TrueFire's Guitar Blog

Fireside Chat: Larry Carlton

It stands as no reminder that a guitar is made of wood, glue and metal. It is not a living thing. But when the 18-time Grammy nominated legend of guitar, Larry Carlton picks up his iconic Gibson ES-335, it certainly seems alive. In fact, it seems magical.

I saw it first hand a few years ago. Sitting three feet away from him, Larry picked up his guitar and played a single note. For the following three minutes and thirty-two seconds our raging planet was at peace. Not a single shot was fired, not a last breath was exhaled and not a belly shuddered with hunger. I wish that happened when I played the guitar.

Being able to suspend your disbelief through music is just one part of Larry Carlton’s magic, and it’s also what has made him one of the most recorded and celebrated guitarists of all time. Whether you believe it is Larry Carlton or his beloved guitar that holds the magic, to hear him play you cannot deny there is something bigger involved. That’s why I asked him to share some insight and to talk about his new 335 Improv course for this month’s featured chat by the fire.  – Charlie Doom

1. First off, if you weren’t a musician, what would you be and why?
I hope the questions get easier than that, because as you probably know I started playing the guitar when I was so young; I was 6 years old when I started taking guitar lessons. It’It’s all I’ve ever done. I never had another kind of job – even in high school – I always played guitar. There was never a consideration of what I might be if I weren’t a musician. So honestly, I have no answer for that!

2. Honestly, how many hours a day do you practice?
Wow, this is really going to be truthful isn’t it? That’s a tough question because I hate answering it “honestly,” but I don’t have a practice regimen and I never have – at least since I was in my 20’s doing session work. I really feel guilty about that because I know I could improve my chops if I took more time to practice. But I tour and play the guitar over 150 days a year and so that really helps keep my chops up pretty good. And I’m always listening and thinking about things that I know are not as strong in my playing as I would like them to be, and I try to work on those when playing live. I do notice improvement every year in my playing, but it’s without a practice routine. Please do not follow in my footsteps regarding that.

3. What are you listening to lately?
I just returned from a five week tour in Europe and found myself listening to a lot of Joe Pass from the early 60’s in my hotel room. He always inspired me with how melodic his solos were and just how much chops he had (I don’t have those kind of chops at all!). I get inspired listening to how cleanly Joe could play his solos and how much sense they made. So, yeah, I’d say I’ve been listening to Joe lately.

4. How would you describe the music business today?
Obviously, the music business has changed in many major ways. One example is how the music business used to be run and motivated by radio airplay. You would make a record, if the program directors liked the song, they would play it. If the audience liked the song and it became a hit, or even somewhat of a hit, you would go on tour to promote the album. Today Radio has very little to do with most artists’ careers today. It’s mostly live gigs that promote an artist and their music. Today I advise younger artists to promote their CDs by going out and doing as many live gigs as possible to build their following and promote their music.

5. Stranded on a desert island, which guitar would you take?
I would take a very small bodied acoustic guitar with me, as I would probably not be playing a lot of lead guitar. But with a small acoustic guitar, I could explore more beautiful guitar voicings and maybe even experiment with alternate guitar tunings. I also love the sound of piano voicings when they’re played on the guitar, but they’re very difficult to voice on the fretboard and so we’re very limited to which ones we can play that will sound as tightly clustered as they do on the piano. I’d spend a lot of time on the island working out voicings!

6. Let’s talk about what’s going on with you right now, your new course, and what’s next?
I am very excited about the new TrueFire course, 335 Improv, which is the deepest I’ve ever gone into the subject of improvisation and I’m very happy with the way the course presents my approach. I also have a live DVD with my trio in the can, which I’m really excited about because we had a great show that night and I think friends and fans will really enjoy it. We also have another DVD filmed in HD featuring myself and my good buddy Robben Ford playing acoustic guitar “unplugged” in Paris.

Questions submitted to TrueFire via Facebook, Twitter, and our Forum.

7. What was it about the 335 that called to you? – Hutch82
When I first started getting calls in 1969 for recording sessions, I was carrying at least three different guitars to the session – a Tele for country music, a Les Paul for rock n’ roll and pop oriented things and my ES-175 for more jazz or legitimate guitar playing for the sessions. I never knew what they were going to ask me to do. Truthfully, picking the ES-335 as my main guitar was just a practical decision at that time. I’m a very versatile player and I needed a guitar that was likewise versatile to cover all of the bags that I was working on at the time. The 335 fit the bill perfectly for me!

8.  Any advice for session musicians? – Leedelta
Put your ego away! When you go into a recording session – be a servant. You’re there to help someone make their music. The session isn’t really about what you think, although you want to give all you can as far as your ideas are concerned, but it’s up to the producer and the artist to decide how they want their song to be presented to the world. So be humble and be a servant.

9. For the tune “Room 335”, what did you come up with first; the chords or the main riff? – jimiclaptoncarl
The chords came from a track I played on for Steely Dan called “Peg” – those chords are the first four chords of “Peg” pretty much. I really liked the sound of them and when the time came to record a new album that sequence of chords came back to me. I wrote the melody on top of that sequence. Then I changed the bridge so it wouldn’t sound like “Peg,” but I do consider those opening chords to be inspired by Steely Dan.

10. How is it different recording in a studio for an album vs. playing live for an album? – 19Echo19
This can be a very short answer because it’s the honest truth – I’ve never worked out a solo in my life. For a record or a live performance it’s always improvised and that’s the part of making music that I probably enjoy the most, the improvisational part.

Visit Larry Carlton online at www.larrycarlton.com for news and updates or watch tons of performances, interviews and lessons on Mr. 335 TV. Below is a clip from Larry’s brand new guitar course, 335 Improv