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Larry Carlton Interview 08/16/2004, Studio City, California

Interview by Pekka Rintala and Rob Timmons, B-Band, Inc.

Larry Carlton: Sapphire Blue

Hear an audio excerpt from Larry's interview (MP3, 1:43, 900 kB)

"We judged the A2.2 by taking it to the studio and plugging me in direct, just into the console.. and we all agreed that it sounded wonderful"

B-Band: What are you currently working on?

Larry Carlton: I've started a new album project with producer Csaba Petoz. It's more of a jam kind of album, less song oriented. There will be slight continuity from the Sapphire Blue album, my latest one, into this album. I'll put horns on it playing some power lines with me. So we are excited about that. It's kind of a departure for me, and I've really given Csaba free reign as a producer. So it's his vision of what this new CD should sound like. I actually am even letting him set my amplifier settings because he is one of the world's great engineers. So I play and he actually tweaks the sound of my amp and then goes in and listens to the speaker, comes back out, moves microphones around and I'm really giving him a lot of control on this. Someone asked Csaba, in fact it was me, "What is it that you are trying to accomplish on this album, aside from presenting me as a guitar player?" Csaba: "When people put this CD on I want them to know that it was recorded very loudly (laughs)." So it's a very aggressive CD. So that's what I'm working on currently, and that will probably come out in January or February of next year.

B-B: I understand you have new Gibson signature model acoustic coming out. What is unique about this guitar?

Well hopefully what's unique about it is that we get the same sound out of this LC model acoustic that I've been getting out of my Valley Arts custom made acoustic that's become so popular over the years but nobody can get that tone. Gibson is working very diligently in trying to accomplish the same warm, even sound that I prefer in my acoustic guitar. We are getting very close, I have three prototypes now and they are working on three more so we are really down to the fine tuning of it. Along with the Gibson acoustic LC model Gibson is also releasing the LC 335 model which again we are doing the same thing. Trying to get as close to that wonderful tone that my 1969 335 has, and obviously copying the looks so it feels and looks like my guitar.

B-B: Are they both going to come out at the same time?

LC: Well, I don't know about that. The 335 is being manufactured right now. The acoustic is in developmental stages so it could be that they are separated by 90 days or 6 months I don't know. But the electric is ready.

B-B: Are these signature guitars going to be produced in limited numbers?

LC: As far as I know right now we'll probably do 500 of each as a beginning and I sign each one.

B-B: What B-Band system do you use?

LC: A2.2 XOM preamp with both UST and AST pickups.

B-B: How long have you been using the B-Band?

LC: Over three years.

B-B: What do you like about the B-Band sound?

LC: I like B-Band because it sounds better than what I have been using before (laughs). It sounds more acoustic. Originally when I started playing acoustic guitar live I experimented with the contact pickups that were available at the time, and for my ear they were too bright and it was artificial sounding. So what I did is I put a D'Armond pickup in my acoustic guitar because at least I had no feedback. But also I have to confess that the D'Armond pickup in my acoustic made it sound more like an electric guitar than an acoustic guitar but for me at the time that was the best compromise, because I was comfortable playing it. But over the years I've tried number of systems and they seem to be improving the sound of the pickups. When I was introduced to B-Band, almost four years ago as we were discussing, that's the one that sounded the best to me especially at the time, and now some years later this A2.2 system. We judged the A2.2 by taking it to the studio and plugging me in direct, just into the console. Two engineers were with me at the time and Nathan East was even there that afternoon, and we all agreed that it sounded wonderful, so I was excited about the new system and we just put that in.

B-B: That goes right into my next question. How did you use it in the studio, that almost answers that question?

LC: Almost answers it. In studio I like my acoustic guitar to be recorded with the microphones and with the direct. Then the engineer can blend, because personally I'm more comfortable playing acoustic guitar listening to the pickup but for the fidelity of the recording the microphones bring a wonderful, the essential part of air to the recording. But we always blend the pickup with the microphone, and as I said in the headphones I want to hear just the pickup.

B-B: How do you use B-band live?

