The Session Profession
Jason Sidwell quizzed a group of legendary studio guitarists about their favourite studio dates, the musical ‘tools’ required to be a session player, the gear needed and more. Their answers are fascinating as at times surprising!
What are your favourite musical styles to play?
Steve L: I love all kinds of music and have been asked to play most types of popular music at one point or another. I am a rock guy with some knowledge of theory and playing ‘outside the box’ but training for sessions, one has to be ready for anything. At least it USED to be that way when I was doing sessions 25 years ago.
Louis: I’ve alway’s enjoyed exploring different styles. First I was a Chet Atkins clone, I learned so much from him in my early days. His clean, pure tone, precision and his style really got my right hand fingers working which came in handy later for fingerstyle session work. But jazz, rock, blues, R&B, fusion, country... when I go into the studio and get a guitar in my hands I run through it all.
Jay: When I pick up a guitar, I always start by playing jazz, so needless to say I love playing jazz. BUT during my session work as a first call studio guitarist, obviously, it was rare to play jazz. Further, I played on many country sessions playing steel guitar type fills. To the extreme, I played on polka sessions! As a studio guitarist, any style may be needed at any time. For example, I played on pre-recorded stuff for the Ice Follies.
Dominic: Impossible to answer because I like most styles from electric rocking to moody acoustic. I just like playing the right thing for the song, hopefully enhancing it.
Dennis C: I have my own style which is soul, jazz, funk, Motown.
Carl: Country music, blues and rock are right in my wheelhouse, but I’ve played on many jazz albums, too. Those sessions seem to be looser than the typical pop sessions and generally involve tracking dates with real musicians instead of computers.
Chris: I’m a roots guy really, so rockabilly, Motown, tax, etc; and on the jazz side I really like the organ and guitar trios like Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell, and Jack McDuff and Grant Green. A little known guitarist who played with Jimmy Smith was Thornel Shwartz whose playing I love. He’s on a live Jimmy Smith record called Back At The Chicken Shack - check him out.
Dennis B: I’d have to say jazz, because I’m a jazz musician and jazz guitarist. Any style that’s soulful, I enjoy. As a studio musician, you have to play any style, but I’d have to say jazz is my favourite.
Reggie: My favourite is R&B. But I also enjoyed playing on what is now called outlaw country. I never changed my style, even when I moved to Nashville from Memphis, but it seemed to work on everything I played on.
What song or piece of music ranks as one of your most favourite session experiences?
Steve: Man, there are SO many great ones with legendary artists and producers and engineers. I am writing a book and it will be out 2018 where I really tell stories in detail. I have been most fortunate in my life to have been given these opportunities.
Louis: I would say Boz Skaggs’ Lowdown because Boz was giving us a great guide vocal and we had Jeff Porcaro, Dave Hungate and David Paich kicking it in the rhythm section. A close second would be The Jackson 5, I Want You Back, because that was my first Motown session and I was a big fan of Motown records.
Jay: The solo I played on the Steely Dan song Peg, on the Aja album stands out, as the solo is not typical. I have played other solos that I feel are quality and most of those are on albums which I produced or was the co-artist or artist.
Dominic: My most memorable experience is the one that opened the door for me: Phil Collins’ Another Day In Paradise from the But Seriously album. I played on six tracks. It was my first high-profile session and I had to deliver.
Dennis C: My two favourite session experiences were recording Cloud Nine with The Temptations and recording my record Scorpio with members of Motown’s band The Funk Brothers.
Carl: Recording the movie soundtrack for Ratatouille with a 109-piece orchestra was fun because I was a principle soloist with all those guys backing me up. If I can count my own records, trading solos live in the studio with Joe Bonamassa was pretty exciting on the Trading 8s album. It was for a song called Highway 27.
Chris: I think War Of The Worlds, or some of the songs I’ve done with Bryan Ferry. And the Harry Nilsson stuff too.
Dennis B: The music from the 1993 movie, Blood In, Blood Out (aka Bound By Honor) was a session with composer/conductor, Bill Conti. There were two featured instruments with trumpet, played by Rick Babtist, and yours truly, Dennis Budimir, played classical
counTry muSic, blueS and rock are all righT in my wheelhouSe buT i’ve Played on many jazz albumS, Too Carl Verheyen
Carl plays one of his lovely vintage Strats