For 11 years, Kurt Huget has been teaching a guitar workshop at San Quentin State Prison.
On a Thursday afternoon in August, he was explaining to a new student what bars and beats are. He handed out chord charts to the student, showing him how to place his fingers on the guitar’s fret board.
“I wanted to teach in here (San Quentin) because it’s such a unique place,” Huget said. “I knew the guys would appreciate it.”
According to Huget, Steve Emrick, San Quentin’s community partnership manager, noticed him coming in to play concerts for the organization Bread & Roses. Emrick asked Huget if he’d like to teach in the prison’s Arts in Corrections program.
“I showed up the first night, and about 25 guys showed up,” Huget recalled.
“First and foremost, I wanted everyone to have some fun and be creative,” Huget told San Quentin News in 2009. “I’m trying to pass along, in a quick and easy way, the things that I’ve learned over many years of playing.”
A decade later, the class is still having fun.
Over the years, dozens of inmates have come and gone. There were 10 students attending the class in August, which has a roster with 11 names on it. Another three names were on a waiting list.
As the class tuned their guitars and warmed up, Huget worked with some of the less experienced students. He handed out sheets of music with instructions on how par- ticular songs were supposed to be played.
A beginning student accidentally broke a string on his guitar.
“Don’t worry, guitar strings break all the time,” Huget said.
Then he took the guitar, restrung it, tuned it for the student and gave it back to him.
“Kurt (Huget) enjoys what he’s doing,” said inmate Gary Harrell, who plays the harmonica and has attended the class on and off for the better part of a decade.
“I’ve taught students as young as five and as old as 95,” Huget said. “I have more adult students than kids these days I teach a few private lessons, and I’ve also taught at a music school for low-income Latino youth in the area.
“My teaching philosophy is to keep the frustration level down and the enjoyment level up. I’m self-taught on the guitar, so it took me a long time to figure some things out. I wouldn’t want any of my students to have to go through that, so I tell them, I’m going to teach you something in five minutes that took me five years to figure out.”
Huget said he first heard of Bread & Roses back in the 1980s.
“They used to put on big two-day music festivals at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley,” he said. “The lineup of performers was always amazing. I learned about what the organization does, and it felt good to support them and have a good time, too.”
Huget said around that time, he felt he was good enough as a musician to volunteer his services for them.
“I called them up and introduced myself, and they signed me up right away to start doing shows,” he said.
That was in 1988. Since then, Huget said he’s per-formed at dozens of different venues around the Bay Area such as hospitals, homeless shelters, senior centers, schools, drug/alcohol rehab clinics, AIDS hospice centers, psychiatric centers, prisons, centers for developmentally disabled people and more.
Huget is also a record- ing artist, who has produced many songs over the years. One of his CDs is Rio Lindo, produced about 10 years ago.
“I wrote the songs on that (album) with a guy named Robert Hunter,” he said. “He was the lyricist for The Grateful Dead.
”I’ve released about a dozen CDs of mostly original music. Some titles are Mississippi Sunset, Blue Shadows, Mystery to Me, and Live It Up. “They’re all on my own label, Santa Venetia Records.”
Instead of a website, Huget said he promotes his gigs on a Facebook page called Kurt Huget Music.
“It was fun music,” Huget said. “It was exciting, and the girls were screaming.”
He said Elvis Presley influenced his decision to play the guitar, too. Besides that, he said the guitar is a portable instrument, unlike the piano.
According to Huget’s short biography, he’s a performer, songwriter and guitar teacher. His original Americana music contains elements of folk, country, bluegrass, jazz and blues. He’s performed, recorded and/or written songs with members of Bay Area bands such as The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane/ Starship, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother and The Holding Company, Elvin Bishop Band, Steve Miller Band, Huey Lewis & The News, and many others.
“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (by Bob Dylan), Huget said to his San Quentin guitar class. Then he called out the chord progression: “G, D, A minor; G, D, C.” He counted them in: “One, two, three, four,” and everyone started playing as he sang. When the song ended, he explained chord structure to a student.
Later, the class played a standard blues progression in the key of E minor, followed by Can’t You See, by Marshall Tucker.
“We got a request to do Redemption Song” (by Bob Marley), Huget said.
When the class finished playing the song, they were so enthused by Marley’s music that they started singing his song Three Little Birds as Huget played guitar and sang with them.
Huget doesn’t have a Grammy, American Music Award or a Billboard Music Award, but he said, “The best music award I ever received is one I got this year, from Bread & Roses, for 30 years of volunteering.”