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Paul Mann: James Hunter Six Plays Rocking Set of R&B, Soul at Lobero Theatre

The James Hunter Six, a band of veteran musicians led by English singer and guitarist James Hunter and including Damian Hand, center, on tenor saxophone and Lee Badau on baritone saxophone, performs May 25 at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara.
The James Hunter Six, a band of veteran musicians led by English singer and guitarist James Hunter and including Damian Hand, center, on tenor saxophone and Lee Badau on baritone saxophone, performs May 25 at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara. (Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

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The James Hunter Six rolled into Santa Barbara on a sleepy pre-Memorial Day Wednesday night, May 25, to play a rocking set of R&B-inspired music at the Lobero Theatre.

The band of veteran musicians, led by English singer and guitarist Hunter, drew much of their inspiration from classic American soul music.

The Grammy-nominated singer impressed iconic singer Van Morrison so much that Morrison volunteered to sing on Hunter's album Believe What I Say in 1996. Hunter went on to perform on Morrison’s albums as well throughout the 1990s. New Orleans music master Allen Toussaint was also a fan of Hunter, and the band played one of Toussaint’s tunes to honor the recently deceased singer.

But it wasn't until Hunter's first solo release in the United States, his 2006 breakthrough album People Gonna Talk, was nominated for a Grammy for “best traditional blues album” at the 49th Grammy ceremony that he became well known in this country. Since then, Hunter has been hard at work hitting the road almost continuously with his band, playing to a loyal following of devoted fans.

The band tore through riveting songs inspired by several classic American genres, including R&B, rock-and-roll and soul music. Hunter may be one of the most important links in the last 20 years to the early hey days of these classic genres. His band features dual sax players, Lee Badau on baritone saxophone and Damian Hand on tenor saxophone, bringing awesome jazz-tinged musical battles to the mix. The band also features Jonathan Lee on drums, Andrew Kingslow on keyboards and percussion, and Jason Wilson on bass.

The 90-minute show was punctuated with an impromptu gathering in the courtyard in front of the historic Lobero Theatre, featuring wine, beer and appetizers. Devoted fans were able to mingle with the band and have some of their treasured albums signed, while a few impromptu tunes broke out on a painted piano, on loan from the annual New Noise music festival.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

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