To a resounding number of musicians and fans alike, the answer is a loud emphatic YES !! The accolades and praise for Hunt Sales’ abilities have never ceased. For some, he is simply a living legend. Hunt seriously began honing his chops at a very young age. Growing up in a well-known show business family gave him access to the finest drummers in New York City and Los Angeles. His dad, the legendary entertainer and comedian Soupy Sales, was a serious jazz aficionado. Soupy’s show business connections allowed Hunt to study and hang out with the likes of Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, and Shelly Manne.
He's one of the few living drummers that actually has a personality and style that is unmistakably his own.
Since growing up with jazz, it was inevitable that it would become a significant part of Hunt’s style. At the age of 11 he as his brother, bassist Tony, formed the group Tony and the Tigers. Even at this young age Hunt attacked the drums…His characteristic sound already in evidence. The group appeared on the Steve Allen show, and two episodes of Hullabaloo. One show hosted by their dad Soupy, the other by Jerry Lewis. At age thirteen Hunt and Tony were personally invited by legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix as witnesses to History. They both attended some of Hendrix’s recording sessions at the legendary Electric Ladyland Studios in New York City.
“Hunt Sales is my favorite living drummer... I met him when he was 13 or so and he was already a most unique kid in town. He put on his dad's old Hawaiian shirts and singlehandedly started a craze!”
-Pamela Des Barres
In 1970 Hunt and Tony Joined Todd Rundgren’s band Runt, proceeding to tour and record four albums with Rundgren over the next several years. It was with Runt that the ultimate rhythm section was developing. The brothers had an almost psychic ability to anticipate the groove. They were of one mind, working simultaneously… Pushing the music forward. Hunt’s drumming was so aggressive, it would have been impossible to play it any other way. After a long stint with Rundgren, the Sales brothers joined forces with Iggy Pop. Hunt’s drum intro on “Lust For Life” is now legendary. Everyone has heard it a thousand times on the radio. Yet, how many knew it was Hunt Sales on the drums?
In my opinion, Hunt Sales is one of the great big band jazz inspired rock drummers... from the same school as John Bonham, Ginger Baker and Mitch Mitchell… All offspring of Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, and Gene Krupa. The intro to Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life" puts him in the Hall of Fame, instantly recognizable as Hunt. It's right up there with John Bonham's intro to "Rock And Roll".
In the late 1970’s Hunt and Tony joined forces in a large rhythm and blues group called The Sales Brothers. Similar in spirit to James Brown, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding , and Wayne Cochran. It was a tour de force revue of high impact blue eyed soul. Hunt and Tony’s vocals blended powerfully and seamlessly as one. Another true meeting of the musical minds. Their archival recordings from that time were released in 2008 by Perseverance Records under the direction, guidance, and superb engineering of“California Chas” Ferry.
"Some of the most memorable experiences of my life were because of my involvement with Hunt and Tony Sales. I've been privileged enough to work with them on projects with Iggy Pop, Tin Machine and many other well known contemporary artists. Hunt and Tony make up what is undoubtedly one of the best rhythm sections in modern music.
-Chas Ferry- Producer & Mastering engineer
Hunt and Tony called the album “Hired Guns”. They recognized and accepted key roles as sidemen in a vast majority of their past projects. The title was meant to be descriptive with a slight sense of humor. Many of Hunt’s ideas about music deliberately include subtle reflections of comedy and humor. His latest project “The Hunt Sales Memorial” was inspired by Jerry Lewis. It seems that growing up as the son of comedian Soupy Sales inspired Hunt’s sense of style in both life and music.
What we see on the surface, however, is a hard working musician who continues to strive for excellence on every gig. Hunt has many fans and admirers when it comes to work ethic and dedication. Yet, it is love of family and friends which truly sustains him in life This is the real driving force that has contributed to Hunt’s longevity and success in a highly competitive business.
“Hunt is by far the best Drummer I have ever heard, or worked with. The tuning of his drums is something only an expert could appreciate. Hunt was aware of this detail when he was twelve years old. His chops are thrilling to work with. Anticipation, always on the mark. His references to various drum styles are so interesting and fused together seamlessly. Always pushing, always turning corners to take chances, just keeping rhythm would be boring. No one hits the drums harder than my brother does. With a jazz players instinct for improvisation, he’s always urging the other players to reach farther”.
-Tony F. Sales
When Hunt Sales first moved to Nashville… Some drummers told him angrily to “get in line”. Within a week, Hunt was already gigging. He needed no introduction, his talent and reputation spoke for itself. Hunt was never content with sitting by watching things happen. He created his own success through hard work and determination. When Hunt was studying with the legendary Freddie Gruber in Los Angeles, he practiced eight to twelve hours a day.
“He's one of the few living drummers that actually has a personality and style that is unmistakably his own”.
In 1989, we saw the birth of Tin Machine with David Bowie on lead vocals. Reuniting the Sales brothers with guitarist extraordinaire, Reeves Gabrels.
This was a true super group for the 1990s. Tin Machine was way ahead of its time musically and conceptually. Yet, the audiences wanted Bowie’s hits, and were not prepared for the sonic onslaught and creative bombardment that was Tin Machine’s trademark. The sometimes angry crowds were on the losing end of seeing and hearing true genius at work… Not realizing at the time, they were witnessing the very future of music.
“In the best possible way, playing with Hunt in Tin Machine was a cross between riding a bronco and aerial combat”.
Hunt continues to play, record, and produce a wide variety of music in the studio. He still tours with his own group when time allows. There has also been some recent internet buzz that David Bowie and Tin Machine may reunite in the near future. Whether it happens or not doesn’t matter. Hunt Sales will continue to do what he does best – To keep playing the drums !
Not So Modern Drummer thanks and acknowledges the following individuals for the invaluable information and photographs they provided for this article: Pamela Des Barres, Chas Ferry, Reeves Gabrels, Tony F. Sales, Billy Sheppard, Stephanie Lynne Thorburn, and Carla Zienneker.