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The fall and rise of Eric Hutchinson

The casualty of Madonna's former label gets an unexpected push

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Hutchinson says he's in this for the right reasons. - AUTUMN DEWILDE
  • Autumn DeWilde
  • Hutchinson says he's in this for the right reasons.

It's easily one of the least flashy videos currently in MTV/VH1 rotation the casual clip for "Rock & Roll," featuring unassuming artist Eric Hutchinson simply walking down a city street past a line of well-wishing strangers. The most glamorous thing about it is longtime supporter Perez Hilton cuddling his pet pooch in a kooky crowd shot.

But the scenario makes perfect sense, because Hutchinson, in person, is that same down-to-Earth everyman he plays on TV. With nary a whit of regulation rock-star attitude.

On one of his first tours through San Francisco, the Maryland native was dressed in his usual jeans, sneakers, workshirt and windbreaker as he loaded all his gear into the tiny club. A few months later, as the "Rock & Roll" single was taking off, he was returned for a private iTunes showcase, and he looked altogether shellshocked, post-set, as countless Apple execs cornered him to shake his hand.

"I ... I ... I'm glad you like my music," he humbly stammered.

"You've gotta get into this business for the right reasons," says Hutchinson. "You have to come from a real place where you're passionate about what you're doing, or you are not gonna get through the tough times."

The guitarist speaks from experience. A few years ago, he had it all: a contract with Maverick Records, A&R honchos wining and dining him, and a pricey Hollywood studio session for his debut. But then everything changed when Madonna sold the label to Warner Bros. Two weeks into recording, he recalls, Maverick "called me up and said, 'We're freezing everything you can't even stay in your hotel tonight, and we're flying you home tomorrow.' They literally kicked me out of my hotel."

Hutchinson's contract was in limbo while Warner Bros. decided which Maverick artists it wanted to keep.

"So I had to go play for the Warners people and show 'em what I could do, all over again. They didn't really get it, so they sent me on my way."

Hutchinson began to doubt himself. Was his whimsical, R&B-infused take on pop really that unappealing? Out of frustration, he booked a handful of shows opening for Joe Jackson. And, surprise, the audiences loved him. Those gigs, he swears, "were the fumes in my tank that gave me enough courage to keep going."

The 28-year-old borrowed cash from his grandparents and tracked a full-length set called Sounds Like This for $55,000, then released it on his own label, Let's Break Records. Hilton heard it, posted songs like "Rock & Roll" on his gossip site, and the music industry beat a new path to his door.

"All of a sudden, all these people who'd never call me back were like 'Congratulations! How's it going? We haven't heard from you in a while!'" he says, snickering.

Surprisingly, he ended up inking a distribution deal with Warners: "It just felt right."

"I never dreamed in a million years that my big break would come from a blogger," says the talented underdog, who rewarded Hilton with the clip cameo. "But when the label gets pulled out from under you, it really separates the men from the boys. Can you still do things on your own? And are you still a musician without all the fluff?"

scene@csindy.com

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