Robert C. Hunter (78) (June 23, 1941 – September 23, 2019) was an American lyricist, singer- songwriter, translator, and poet, best known for his work with the Grateful Dead. Born near San Luis Obispo in California, Hunter spent some time in his childhood in foster homes, as a result of his father’s abandoning his family, and took refuge in reading and writing. He attended university in Connecticut for a year before returning to Palo Alto, where he became friends with Jerry Garcia. Garcia and Hunter began a collaboration that would last through the remainder of Garcia’s life.
Garcia and others formed the Grateful Dead in 1965, and some time later began working with lyrics that Hunter had written. Garcia invited him to join the band as a lyricist, and Hunter contributed substantially to many of their albums, beginning with Aoxomoxoa in 1969. Over the years Hunter wrote lyrics to a number of the band’s signature pieces, including “Dark Star”, “Ripple”, “Truckin'”, “China Cat Sunflower”, and “Terrapin Station”. Hunter was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Grateful Dead in 1994, and is the only non-performer to ever be inducted as a member of a band. Upon his death, Rolling Stone described him as “one of rock’s most ambitious and dazzling lyricists.”
Hunter was born Robert Burns on June 23, 1941 in Arroyo Grande, California, near the town of San Luis Obispo. In a 1973 Rolling Stone profile of the Grateful Dead, Charles Perry reported that he is a great-great grandson of noted Romantic poet Robert Burns According to Grateful Dead chronicler David McNally, Hunter’s father was an alcoholic, and deserted the family when Hunter was seven; he spent the next few years in foster homes before returning to live with his mother. These experiences drove him to seek refuge in books, and he wrote a fifty-page long fairy tale before he was eleven. His mother got married again, to Norman Hunter, whose last name Robert took. The elder Hunter was a publisher, who gave Robert lessons in writing. Robert attended high school in Palo Alto, California, and learned to play several instruments as a teenager. His family moved to Connecticut, where he attended the University of Connecticut. He also played the trumpet in a band called “The Crescents”.
Hunter left the university after a year and returned to Palo Alto. He was introduced to Jerry Garcia by Garcia’s then-girlfriend, who had previously been in a relationship with Hunter. They did not immediately get along, but became friends after seeing each other again at a coffee shop two days later. At the time, Garcia was 18, and Hunter, 19. The duo began to play music together, and spent their time in “what passed for Palo Alto’s 1961 bohemian community”, including a bookstore run by Roy Kepler. They soon began to play music together, and formed a short-lived duo called “Bob and Jerry” that debuted at the graduation ceremony of the Quaker Peninsula School on May 5, 1961. According to McNally, the group did not last because of “Hunter’s limits as a guitarist and Garcia’s ravenous drive to get better”, but the two remained friendly. Garcia became involved with bluegrass groups in the area such as the Thunder Mountain Tub Thumpers and the Wildwood Boys; Hunter would sometimes play the mandolin with these groups, but became more interested in writing as time went by. By 1962, he had written a book, The Silver Snarling Trumpet, described by McNally as a roman à clef. The volume was never published; however, McNally writes that it showed Hunter’s “skill at storytelling and his fantastic ear for dialogue”.
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In 1982, he married artist Maureen Hunter. They had three children. Hunter was once a member of the Church of Scientology, but by 1999 he no longer belonged to the organization. In 2013, he was compelled to go on a solo tour as a result of medical bills, having suffered a spinal cord abscess in the previous year. Hunter died at his home in San Rafael, California on September 23, 2019. He had recently undergone surgery. Upon hearing news of his passing, tributes and remembrances were shared from his former bandmates Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, and Phil Lesh, alongside other musicians Trey Anastasio, John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Warren Haynes.
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Jimmy Nelson – Farfel & Nestle’s – dies
Jimmy Nelson (90) (December 15, 1928 – September 24, 2019) was an American ventriloquist who appeared on television in the 1950s and 1960s. He is most famous for commercials for Nestlé chocolate featuring Farfel the Dog. He also hosted a children’s show sponsored by Nestlé.
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One night that year, while working a late show in a Wichita, Kansas nightclub, he picked up a stuffed dog a patron had left on the piano, and improvised a low-pitched voice to make it talk. This gave him the idea for a new character which he had Marshall build. He named it Farfel, after the Jewish pasta dish he had seen on the menu of the Borscht Belt resorts in upstate New York where he performed. His famous line was : “No, I wouldn’t say that”
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In 1955, the Nestlé company hired Nelson to do commercials selling their chocolate candy and Nestlé’s Quik chocolate milk flavoring. The Nestlé executives had him audition by spontaneously performing their newly written jingle. Nelson sang the first two (musical) lines in Danny’s voice:
Nestlé’s makes the very best…
He finished with Farfel slowly singing the last word “chocolate”, in two syllables. Nelson was so nervous that his hands sweated, and when Farfel was finished, his finger slipped off the control, causing the mouth to audibly snap shut, a mistake no ventriloquist should make. Nelson left the audition thinking he had blown it, but was surprised to learn he was hired; in fact, the executives actually liked the mouth-snapping effect and asked that he keep it. This became his trademark as the commercials ran for ten years.
When advertising Nestlé’s Quik, Danny O’Day would say it “makes milk taste…like a million” (dollars), again slowly and pausing for effect.
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Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths…
23: Robert Hunter, 78, American Hall of Fame lyricist (Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan), poet and musician.
21: Christopher Rouse, 70, American composer, Grammy (2002) and Pulitzer winner (1993); Woo Hye-mi, 31, South Korean singer (The Voice of Korea).
20: Yonrico Scott, 63, American drummer (The Derek Trucks Band).
19: Irina Bogacheva, 80, Russian mezzo-soprano; Sandie Jones, 68, Irish singer (“Ceol an Ghrá”); Harold Mabern, 83, American jazz pianist and composer; María Rivas, 59, Venezuelan Latin jazz singer, composer and painter, cancer; Larry Wallis, 70, English musician (Pink Fairies, Motörhead).
18: Chuck Dauphin, 45, American sports radio broadcaster and country music journalist, complications from diabetes; Tony Mills, 57, English rock singer (Shy, TNT), pancreatic cancer.