Larry Carlton Interview with Rockschool

Q: You have a very nuanced style; you seem to use every available technique to give your solos their expressive quality. How much of that is down to your jazz background?

“I think a lot of that comes from the jazz guys I listened to in my younger years. I think most of us, whether guitar players or other musicians, we try to emulate what has touched us emotionally as we’ve listened to other players. And the things that you’re hearing, that you’ve described as nuances in my playing, obviously I heard those some place and responded emotionally to them. So you try to emulate that and pretty soon, as your technique gets better and you gain more experience, you’re able to show your own emotion because you’ve heard those kinds of nuances [in other musicians’ playing]“.

Q: How old were you when you started studying jazz?

“I was around 14 when I became interested in jazz. I never took jazz guitar lessons. I learned the jazz stuff by listening to records and copying – and analysing. That’s the bit I like to focus on when I’m talking to students at clinics. I didn’t just learn a passage by Joe Pass. I learned it, but then I analysed it: ‘Why did he play those notes right there against that chord?’ That’s where the knowledge comes in. You can cop a lick or cop a solo, but to understand how or why it could work against those changes… that opens it up for you to play over changes yourself because you have a knowledge of it.”

Q: You have said that you think like a composer and arranger even when you are improvising. Can you describe how you came up with the solos on our tracks?

“I think it’s my basic approach. Normally I start with some kind of a motif and it’s usually simple. So then I have the opportunity to develop that motif and not just play a bunch of notes. I’m aware of the first [musical] statement, I usually emulate that first statement again and that leads me down the path of making a composition out of something rather than just playing a bunch of notes on the guitar. That’s a compositional technique that the classical composers used years ago. They always started with a motif then a reiteration of the motif, and they would play the motif backwards sometimes after they’d developed it a little further and it became a composition rather than just some piano notes.”

Q: Did you use your original ’69 Gibson ES-335 or your signature LC model on our tracks, ‘Striped Shirt’ and ‘Mind The Gaps’?

“I used my original. That’s the one I had in the studio on the days I was working on those. I take it with me on the road still. I was given a gift by a fan, maybe five years ago now. A fan contacted me at my office and said that he had a 1968 ES-335 that had been sitting in a closet at his grandmother’s or his aunt’s house. 17 years untouched. In his note he said, ‘You’re my favourite guitarist and I would like to give you this guitar as your backup if you like it.’ It was basically a virgin 1968 and it sounded and played wonderfully – so I accepted his gift! Sometimes over the last three years I’ve taken that out on the road just for a change of feel.”

Q: Can you confirm, is your original 335 a ’68 or a ’69? There seems to be some disagreement online.

“I believe it’s a ’69. Although I always thought it was a ’68, but I think I’ve learned from my [guitar] tech over the years… I don’t pay much attention to that stuff! [Laughs]”

Q: Which amp did you use to record?

“I used my Bludotone. I stopped using Dumble about three years or so ago. My Dumbles were getting very tired and Mr Dumble has some health issues. It was getting harder and harder to communicate with him as far as getting my amps to him and having him keep them up to date. So I met [Bludotone’s] Brandon Montgomery, a small, custom amp maker who knows exactly how to copy a Dumble. I gave him my Dumbles and he matched the tone, all the components… I’m very happy with my Bludotone, so that’s what I used on those tracks.”

Q: We’ve worked hard to make our exam pieces as credible as possible. Can you give us your impression of them in terms of composition and production?

“I immediately noticed how each composition encompasses many techniques as opposed to just a song with certain techniques. You have to be able to play 16th notes, you have to be able to slide, you have to be able to bend, you have to be able to change time signatures – ‘Mind The Gaps’ was straight eighth notes until the solo then it was a shuffle. All of those things will be great tools for students to work on and I think these compositions will really challenge them and open doors for them because they have to play those different kinds of styles.”

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