John Wheatcroft looks at the style of a guitarist who’s as happy belting out fusion, blues or rock licks as he is playing smooth, sophisticated jazz.
Grammy-winning artist and composer Larry Carlton is a consummate guitarist who’s as happy playing rock licks as smooth jazz.
Larry Carlton is a multi-Grammy award winning guitarist and composer with a pedigree that’s second to none. From the early 70s on, Larry has produced a staggering body of work, as a session player, bandleader in his own right and composer. Highlights from his session career include stints with Steely Dan (check out Kid Charlemagne), Michael Jackson, Christopher Cross and Billy Joel. At one stage Larry totted up as many as 500 sessions a year.
Carlton has somehow found the time to release many albums under his own name, hitting his stride in the late 70s-early 80s, producing a string of wonderful releases such as Larry Carlton (1979), Strikes Twice (1980), and Sleepwalk (1981). If this were not enough, his Grammy total is four, including one for his performance on the theme to the classic US cop show, Hill Street Blues. In recent years, Carlton has shown no signs of slowing down, with ongoing solo projects, plus collaborations with Steve Lukather, Robben Ford and others.
Larry’s genre-hopping style encompasses the best bits of BB King’s blues (watch King’s 1974 concert in Zaire closely and you’ll spot a young Carlton on rhythm guitar), the singlenote jazz prowess of Joe Pass, a healthy measure of rhythm and blues and even significant country influences. His sound, touch and dynamics are highly coveted, and he’s a world-class improviser and a great sight-reader and composer too. Phew!
This month we have a selection of choice Carlton licks. Learn each example with as much attention to detail as possible, nailing the notes along with the expressive and dynamic nuances that make up his playing. Go to the source and do some transcribing yourself, ensuring you really pay attention to all the subtle embellishments, grace notes, bends, swells and timbral effects that are clearly evident whenever Carlton picks up his guitar. This attention to detail is very often found in studio musicians, as their playing has come under close scrutiny in isolated and highly-exposed settings. Listening to your playing with a producer’s mindset can be extremely revealing, as any discrepancy will stand out like a sore thumb. Scary as this might sound, it’s good for you to hear exactly what you really sound like, warts and all, so why not record your version of yourself playing these licks along with the backing track, and listen back critically but kindly. Take note of any features you like but aim to fix and improve those areas that are less flattering. As always, have fun and enjoy.
I got turned on to Joe Pass at 14 and was very hungry for more of that vocab ulary
Larry Carlton: one of the instrument’s finest exponents