[JPL] Hiram Bullock, 52, Soulful Guitarist, Dies (NYTs Obit)

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Fri Aug 1 06:30:26 EDT 2008


July 31, 2008

Hiram Bullock, 52, Soulful Guitarist, Dies

Hiram Bullock, a soulful and adaptable jazz and rock guitarist who was a
member of the original band for ³Late Night with David Letterman,² 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 ³The Stranger²
by Billy Joel, Steely Dan¹s ³Gaucho² and the soundtrack to ³A Star is Born²
by Barbra Streisand. His best-known solo was on the 1987 Sting album
³Nothing Like the Sun,² in a version of Jimi Hendrix¹s ³Little 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 ³Too Funky 2 Ignore.²

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. ³He was the cornerstone of my band for a long time,²
Mr. Sanborn said.

Mr. Bullock appeared on 10 of Mr. Sanborn¹s 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 ³The Stranger² and Paul Simon¹s ³One Trick
Pony,² among others. ³He was kind of the talk of the town,² 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.

³At the beginning of the Letterman show, when I needed a band, I just
co-opted the 24th Street Band,² the keyboardist Paul Shaffer said, referring
to ³Late Night with David Letterman,² which began broadcasting on NBC in
1982. The World¹s 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. ³The
relentlessness and regularity of the schedule just proved to be a little bit
too much for Hiram,² Mr. Shaffer said.

He left the show after two years but occasionally returned, notably in 1986
to celebrate his Atlantic release ³From All Sides.²

Mr. Bullock was largely open about his struggle with substance abuse. ³It¹s
not hard to spiral down,² he sang on a song called ³After the Fall,²
released in 2003.

In addition to Ms. Armstrong, Mr. Bullock¹s survivors include two stepsons,
known as Sansho and Niko; and four sisters, Jackie Lewis, Carmen Bean,
Brenda Canterbury and Margene Williams. On Monday night ³Late Show with
David Letterman² included a special tribute to Mr. Bullock.

³As I said on the show,² Mr. Shaffer said, ³I think he was the greatest
guitar player ever, with the exception perhaps of Jimi Hendrix. Nobody was
ever better.²

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