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.”
I don’t usually review CDs that are more than a few weeks old. Often they are in my hand as an advance copy, well before release date. But I am making a rare exception with this one. Larry Carlton’s interpretation of some classic Philly soul tunes.
It is one that forsome unknown reason passed me by when it came out last year, and until the PR man for the record label told me about it and sent it with Larry’s (great) new album, (also reviewed here) I knew not of its existence. I am so glad I do now. It is gorgeous.
It helps that I love most of the Philadelphia International catalogue. Part of the soundtrack to my younger years. What better way to mark their 40th anniversary than put this CD on loud in the car, with top down in the spring or summer sunshine and head to the coast, or the nearest pub garden! But I make the exception to review an album that has been out a good while, for two reasons: Larry and Carlton. OK, that’s one reason!
Larry has had 19 Grammy nominations and four wins. He has 30 albums of his own and features on over 100 Gold and Platinum records by such megastars as Steely Dan, Michael Jackson, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Quincy Jones, The Crusaders and Fourplay. He can do little wrong in the eyes of most guitarists around the globe, and music fans of jazz, blues and many other genres.
If it has his name on it, then it is rather like a company’s products being granted the right to say “By appointment to the Queen.” A guarantee of top quality. This album is pure quality. He does not mess with the original arrangements and melody too much, which is the right decision on such iconic songs, and agrees with the adage: Why fix what ain’t bust? He allows the songs to be the Guvnor, and adds magic and huge value, with his magnificent guitar licks on all 11 tracks.
Larry tackles The Spinners’ “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” as the opener, and their hits “I’ll Be Around” and “Mighty Love.” He gives us some classics, such as The O’Jays’ “Backstabbers”, a joy here. We get Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”, Jerry Butler’s “Bad Luck,” “Only The Strong Survive” and “Never Give You Up.” The Stylistics’ “You Make Me Feel Brand New.” Perhaps a surprise choice is, “Mama Can’t Buy You Love,” which was a US top ten hit in 1979 for Elton John from the Thom Bell Sessions EP, which featured backing vocals by The Spinners.
For me, the best track on the CD; Joe Simon’s “Drownin’ In The Sea of Love”. A cracking song anyway, but here Larry is on fire. He bends those strings and gets the same tone the late great legendary Albert King did. A truly mighty performance.
Mainly an instrumental CD, but we do have background vocalists adding to some choruses and the smoky voice of hit songwriter Bill Labounty takes the lead on “Drowning in the Sea of Love” and “Only the Strong Survive.” Mega songwriter, but a hot voice too – perfect fit here. There’s a six strong horn section and a classy five-piece rhythm section that includes, Late Show with David Letterman MD, Paul Shaffer, on organ. The charts are spot on, it is all terrific material and so the concrete foundations are all there to allow Larry to shine. Shine brightly he does.
Around 40 minutes long; apart from wishing it was a double CD, there’s nothing I can say to fault this smashing little shiny piece of plastic. How could I when it has those two magic words of warranty on it? Larry Carlton. Let’s see him visit the Stax and Atlantic back catalogues next, pretty please…
Here’s a live recording of Larry Carlton Trio playing “Sunrise” at Spirit of 66, Verviers, Belgium on July 4th, 2011 featuring Travis Carlton on bass and Gene Coye on drums. Photographs are copyright of Theo Solberg — photos taken at several live shows and a Larry Carlton master class.