Terry Hunter is having a helluva week.
The well-known house music deejay, one of Chicago’s famed “Chosen Few,” just got back from a gig in Naples, Italy, worked in his west suburban studio for a bit, and then flew out to Los Angeles to celebrate Grammy weekend.
He’s understandably excited. And why wouldn’t he be? He’s one-fourth of the all-Chicago formula that created Jennifer Hudson’s Grammy-nominated house music hit “It’s Your World,” featuring R. Kelly and also produced by fellow Chosen Few DJ and record label executive Wayne Williams. The song has tough competition in the Best R&B Vocal Performance category, but Hunter is hoping for the best given that his song is up against cuts by Beyonce, Ledisi, Usher and Chris Brown.
“C’mon Bey,” jokes Hunter, 44, while sitting in his studio and reviewing a promo reel of his turn in the French house music flick “Eden.” He references Beyonce’s seemingly annual sweep of all things music. “You already cleaned up!”
But all jokes aside, Hunter’s song could be a Chi-town anthem. Or at least it ought to be. It’s all about empowerment.
“This record is sooooo Chicago,” says Hunter. “Chicago artists, Chicago producers, Chicago writers. I’m rooting for the home team.”
[Listen to “It’s Your World” below, and then scroll down for the rest of the story. In fact, the song is a good soundtrack for this here story.]
As a member of the Chosen Few, Hunter is one of those DJs largely responsible for the house music sound that grew up to be categorized as techno, trance, jungle, EDM and any number of names given worldwide for different kinds of that densely rhythmic music with Chicago roots. In the world of house, he’s a certified superstar. People ask for his autograph. And that movie “Eden,” currently making the rounds at various film festivals, is based in part on a real encounter (and DJ mentorship relationship) between himself and the brother of filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve.
[Trailer below for the film, but scroll down for the rest of the story on DJ Terry Hunter.]
Hunter also produced two remixes on the recent release “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics.” Working directly for Sony music impresario Clive Davis was harrowing, says Hunter, especially given that, shortly before the due date, all his work on the songs was lost because of a massive flood in his west suburban town. His basement studio, which included masters for all his music, original tapes of his early work and his collection of thousands of vinyl albums, was waterlogged. Even the backups to the backups were destroyed in nine feet of water. Thank goodness the dog, an enormous cane corso, got out.
“They really pushed me,” says Hunter of working with Williams, head of A&R for RCA Records, and Davis, who is the chief creative officer of Sony Music. But there were other lessons learned as well.
“After that I’d said I’d never record in a basement again,” says Hunter, seated in the captain’s chair in new digs on the third floor of his tasteful, massive house. The flooding coincided with the death of a close family member, a harrowing hospital stay and a difficult overseas gig that pretty much started at the close of the funeral. He turns his attention to a gaggle of colorful African ciclids darting about a square tank, and shakes off those uncomfortable memories. “This will be my first time at the Grammys. We’ll be suited and booted, wearing custom pieces from Indonesia or maybe Giorgio Armani.”
Right now he wears a namesake black T-shirt and jeans. His house is full of friends, business partners or employees. And he stays busy, currently working on a house album with guest stars Estelle, Chantay Savage and Ann Nesby. He’s also putting the final touches on an all-house album with his friend Rob, who the rest of us call R. Kelly.
In fact, “It’s Your World” was originally written for Kelly, but after recording it, some of the A&R people thought Hudson should hear it. And when she did, she loved it. Kelly gave it to her, taking himself out of the central vocal role and guesting on the final track. Hudson sang that song last year before a crowd of around 25,000 at the 24th annual Chosen Few house picnic. (The picnic, which started off a teensy family thing decades ago and now has a worldwide draw, takes place every July on the South Side, in Jackson Park.)
The song showcases the strength of Hudson’s voice and became an instant dance hit last fall, rising instantly to number 12 on Billboard’s top R&B charts after Hudson’s “JHud” album release. Once the Grammy nominations were released, Hunter’s already busy life got busier. People called asking for him to create more Hudson-esque hits. And he responded by saying that particular track was for the home team, but he will work on new music for new people.
And was he planning to be at Davis’ famous, historically difficult-to-get-an-invite pre-Grammy party? Hunter grins like a schoolboy and jokes again. “Will I get into the party?! I gave Clive a hit. Two hits! One with Aretha and the other with Jennifer.”