Music : Guitarist Pete Huttlinger has the soul and heart of a musician
Photo by Kim Sherman
Guitarist Pete Huttlinger of Nashville pushes the envelope in his very gifted and challenged life.
For example, his half-marathon walk in Houston on April 28 was unique because he became the first person among 11,000 people living with an artificial heart pump to walk that far. The 13-mile jaunt came on the first anniversary of his heart pump implant, which was done in Houston.
"When I heard about the race, that it was in Houston and on the anniversary, I told my wife, "Honey, we're going to do this," he said in a telephone interview with The Times from his family's seasonal house in Vineyard Haven.
Mr. Huttlinger is having a big life, and he's used to being in select company. He's been judged the best guitar-picker in the country (2000), played solo at Carnegie Hall several times, did a PBS special with LeAnn Rimes at Abbey Road Studios in London. He plays with the biggest names in music and has a successful solo career. The breadth of his musical range is evident by the fact that the Nashville Chamber Orchestra asks him to sit in every year.
He is visiting the Island with step-daughter Sean Della Croce, step-son James, and his wife Erin Morris, who is also his business manager and publicist. Ms. Morris's family has a home here and she has been coming to the Island for more than 30 years.
"My style? Well, my style is whatever kind of music you hired me to play," the accomplished sideman said. "There's a benefit to that in that I can pick a theme, say Hawaiian or bluegrass, and build a performance around it. I'm drawn to Celtic music these days and that's the theme of 'The Black Swan,' my latest CD," he said.
Last Thursday, he appeared at The Pit Stop in Oak Bluffs with his step-daughter. On Saturday, June 30, he held a guitar workshop for about eight Island musicians, also at The Pit Stop.
Mr. Huttlinger has lived in places from the southeast U.S. to California, but he found a musical home at Boston's Berklee College of Music, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1984, while also busking (playing) for tips at the Harvard Square T stop.
But the challenges of that big life have made him warm, accessible, and happy — a centered man. His website, petehuttlinger.com reflects a whimsical, authentic perspective, perhaps because he's been aware that success has co-existed with a serious heart condition that came a cropper in 2011, when he had a heart attack and stroke as he was leaving Nashville for a tour.
"I was born with a rare congenital heart defect, only 100 or 200 people have ever been diagnosed with it," he said. "My heart is on the right side rather than the left, and the heart chambers are reversed. I had surgery at age 12 to patch up some holes and fix the valves. Then suddenly, a year ago I found myself being Life Flighted from Nashville to Houston where one of three doctors in the world who can install these heart pumps works.
"It's the same pump that former vice president Dick Cheney had before his transplant. The pump is surgically implanted and attached to leads that exit through the stomach and connect to a small battery pack that I wear 24/7. It weighs four or five pounds, and it's not obvious. Most people think it's a camera-bag.
"It's a minor inconvenience considering that a lot of people went the extra mile to save my life. The doctor wanted to use an experimental pump that had to have FDA (Federal Drug Administration) approval, and he fought for that approval until he got it, and my insurance company had to okay it and they did.
"I was nearly five months in the hospital learning to walk and eat again, had a lot of atrophy and lost body mass. I weighed 110 pounds. But when I started to work out and saw I was getting better, I really pushed hard at it. I'm lucky and honored to be alive and spending so much time working out is a way to honor the sacrifices others have made. I don't take that lightly."
Mr. Huttlinger is also pushing the virtual envelope with an ongoing series of concerts streamed around the world from anywhere he happens to be. He did one in his Nashville living room and another last week on the front porch of the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. He's fascinated by the possibilities.
"I think the format would be great for musicians on an island like this where getting wider exposure can be difficult. I use Stageit but there are other sites and I think it'll grow as the medium gains momentum," he said.
"It's so simple. I got the idea last summer watching John [Oates] do one. You just turn your computer on and begin playing. From the front porch of the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown, people were logged on in Scotland, Germany, and all over the U.S. A great way to get music out there and with this battery pack, I'm not going to be touring overseas.
"During the concert, I turned the camera around and gave the world a quick tour of The Harbor View. I hope they'll get some business from Germany or somewhere. I've had people literally from Scandinavia to Malaysia tuning in to these virtual concerts."
Mr. Huttlinger uses a website called Stageit.com, which promotes the concerts. The company doesn't pay performers or charge viewers.
"They limit the shows to 40 minutes and they don't cache them, so you have to record in order to keep them. The screen has a live comment panel, so you can get some feedback, but it is a little weird to perform without direct audience feedback to judge reaction to your show. You find yourself hoping they're listening and not using it as background music for a dinner party.
"The page has icons directing viewers to iTunes and Amazon for CD purchases and downloads of performers' music. They have a a tip jar icon for people to donate if they want. We did a prize promotion for the biggest tipper on one show."
For more information, visit petehuttlinger.com.