,” he remembers. “How to hit speed bags. The solos come from that – from learning the speed bag. I was learning the speed bag so that’s the way I played.”
I suggest to him that this makes sense, as the playing on his solos is very fast.
“That’s the idea of a solo,” he offers absently, “you’ve got to be fast just to run through it.”
Blunt used the course to refine his song writing and subsequently wrote and recorded an entire album with Victor’s assistance, enlisting the rest of the class as band mates.
“I was always writing. I was always writing when I was learning,” he remembers. “I still write now…I’ve had a couple of offers for my songs. A guy in France (Bertrand Bergulat), he chose two of my songs and I sent them. He released them. This is right now.”
Aside from playing regular Tuesday shows in the Cardiology Unit at the Laguna Honda Hospital where he worked as a nurse’s aid, Blunt passed the record onto some local radio stations and record stores, and was quite happy with the results. In fact he viewed the whole musical experience as a success.
“The thing is that any response that I get from doing it, I’m happy with,” he offers genuinely.
There’s some great footage during this time of a young, sprightly Blunt performing some of his hit songs on local public access TV – and it’s nothing short of remarkable. Blunt is magnetic, super cool in shades left handed guitar (ala Hendrix), strutting around stage with a huge grin. He’s the coolest cat in the world right there in this moment. His band meanwhile feel a little more uncertain, a little stilted, lacking Blunt’s grace and swagger. Somehow it’s the perfect encapsulation of Blunt’s music. Blunt is such an individual, such an idiosyncratic performer how could you expect mere mortals to not just be able to enter but feel comfortable within his distinctive musical world?
“Oh,” offers Blunt before pausing for a few seconds, making me immediately regret asking about the bands awkwardness. “I’ve never noticed. I got the feeling from one of the girls. She talked about that, but Victor was in charge of that. He was pretty much in charge. He was helpful. I was happy.”
A few years ago Blunt had a stroke, affecting the right side of his body, meaning that he is now unable to play guitar. So he switched to trumpet, which he has been playing now for about two years. Recently David Byrne’s Luaka Bop came into his life and repackaged Gentle Persuasion, releasing his long out of print material much to his bemusement. As to what the next step is Blunt is happy for the label to decide whether he performs this material live, though he is hopeful they will assist him to record two new pieces he has written.
Near the end of our discussion, Blunt pauses and says, “You’re from Australia?”
“That’s right,” I tell him, “is there something you want to say to people in Australia?”
“Yes,” he offers. “Tell them I’ve never been to Australia but I love the effect that they give me. They give me a lot of respect and I love them for that.”
And with that I try to ask more questions that he can’t hear, try screaming through the phone a few more times before giving up, thanking him for his time and letting him go on his way, content in the knowledge that Blunt loves us. And I don’t doubt it for a second. He’s one of those people who radiates warmth and humour. He’s genuine, if not a little self depreciating. Spending twenty five minutes battling international phone signal reception with him was ultimately strangely soothing, and it’s due to the strength of his personality. This is what you hear when you listen to his music, when you get past the oddities, the strange solos, the extended verses and truly unique lyrics, the reason you’re able to connect and allow the music to seep so deeply into your soul is because of the humanity of the man.
Doug Hream Blunt’s “My Name is Doug Hream Blunt: Featuring the hit Gentle Persuasion is out now on Luaka Bop.