After a day of demanding music classes at Berklee College, Peter Huttlinger would grab a friend, rush to the Harvard Square subway station and spend the afternoon there playing music for tips. The two always came back with their pockets filled. For Huttlinger, this routine symbolized what has become his abiding outlook toward music: Perfect your art, but play to the crowd.
Since his days of subway busking, Huttlinger has developed into a world-renowned guitarist. Even as a must-have sideman, he occupied some pretty choice real estate, including the Hollywood Bowl and London’s Royal Albert Hall with John Denver, Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and stadiums around the world with numerous other pop and country superstars.
He has been a featured artist with the San Diego and Houston symphonies and is a favorite guest artist of the Nashville Chamber Orchestra. In 2000 Huttlinger won the title of National Fingerstyle Champion at the prestigious Walnut Valley Festival.
In the past five years, Huttlinger has stepped into the solo spotlight. He has just released his latest CD, The Santa Rita Connection. This newest collection is hot on the heels of his critically acclaimed Naked Pop CD. Ten of the 13 tracks on The Santa Rita Connection are original compositions. “I’ve been writing tunes since I was 14 years old,” says Huttlinger. Naked Pop was a way to introduce my playing to people using tunes that they were familiar and comfortable with, thus setting the stage for a CD of my own tunes.” The Santa Rita Connection does however include some classic covers, such as the blinding version of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” Huttlinger’s mind-boggling arrangement of Steve Wonder’s “Superstition,” and a beautiful adaptation of the timeless “Sunny.”
Huttlinger refers to The Santa Rita Connection as “my best collection of fingerstyle performances ever.” He explains, “My playing has matured to a point where I feel really comfortable. I’m at a place where my technical chops and writing skills are all coming together.”
Born in Washington, D.C., Huttlinger descended from two lines of prominent journalists. His grandfather on his mother’s side, Fred Walker, was an editor of the San Francisco Call-Bulletin, reporting directly to its owner and publisher, William Randolph Hearst. Huttlinger’s father, Joseph, was a White House correspondent and a publisher of his own newsletter on the oil industry. “My dad took my mom to the White House on their first date,” Huttlinger says, “and while they were walking around, President Truman came out and said, ‘Hi, Joe.’ That got Mom’s attention.”
When Huttlinger’s father died in 1964, his mother moved with her six children to northern California. “My mom played piano — almost every evening,” Huttlinger recalls. “It was real comforting to hang out and listen. She wasn’t trained, but she had a real melodic sense about her.”
By the age of 12, Huttlinger had begun music lessons and by 14 he had settled on the guitar. Soon after he graduated from high school, a relative left him a small inheritance. He decided to use this windfall to study at Berklee College of Music, the Boston-based academic home of such musical luminaries as Quincy Jones, Kevin Eubanks, Melissa Ethridge, Brandford Marsalis, Bruce Cockburn and Paula Cole. It was there that Huttlinger found he had a knack for music theory and harmony. “All that made sense to me,” he says.
Huttlinger graduated cum laude from Berklee in 1984 and moved to Nashville. During the eighteen years since that move, Huttlinger has established himself as a top-notch session player, composer, arranger, bandleader, songwriter and sideman.
During the early ’90’s, John Denver’s tour manager and producer Kris O’Connor heard Huttlinger on another project and was so impressed that he recommended him for Denver’s band. Huttlinger toured, recorded and performed on television with Denver from 1994 until the singer’s death in 1997.
Huttlinger has performed on numerous Grammy-winning and Grammy-nominated projects. He has also been nominated for an Emmy for music he both composed and performed for a PBS special. His performances have been used in several national TV series, including the PBS Nature special “Let This Be A Voice.” He created the theme song for ESPN’s Flyfishing America, a program on which he has made guest appearances.
Competing at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas, Huttlinger matched licks with 37 of the nimblest guitarists in the world to win the 2000 National Fingerpick Guitar Championship. He has since been featured on the cover of Fingerstyle Guitar twice, and has been profiled in Guitar Player, Acoustic Guitar, Vintage Guitar and Guitar World Acoustic. He has created two series of instructional DVDs that have become Homespun Tapes top sellers. One series is his much in demand Learn To Play The Songs of John Denver (Vol. I, II & III). The other series includes instructionals of his own arrangements and practice techniques.
Peers consider Huttlinger one of today’s finest fingerstyle guitarists. Dirty Linen magazine labeled him “….a powerhouse guitarist,” and Guitar Player magazine referred to his playing as “…an amazing display of all-around fingerstyle mastery. Scary stuff.”