Larry Carlton Interview with The Examiner

Larry CarltonA longtime Nashville resident, Larry Carlton will perform a special hometown show at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center on Friday, September 30. Larry spoke to Examiner.com about the upcoming show, his long career, playing with Michael Jackson and Dolly Parton, his continuing passion for music and more in the following interview.

You’re playing at the Schermerhorn on Friday. Is this in conjunction with the Larry Carlton Plays the Sound of Philadelphia project?
That will be part of the show. The show I’m putting together is . . . I don’t know if you’d call it the landscape of my career, but I’m going to do some things that I haven’t done before, and the people are gonna be excited. They’re gonna go, “Wow, I didn’t know he played on that,” or “Really? He was involved in that?”

I want to do a special show that night. It won’t be just me and a sax player. (Laughs).

How did this come about? Did they approach you, or were you looking around for an appropriate venue for a particular type of show?
I was approached. I guess they finally got around to me. (Laughs). No, I was excited when I got the call. It’s hometown for me, and the venue, if you will. I’m really excited.

After the long career you’ve had and all the various things you’ve done, what is it that keeps you active and excited about music?
That’s a difficult question in that, at four years old I was fascinated with the guitar. At six years old I started taking lessons. I was passionate about it through the next fifty years, and that passion still exists.

Do you still keep an active practice regimen? Do you have the guitar in your hand every day?
No, normally I do about 125-150 a year touring around the world. So when I come home – and this is not new to me, I did this way back in the seventies – it’s not unusual for me to not touch the guitar for a month, and just live my life; go horseback riding, go fishing.

I find that’s good for my soul, good for my mind, and then when I come back to the guitar it’s time to go again. It’s a balance, I think.

You came up in an era where everything about the business was different. With all the changes in recording and distribution, do you think it’s easier or harder for an artist in your position than it used to be?
Well, I have a unique situation, so I’m going to say it’s easier. I have my own label now, and for the last four-and-a-half years. It was the first time in 17 years that I wasn’t on a major label, and it was by choice. With the Internet I can talk to, play for, make music for the whole world, not just the US. When I was on a major they were very focused on the US.

Of course my albums were distributed overseas, and I have a great career in Japan and Europe. But now, I get an idea for a project . . . maybe it’ll come from someone on Facebook saying, “Larry, have you ever thought of something with strings?” It could happen like that. So I’m enjoying the freedom of getting to make those choices.

What about the downside of the Internet, which is illegal downloading. Has that impacted you in the same way that it has rock and pop acts?
Well, of course. My numbers are down, like most artists, because everybody’s exchanging files back and forth. That affects not only your record royalties, but your publishing and writing royalties. But it’s just a new day, and I’m going with it. On my website I’m sharing how I learned the guitar, how I play it . . . I want to be part of this new scene, and not avoid it and resent it.

You’ve obviously done a ton of recording, but two names jumped out at me from all that you’ve done that I wanted to ask you about, one of which is Michael Jackson. What did you do with Michael Jackson?
Quincy [Jones] called and said, “Larry, I have a special song, and it’s got to be you.” Because I wasn’t doing a lot of dates, I’d already discontinued doing a lot of dates back then. So I went in and recorded what became a single, “She’s Out of My Life.”

In fact I’m looking at a three-foot plaque in my office right now that says, “Michael Jackson Off The Wall, over five million albums sold. We got all the marbles on this one, thanks for your help, Quincy.” And there’s four marbles in the bottom of it. It has a picture of Michael and the album cover. So yeah, I played on one cut on that album as a favor to Quincy.

When you’re doing that many different dates in so many different styles as you used to, is there any rational way to prepare for that, or do you just walk in and do it?
You walk in cold.

Versatility has served me well, and I think one of the reasons that I’m so versatile as a musician is because of the era and time that I was brought up. You figure, I was born in 1948, so by the time 1958 came around I’m ten, and I’m listening to doo-wop music on the radio. And that transitioned into the sixties, and rock and roll became very big.

So I’m part of that whole history, and I was playing the guitar the whole time. Every time something new came out in a style, I was aware of it. It was part of my hunger to learn how they did that. I wanted to learn the solo on an Elvis Presley record, and then The Beatles came along. So I lived through that transition, and the one thing that really made me a little bit different is that I fell in love with jazz when I was 14, but I didn’t neglect pop music.

You’re offering interactive lessons on your web site. What gave you the idea to do that?
I was doing a guitar seminar in New York, and a producer was there who produces teaching DVDs. He has the largest Internet site, called TrueFire. Anyway, he was impressed with my seminar and the way I communicate, so he approached me and said, “I’d like to produce a teaching video with you. It’s been twenty years since you’ve done one.” So that’s how it started, and it still continues. I’m flying out tomorrow to speak to him about another project. So having a great producer helps me expose what I want to give to the guys out there.

What do you think is the most important thing to know for a kid who wants to play guitar?
I think what you just said: if a kid wants to play. I think motive is really important. What’s your motive to play the guitar? Mine was always to make music. I can say this honestly: I never thought about being a star. It never entered my mind. I wanted to play the guitar. My dream as a teen was to be like my jazz heroes and play jazz in smoky clubs my whole life. I didn’t know I was gonna become a session guy or any of that stuff.

So it’s motive. Are you doing this because you want to be a star, or do you want to be a musician? If you’re doing it because you want to be a star, then you’ll go that direction, and that’s okay. Both avenues are fine, but I think you’ve got to be honest, because I think truthfulness comes out of you when you’re playing your music.

Your son Travis is a bass player. Is it something that gives you pause, to see him go into the business? Because you have a decades-long bird’s eye view of how difficult it can be.
All I can tell you is that he’s gifted with music, and then he worked very, very hard as soon as he got out of high school. He went to GIT, graduated top of the class, Best Performer . . . he’s a gifted, gifted musician who’s worked very hard, and now he’s reaping the rewards of that.

When he was a little boy sitting on my lap, and I’d be mixing a song in my studio, his body was always in time with the song. As a little kid. The stuff you can’t teach, Travis got. I’m very proud of him. He plays in my band, he plays in Robben Ford’s band, and he plays in Scott Henderson’s band. People like grooving to Travis. It’s a beautiful thing.

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