David Hunt grew up in a poor family in Lexington, North Carolina. Like many teenagers of the 1960s, he picked up the guitar and became a songwriter and singer in a band. “When I was 15 or 16 we recorded an album,” he recalls. “We used to do all the college tours, and I’d sing at fraternity parties.”
Hunt taught himself to play piano in his early 20s. “Elton John came onto the scene, and I just loved what he was doing, so I picked it right up,” he reports.
When he was invited out to California to appear on the Dating Game, Hunt saw it as an opportunity to pursue his dream of becoming a full-time, professional musician. He drove out to California, staying with his older sister who had already relocated there, and never left.
Hunt pushed toward his goal, taking music courses at UCLA and Dick Grove School of Music. He met with some success, making recordings with the groups Ambrosia and Vanilla Fudge, and later David Benoit. “I had signed contracts, but nothing ever materialized,” he says.
At a certain point, he decided to chase another dream. “I decided I didn’t want to live in the back of a Volkswagen bus. There are too many Elton Johns in this world that will never be discovered,” asserts Hunt.
Hunt was also running out of time. He had been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a child and was slowly losing his eyesight. “I knew I was going blind, and I was a very positive person. I had an image of the lifestyle I wanted to live. I wanted to raise a family and live in a very nice home.”
Hunt entered the business world. “In business, if you work hard and you’ve got a good product, you can make lots of money if you are honest,” he says, but he never completely gave up on music. He told himself: “When I’m successful, I’m going to go back and do an album.”
With lots of determination, Hunt thrived as an entrepreneur. He built and marketed home security systems developed from alarm systems he’d rigged to protect his recording equipment. He also saw the potential of voice mail and distributed the technology across the country. Later, Hunt got into real estate development, building and marketing “smart homes” in the 1980s.
He married, had three children, and built a massive 29-room antebellum South style home in Chatsworth, California. By the early 1990s walking around building sites became a hazard due to his deteriorating eyesight. He sold the business in 1995, retired from real estate, and started a new venture: winemaking.
Of course, winemaking, for such a driven entrepreneur is anything but a relaxing retirement pastime. “We have a world-class vineyard,” he says. “I’ve worked hard at perfecting the wine. I don’t give up. It’s like writing a lyric, until I make it work with cadence, the song is not complete. I work the wine until I can’t make it any better.”
All these years Hunt never gave up on making music either, marking major events in his life by composing tunes. “It’s my stress relief,” adds Hunt. And, visitors to his tasting room are frequently treated to live concerts, played on the Hunt’s white baby grand.
According to Hunt, wine and music pair perfectly. “Have you ever had a great bottle of wine without music in the background?” he asks. “When we opened the tasting room we tested music. People want something uplifting and inspiring, then they buy more wine, they drink it, and they are happier. I say that wine inspires music and music inspires wine.”
Then, in April 2009, Hunt lost his dream home to fire, and along with it, all of his recordings.
“Let me tell you the good part,” says Hunt, who’s always the optimist. “As a result of the fire, my kids started telling me, ‘If you don’t do this album now you’re never going to do it.’ I’m so caught up in winemaking and traveling for wine.” The other part of the equation was that he never found the right person to help him get the sound he wanted.
But, that all came together after the fire, when the Hunt family temporarily moved to Hidden Hills, and David Hunt met smooth jazz guitarist Nils Jiptner. Hunt had purchased new guitars to replace those that were damaged in the fire and hired Jiptner to give him a few pointers with the new instruments.
“He came over and played me some of his music,” says Hunt, who instantly knew he’d found a co-producer to record Rhapsody in Red. “We put it together and it turned out unbelievable.”
Many of the songs on the CD share musical titles with his wines—“Rhapsody in Red,” “Hilltop Serenade,” “Bon Vivant.” Other tunes were inspired by his family. “I have a Merlot and a song called ‘Unforgettable.’ It’s about the unforgettable moments in life—meeting your wife, getting married, and having kids.”
The song “Destiny” was completed the night before his daughter, Destiny, was born. “I wrote it about a father’s perspective: will your eyes be emerald green or bluer than the mountain sky? Will your hair be woven in gold?” says Hunt, who by then was nearly completely blind. “I was thinking in my mind of what my daughter would look like.”
Having completed his first recording in 35 years, at age 64, Hunt is just getting restarted with music. He is already looking toward his next project, an inspirational CD targeted at young people.
“I’m working on some things I did when I was in my 20s, motivational songs like ‘Everything is Possible,’ and ‘The Harder You Work, the Luckier You Get,’” says Hunt. “I’m from a very poor family. That’s what got me where I am today, being positive. I eliminated ‘can’t do,’ ‘won’t work,’ and ‘impossible’ from my vocabulary.”
There may not be a more appropriate musician to drive that message home.