Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hiram Bullock 1955-2008

Colleen and I have literally thousands of albums, tapes and iTunes tracks between us, but there are only two artists who are so incredible that I buy nearly every thing they have ever done. One is Tower of Power – see my post here about them – and the other is a guitarist most of you have never heard of, by the name of Hiram Bullock. I just heard the sad news today that Hiram passed away this past week.

Hiram Bullock was, quite simply, the most electrifying jazz guitarist ever to grace the planet. In his early years, his high energy kick-in-the-afterburners guitar solos would practically melt your speakers. Later, his forays into straight jazz, funk, and R&B had an intelligence, texture, and even wit that you rarely find in a solo artist.

I first heard Hiram’s music nearly 20 years ago, on a jazz countdown show, doing a version of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” with a piercing guitar solo, a three-foot-thick bass line, and Al Jarreau on vocals. I was hooked instantly, picked up a copy of his album “Give it What U Got,” and proceeded to have it blasting away on my car stereo for months. Later on a business trip to Pittsburgh, I saw him on stage for the first of many times, and never saw so much energy coming out of one guitarist.

What made Hiram what he was, however, wasn’t just raw power but intelligence and complexity. His music was textured with incredibly tasty chord sequences, clever intros and outros, and sidemen who fit him like a glove. Listening to his music was like biting into a seven-layer brownie with lots of treats inside. If he wasn’t a musician – and he noted proudly once on his website that he spent his entire life making his living in music – he probably could have been a rocket scientist for NASA.

So why wasn’t he more famous? Perhaps because he was a mutt. His body of work had enough jazz, funk, rock, and R&B to be part of each of these genres, and yet never be fully one of any of them. He had no lack of credentials, being the barefoot guitarist on the David Letterman show for years, and a respected sideman whose credits were a mile long. But in a world that speaks in hushed, reverent tones about jazz guitar purists like Pat Metheny, and rewards hip-hop artists with multimillion dollar contracts, Hiram’s music was a refreshing oasis that defied both convention and airplay.

None of this mattered to me, of course. I eagerly devoured everything he ever put out – often ordering autographed copies from the source itself – and went to shows that rocked with so much energy that I thought the stage would explode. (And, as you can see above, I even got to meet Hiram and get a picture with him at the Rochester Jazz Festival a few years ago. Some of my other pictures from that show now grace his website.) According to another blog comment, he was apparently still playing - and rocking the house - the week before he died, and I can’t believe he’s gone. Rest in peace, Hiram.


Luke63 said...

thank you for your comment about Hiram, this is the best thing I read since my face crashed into the bad news. Having myself a point of view very close to what you say I understand your feelings and sadness, I praise you because you described in words what I feel better than I would be able to. Hiram was and probably will always be my number one musician because, unlike us the great thing of music is that music NEVER DIES...
Grateful forever to Hiram for sharing his talent with us, I will be missing him an awful lot...


Lyle Robinson said...

Hi Rich. Just a quick note to say that I really enjoyed reading this post. I wasn't a huge fan of Hiram's, but I have always appreciated his role as a studio player and producer, especially during the 1970's and early '80's. Your tribute makes me want to check Hiram out again a little more closely to hear what I've been missing...:) Thanks again for the post and also for your blog.


Rich Gallagher said...

Thank you Lyle and Luke for your very kind words. I agree, thank goodness the music never dies. Hiram left behind an incredible body of work, and I hope that future generations will see him as the guitar great he truly was.


E&D said...

Thank you for your comment about Hiram, Hiram was our Friend , So sad that our Friend is gone from this world, we loved him...

from Poland