Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hiram Bullock - NY Times

Hiram Bullock's obituary published today, July 31, in the New York Times

Hiram Bullock, 52, Soulful Guitarist, Dies
Published: July 31, 2008

Hiram Bullock, a soulful and adaptable jazz and rock guitarist who was a member of the original band for “Late Night with David Letterman,” died last Friday in Manhattan. He was 52.

The cause is pending, said Jennifer Armstrong, his partner of 16 years. Mr. Bullock was found to have cancer of the tongue last fall, she said.

Mr. Bullock played on some blockbuster pop albums, including “The Stranger” by Billy Joel, Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” and the soundtrack to “A Star is Born” by Barbra Streisand. His best-known solo was on the 1987 Sting album “Nothing Like the Sun,” in a version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.

But Mr. Bullock was always more than a session ace. He made his biggest impact in the realm of jazz-rock, funk and fusion, and his own albums, which often featured his singing and songwriting, never strayed far from that base. His last one, released on BHM in 2005, was “Too Funky 2 Ignore.”

He had substantial and productive relationships with other jazz musicians, including the composer and arranger Gil Evans, who served as a kind of mentor, and the bassist Jaco Pastorius, who taught him and employed him in multiple bands.

Born in Osaka, Japan, to parents serving in the United States military, Mr. Bullock grew up mainly in Baltimore, where he studied at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. He played the saxophone and bass guitar before switching to guitar at 16. Then, at the University of Miami, he studied with the guitarist Pat Metheny and Pastorius, supporting himself with steady work in local clubs. One of his gigs was with the soul singer Phyllis Hyman, who took him with her to New York.

Mr. Bullock caused a stir almost immediately. The alto saxophonist David Sanborn said he first heard him in 1975 when they were working across the street from each other. “He was the cornerstone of my band for a long time,” Mr. Sanborn said.

Mr. Bullock appeared on 10 of Mr. Sanborn’s albums, starting in 1976, and on the eclectic late-night music showcase of which Mr. Sanborn was host on NBC from 1988 to 1990.

Another important early advocate was the record producer Phil Ramone, who brought him in on sessions for “The Stranger” and Paul Simon’s “One Trick Pony,” among others. “He was kind of the talk of the town,” Mr. Ramone said.

In the late 1970s Mr. Bullock started the 24th Street Band with the bassist Will Lee, the keyboardist Clifford Carter and the drummer Steve Jordan. The group made three albums.

“At the beginning of the Letterman show, when I needed a band, I just co-opted the 24th Street Band,” the keyboardist Paul Shaffer said, referring to “Late Night with David Letterman,” which began broadcasting on NBC in 1982. The World’s Most Dangerous Band, as Mr. Shaffer billed the group, brought particular attention to Mr. Bullock, who became known as the barefoot guitarist.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Bullock was earning a reputation for unreliability, one byproduct of a serious drug problem that persisted for years. “The relentlessness and regularity of the schedule just proved to be a little bit too much for Hiram,” Mr. Shaffer said.

He left the show after two years but occasionally returned, notably in 1986 to celebrate his Atlantic release “From All Sides.”

Mr. Bullock was largely open about his struggle with substance abuse. “It’s not hard to spiral down,” he sang on a song called “After the Fall,” released in 2003.

In addition to Ms. Armstrong, Mr. Bullock’s survivors include two stepsons, known as Sansho and Niko; and four sisters, Jackie Lewis, Carmen Bean, Brenda Canterbury and Margene Williams. On Monday night “Late Show with David Letterman” included a special tribute to Mr. Bullock.

“As I said on the show,” Mr. Shaffer said, “I think he was the greatest guitar player ever, with the exception perhaps of Jimi Hendrix. Nobody was ever better.”

No comments: