Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bill Gunter (1927-2007)

It is with a heavy heart that we report that dear friend and jazz entertainer extraordinaire Bill Gunter has died. He was a good friend and occasional member of the Joyful Noise Jazz Band, playing on both the band's CDs. He just turned 80.

In keeping with spirit of Bill's lifetime of entertaining people (especially making them laugh) what follows is a bio that we believe he wrote of himself (or was written by someone who knew him well), copied from the DixielandJazz message board.

From Cell Block 7 ...

Bill Gunter - Drums, washboard, piano, banjo, guitar & vocals

Bill was born at a very early age and shortly thereafter was abandoned in the forest where he grew up as a feral child tended by a band of beavers.

His earliest memories are of the rhythmic sounds produced when the beavers would slap their large flat tails on the surface of the water and it was this early percussion experience that destined him to become a washboard player.

A wandering environmentalist rescued Bill and returned him to civilization although for many years his new neighbours were at a loss to explain the teeth marks on their flagpoles and shrubbery.

Also, the local swimming pool had to post a permanent security guard to prevent the regular damming of their water slides...

His attempts to emulate the beavers by thumping his nether regions on the surface of the nearest stretch of water (the City Square fountain became a real tourist attraction!) forced his adoptive parents to 'buy him a drum to keep him quiet'.

This was a turning point, and his rhythmic beating sounds attracted a band of itinerant dixieland gypsies who kidnapped the hapless Bill and forced him to play washboard in the Quintet of the Hot Club of San Jose and also do the band uniforms (light starch in the collars).

Upon reaching puberty Bill gained phenomenal strength, which enabled him to beat their arm wrestling champion in a sudden death face off. She, impressed by his prowess, demanded his immediate release and return to outer suburbia.

Here, the proceeds from the sale of Bill's golden nose ring were sufficient to put him through college and he became an avid folk song collector, also learning to play guitar.

After graduating he started his life long career as an English teacher and in off duty hours he entertained in local clubs with his guitar and vocals.

He later moved into the pizza parlors and entertained as a member of a quartet playing all those old great sing-along songs that made pizza pubs such great fun back in the sixties.

Around this time Bill took up the washboard seriously, playing with such diverse groups as The Boondockers (a pizza parlor novelty jazz band), Black Diamond Jazz Band, San Francisco Starlight Orchestra and the Joyful Noise Jazz Band in addition to Cell Block 7.

Bill is also a member of the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society (STJS) and has served as president of that organization. The STJS also presents the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee over the Memorial Day weekend each year and Bill is very active in helping organize and produce this annual affair.

Though retired from teaching now, Bill continues his enthusiasm for jazz. He and his wife, Beverly, love to travel and visit with friends they have met in jazz all around the world.

The ingredients above have produced the suave, debonaire and strikingly handsome man who regularly mounts the stage with washboard in hand, asking the eternal question, 'How do you tune this damn thing!?'

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