LC: I go through an Avalon preamp. So it's basically a direct sound through a high quality pre-amp, and then it's returned on stage for me to hear through two JBL speakers, I also have them put some of my acoustic in my front wedge. What I've noticed this week with your new A2.2 system is that I didn't experience any feedback through the front wedge because the guitar seems to be more even than it used to be as far as tone coloration, that has been a headache for I think a lot of us that play acoustic guitar live on stage and have to amplify it through the monitor system. We need enough volume to get above the band, and then you have to end up EQ'ing it the certain way which is sometimes a compromise for the sound just because there is a feedback problem. I didn't experience any feedback at all, with the A2.2 system this week.

B-B: You have some other units in your rack, do you use them for the acoustic?

LC: The acoustic goes though the Avalon to my Mackie mixer, and the Mackie mixer has some chorus and reverb available to be brought back on sends. So basically it sounds like I.m in the studio through my JBLs.

B-B: So that's you stage setup. Do you take the line out from there to the house?

LC: Yes. Sonny has the option in front of the house to use my reverb or my chorus or he can not use them and just use direct acoustic and add f.o.h. reverb if he so chooses so he has an option.

B-B: Have you been using Dumble amps for a long time?

LC: Over 20 years. They are the most high quality amplifier made. The old days you had to use channel switching which was great for it's time. You had your clean sound, then you had to mash a button down to get your aggressive sound. Dumble designed this magnificent circuitry, it's so clean and you have so much headroom which allows more quality to come through. He designed the front end of the amp, the preamp section so that there is that sweetest break-up without pushing any buttons. All you have to do is play a little lighter and the preamp releases and it's clean, so it's very sensitive circuitry and design. In my opinion the best amplifier ever made. I'm very happy for him, he is in my opinion a genius and constantly thinking about ways to make electronics better. Most recently he just designed an amp for Carlos Santana who has played Boogies throughout his whole career. Carlos heard my amp and my sound, this is the way I understand it he wanted to, not my sound, but he wanted that quality. He has become very good friends with Alexander Dumble and is now playing Dumble amps. Eric Johnson, Robben Ford, Stevie Ray played them. They are great amplifiers.

B-B: Your Gibson 335 is it stock?

LC: Yes.

B-B: Is there something special, unique about that 335?

LC: I didn't know it when I bought it. I picked it out of three or four guitars hanging on a wall in a local music store in Palos Verdes, California in 1969. I just picked out the one that sounded the best for me at the time and come to find out that the richness of it's tone is special and especially the high E-string. A lot of electric guitars would get thin by the time you get out of the midrange and go up to the high E and my E-string is as fat as you'd ever want.

B-B: Who are your guitar influences?

LC: Well there have been many obviously. In my early teens, I've said this before, but when I was 14 that was the first time I heard Joe Pass. Prior to hearing Joe, Barney Kessel, New York Guitarist Tony Mottola those are my early, early jazz influences. Prior to that I was just imitating rock n' roll, pop and doo wop music of the early sixties and some country music also, Jimmy Bryant, Joe Maphis. I could watch them on TV every week when I was like 10, 11, 12 years old, and then I hear Joe and Wes Montgomery in my early teens. And I think it wasn't until I was sixteen years old that I started paying attention to B.B. King. My grandmother had one record by B.B. and she gave it to me when I was sixteen years old and I started letting that come in also.

B-B: Are there any guitar players that are out today that you really like?

LC: I reluctantly confess that I don't listen too much, especially guitar music. Last year I was on the road for 110 days and then in the studio at least a few months. When I'm home basically I listen to straight ahead jazz station through satellite radio, or the blues station. On the blues station I prefer the original guys you know Albert King, Albert Collins, B.B. So I have not heard any of the new and upcoming players even for the last fifteen years.

B-B: There are some unique parts of your style that I don't hear from any of these players, as an example your bends.

LC: I don't consciously know of any influence on that. But I did not consciously try to come up with that either. It's just something that infiltrated to my playing and I'm wondering just in this instance what's coming to me if you picture a steel guitarist with a pedal. If the pedal is already down, the player hits the string and then releases it. It's possible that my ear identified or liked that sound and maybe over the years that's how it came to be, maybe.

B-B: What inspires you to play guitar?

