Elliot Randall - The influential session player who created one of the most memorable solos of all time -- on working with legends, writing solos, and where you go after you've reached the top
Interview by Charlie Doom & Rich Maloof
After you've recorded one of the most memorable guitar solos on record, where the hell do you go from there?Always in search of the lost chord – the simplest and most effective melodic statement – the exquisite pleasure of finding ‘the part (and sound) that best fits’ – it’s a lifelong quest!
What is your typical creative approach to writing; how do you get from idea to finished recording?In the words of Sammy Cahn – “it starts with the phone call”. I don’t do that much writing (for personal pleasure) these days; there are too many other things on my priority list. But when someone needs a piece custom-written for a particular project, I’m game. In terms of writing ‘technique’ – with the tools that we now have at our disposal, it’s pretty easy to hit the ‘record’ button as soon as the light bulb goes off – and one can do this in the most sophisticated manner. It can just as easily start with music or lyrics.
What's your take on the session-player's scene today?With the exception of Nashville, all the other music recording capitals have become a shadow of their former selves. Recording ‘piecemeal’ continues to grow at an unbelievable rate. I am constantly being sent material via the Internet to overdub onto, and then port my tracks onto my ftp server for pickup – this is the most common recording session these days. It’s cheaper for the long-distance client in most cases. Of course, you don’t get the spontaneity that you would achieve with a bunch of live bodies in a room playing interactively – but c’est la vie. Having said that, all the records that I produce use the old school “everyone in a room at once” method.
What's the recipe for a great guitar solo?Playing to the meaning and the feeling of the song; understanding the lyrics. It’s all about servicing the material and its concept. I think that most people would say ‘tone’ – but that is so subjective.
Did Jimmy Page really say "Reelin'" was his favorite solo of all time? What's your reaction to that? Do you think you can hear your influence in his post-1972 playing?I think it would be fair to say that Jimmy & I have a mutual admiration society. Needless to say I am most flattered by his remark – but it gives me a high bar to maintain. This is a good thing! As regards influencing each other, this is a natural occurrence with most artists. I believe a good word for this would be “inspiration”.
Four bands every guitarist should know and why?The Band. Procol Harum. The Beach Boys. The Beatles. The common ‘why’ is that they were all leaders, each having a distinct sound, and so much imagination! Of course, there are many other bands just as valid and important – but these were the first four that sprang to mind.
There are so many legends and oddball stories about working with Fagen and Becker. Are there misconceptions or things overstated, that you would want to clear up? Any favorite memories of your own?Donald and Walter and I have a history together that well pre-dates Steely Dan. I’ve watched them struggle to get a record deal, then to slowly build the musical dynamo that they have today – and so many phases in between. There will always be stories about influential artistes …and I’m sure that lots of anecdotal tales about these two are still floating about – but to me they’re just childhood chums – with whom I love making music. We always laugh a lot when we’re in the studio together. What a cool way to make music.
What is on the horizon for you?Same ol’ stuff – recording, producing, finishing up a stint on HAIR (The Musical) on The West End - and a fab time that’s been too! Also doing a lot of work in education areas – I really enjoy ‘passing it on’ to the next generation of music-makers, so I lecture, give Master Classes & workshops – the fun (some might call it work) never ends!
Best advice you've ever gotten?Start by playing slowly. Go for accuracy; speed will develop naturally over time.
Smile – your audience likes to see that.
Elliot Randall has been a session musician for popular artists since the 70's, having played with Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers and Carly Simon among many others. Aside from making a living making music, Randall teaches guitar in the United States and the U.K., visit his site for the whole story. - Charlie Doom