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Real Music - July 2015 - Saxual Healing

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Real Music - July 2015
Saxual Healing

by Robert Feuer

Saxophonist Terry Hanck, who returns to the Sonoma County Fair for his annual two-week residency, is a man who has spent his life doing the things he loves, music and surfing. I first met him in 2012, when we had a talk against a serene backdrop of the hills and fields of Petaluma. He was riding high, fresh off a Blues Music Award, the blues industry’s top honor, as best horn player.

Born in Chicago in 1944, the son of a successful bandleader, Hanck grew up listening to blues and jazz on all-night AM radio, and recalls his first record purchase - a 78 r.p.m. Fats Domino release. “That New Orleans sound is so imbedded in my soul,” he said. He liked Little Richard’s music, and the early rockabilly of artists like Gene Vincent, and saw B.B. King live at Chicago’s Regal Theater in 1962. “I didn’t know who he was, and he blew me away. People weren’t playing that sustained guitar lead at that time. His notes were going right down my spine.”

Hanck didn’t pick up the saxophone until age 21, citing “the cats from the past, King Curtis, Lee Allen, and Herb Hardesty,” as primary influences. “I always gravitated to blues, R&B, soul, jazz. To me it was all the same, anything that has soul.” Originally, Hanck didn’t sing at all. “Playing the horn really helped open up the throat. I like singing as much as horn playing. The voice is the best instrument.” 

A passion for surfing and skindiving caused him to move to Southern California in 1967. Those days are over. “I feel like a kid again in the water. I always loved the ocean, but I’m too old to surf anymore. I have a hard time getting out of a chair now,” he said, beaming. “I’m concentrating on what I can do, like music.”

Two years later, he moved to the Bay Area, where he formed the band, Grayson Street, named for the Berkeley street he lived on. They used an old Laura Scudder’s potato chip truck for transportation.

In 1977, Hanck connected with the Elvin Bishop Band for a ten-year run. Bishop was on top at the time. “I went from the potato chip truck, playing in clubs with ten people, to the Oakland Coliseum in front of 55,000 screaming people. I’m thinking – I could get used to this.”

Asked about the 2012 award, he said, “It’s great to be recognized by your peers. I do have a particular sound and style, and luckily I’ve been able to work with the best musicians, and that’s a great thing.” 

Many mourn the loss of old blues styles as generations pass away, but Hanck is more optimistic. “Of course it’s changing,” he said, “because life changes. Life’s not the same as when people were coming out of the Delta. But there’s always great people.”

Hanck’s band plays at the Fair’s Blues & Brews Lounge from July 29 to Aug. 9

Photo: Marilyn Stringer