LC: That indescribable passion that people get for something. My passion for the guitar actually was acknowledged by my mother when I was four years old. She said I was just fascinated with this old acoustic guitar that was lying around my grandmother's house, but I was too small to play it, so she made me wait till I was six. The way she put it, "When you are big enough to hold it then you can start playing it". So when I could physically hold the guitar I was six years old I started taking lessons. Now, why I had that passion I have no idea. But I can tell you this, it has not subsided one bit throughout my life. Playing the guitar is all I've ever done for a living, I've never had any other job. In fact my passion is greater now at 56 years old even when I was 30, I just love to play.

B-B: Are there any musicians that you would like to play with that you haven't had a chance to play with yet?

LC: You know there is and it's for selfish reasons. Humbly I say I'd like to play a song or two with McCoy Tyner. I was such a fan of the John Coltrane Quartet starting in my early teens. I probably have 80 % of all the CD's ever made by the Coltrane McCoy Tyner unit, and it would thrilling for me at some point to make music with McCoy even if it's just a couple of tunes at a club some place. I had the opportunity to meet McCoy about a year and a half ago in Yokohama. I had a night off and he was performing, I went and listened, solo piano he was playing, and went to the dressing room afterwards and had a very, very nice visit of good 20, 25 minutes. What a gentleman he is, and that would be a thrill for me, I would be nervous but it would be a thrill.

B-B: You live in Nashville now. How do you see the music scene different from the L. A. scene?

LC: I quit doing sessions for living in 1978 and started producing and arranging and basically doing my own solo projects. So I've been out of the L. A. loop since the early eighties for sure, and I have lived in Nashville now for the last ten years. When I moved to Nashville it was not to get into Nashville music loop, it was to have a quiet life on a farm and be near my children. So I don't know what the Nashville music scene is about, as well I don't know what the L. A. music scene is about. I'm very fortunate that I only know what my music scene is about.

B-B: You just finished your tour are now going on tour with Fourplay?

LC: For the next three months. Fourplay will be very active through the end of the year, and I know that some time in the middle of next year I'll do the Sapphire Blue II after the Csaba album comes out. I'm excited about going back in sometime in the middle of next year doing a blues oriented album with a horn section. I'm sure next year will be very busy.

B-B: Yesterday I saw your band play and Travis (Carlton) was playing bass. You played some of your songs that were recorded before he was even born. Now he is on the stage with you playing a bass in your band.

LC: I just think that it's amazing that Trav has the gift he is just not the guy that plays the bass which would be adequate also Travis truly has the gift of making music, and to be so young. You can only look back in his life and say he was around it a lot exposed to it a lot but also had his own internal passion. He chose to absorb all the music he has heard since he was born in 1982. It's very thrilling to be up there to have this marvelous young musician playing behind me who happens to be my son. I can honestly say that, you know me well enough, that if Travis could not cut the gig he wouldn't be there. I would not do that because he was my son. This guy can play music and I'm very, very proud of him.

B-B: It almost seems as if he heard all of your previous bass players and picked the best parts from each one of them and combined that with his own playing.

LC: I think that's very accurate, I really do. And which is a testimony to his intuition as a player and a musician and also if you look back, because he is so young he's only 22, that for a 16 or 17 year old to listen to dad's band and be able to absorb the good parts of the bass player who's playing and to retain that and then hear somebody else with dad and the hear somebody else with somebody else and then retain the essence of what those bass players were doing. And the when Travis finally had the opportunity when he was 18 years old to go to school and study the bass full time as he developed, all of those elements were able to now come out. They have been inside of him all this time, it's pretty amazing, it really is. The other cool thing is he is such a nice guy. Everybody that meets him, plays music with him, goes on the road with him and hangs, he is just a great guy.

B-B: Did he start out on bass?

LC: He started out on guitar when he was very young. Then he quit playing for a while during junior high school, he never got passionate about guitar, he played it and had great time. It wasn't until he got into high school, had his little studio and he started playing all the instruments, he could play drums, he could play guitar. Then he needed a bass so I got him a bass for Christmas, that's when he discovered that the bass came very, very naturally for him.