Bluesbreakers: Doug Hream Blunt

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Until he actually picks up the phone, we have our doubts that Doug Hream Blunt even exists. The man is a rumour, a cult figure whose name prompts (mostly) blank stares and (very occasional) nods of recognition and respect. It’s been three decades since Blunt released any music, yet exist he does, as proved by a new compilation gathering his long-deleted material, and the warm chuckle at the end of the line. “I’m living in San Francisco,” he says. “Today I’m writing a blues song about the subway.”

Now in his mid-sixties, Blunt was raised in Arkansas before moving to the west coast for an early adulthood working odd jobs. He was deep into his thirties, and employed at a San Francisco hospital, when he spotted a flyer for an evening music class. “I’d done almost everything,” he says of his bewildering résumé. “Almost everything.”

That was the late 80s. Why didn’t he embrace music earlier? “I couldn’t afford it,” he says. “Why did I sign up for that class? Well, I had the money!”

Blunt’s nascent guitar style was free-form and chaotic – he was shooting for the experimental vibe of Jimi Hendrix – and the band he assembled from his classmates was similarly ramshackle. “My playing was okay,” he reflects. “But none of us were real good musicians.”

Perhaps it was that very lack of chops that brought such charm to Blunt’s only full-length album: a near-mythical release named Gentle Persuasion. Pressed to vinyl by Blunt himself and dropped off at local record stores, it was bought and treasured by an ardent few, though not enough to stop him fading into obscurity. “I got married again,” he says of his subsequent off-the-radar activities. “That’s something!”

The twist came last October, when Blunt re-emerged, championed by the Luaka Bop label, who compiled his work as My Name Is Doug Hream Blunt. It’s the innocence and disregard for genre that strikes you, the songs pinballing from blues to soul, funk to rock. “That’s all music is – exploring,” he says. “Unless you have a genre that you think is right, exploring is the best thing, man.”

Blunt is happy to be rediscovered (“At my age, it’s kinda great”), but you sense a late-period boom is unlikely. For one thing, there are issues with his guitar playing. “I still write a little. But I took up the trumpet, because I had a stroke and my whole right side was paralysed, and I couldn’t play guitar. Now it’s coming back to me.”

The greater obstacle to A-list fame is that this cult hero prefers life on the edge of the spotlight. “Fame?” he echoes. “No, no. I’d rather just be around my kids. Even now, fame is not a part of me.”

“Hendrix was great. He was a beginning influence for me. That’s why I started playing the guitar. I wanted to get to that level. I started to, at the end, but I didn’t make it. My favourite Hendrix song? Probably Foxy Lady. When I first picked up a guitar, it was John Lee Hooker, too. He was something.”

My Name Is Doug Hream Blunt is out now via Luaka Bop