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Guitarist and Composer Pete Huttlinger Dead at 54
Guitarist and Composer Pete Huttlinger Dead at 54
Played Lead Guitar for John Denver, Bounced Back from Physical Catastrophes
Nashville, TN – January 15, 2016 -- Guitarist, composer and medical marvel Pete Huttlinger died today (Friday, Jan. 15) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville at the age of 54. He was surrounded in his final hours by family, friends, fellow musicians and a corps of doctors who had kept him alive and performing for years against all odds.
The cause of death was a stroke.
Before he emerged as a solo artist in the late 1990s, Huttlinger was best known as John Denver’s lead guitar player. He would continue to tour with such major acts as LeAnn Rimes and John Oates of Hall & Oates.
Born with a rare heart defect, Huttlinger underwent a series of operations, beginning as a teenager, that ultimately failed to normalize the heart’s functions. In 2010, he suffered a stroke that his doctors initially thought would permanently immobilize him. But with characteristic determination, he returned to playing within three weeks. His first performance was for his incredulous doctors.
Soon after, he suffered a heart failure so catastrophic that it kept him at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston for four months in 2011. Again, he worked his way back, first to proficiency and then to mastery of his instrument. He and his wife and manager, Erin Morris, chronicled his ordeal and recovery in their 2015 memoir, Joined at the Heart: A Story of Love, Guitars, Resilience and Marigolds.
In the four years following his stay in Houston, Huttlinger toured, recorded and conducted guitar camps. In addition, he gave inspirational talks to medical, military and civic groups on the topic, “Don’t Just Live: Live Well.” His last musical performance was in Atlanta on Jan. 9, only two days before his final hospitalization.
Peter John Huttlinger was born June 22, 1961 in Washington, D. C., the youngest son of Joseph Bernard Huttlinger, a White House correspondent and trade journalist, and Mary Elizabeth Walker Huttlinger. He first became fascinated with music at the age of nine when a visiting brother-in-law introduced him to folk style five-string banjo playing.
After Joseph Huttlinger’s death in 1964, Huttlinger’s family moved to northern California and then to New Bern, North Carolina, by which time he had begun performing and seriously studying music. His skill as a guitarist earned him admission to the elite Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he moonlighted after classes by playing bluegrass music in the city’s subways. He graduated with honors in 1984 and moved to Nashville. There he busied himself with every musical job he could pick up, from recording demos for songwriters to playing in bands at the Opryland USA amusement park.
Huttlinger connected with Denver in 1994 after Denver’s producer heard him playing on a recording session. He toured the world with Denver as his lead guitarist for the next four years, played on various of his recordings and appeared on his TV specials.
In 2000, Huttlinger won the National Fingerpick Guitar Championship in Winfield, Kansas.
As a soloist, Huttlinger recorded more than 15 albums, including Catch & Release, Naked Pop,Things Are Looking Up, The Santa Rita Connection, First Light and The Black Swan. Two of the albums earned him particular acclaim: Fingerpicking Wonder, a collection of guitar covers of Stevie Wonder’s hits, and McGuire’s Landing, a song cycle he composed about westward expansion in America as seen through the eyes of an Irish immigrant.
He released his final album, Parnassus, a collaboration with vocalist Mollie Weaver, in 2015.
Huttlinger made the first of three appearances at Carnegie Hall starting in 2007. He also performed at three of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festivals.
He is survived by his wife and second heart, Erin Morris Huttlinger, stepchildren Sean Della Croce and James Della Croce, a brother, Frank Huttlinger, in California, and a sister, Theresa Vigour, in Mississippi.
A memorial service will be announced at a later date. A memorial fund is being developed in Pete’s honor.
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