Frequently referred to as the musician's musician and the guitarist's guitarist, Larry Carlton's infectious guitar playing has made him one of the most respected musicians in the industry and has garnered him two Grammy Awards. One of the most in-demand studio musicians off the past two decades, Carlton's catalog of work includes film soundtracks, television themes, and work on more than 100 gold albums. The Carlton sound is unmistakable and rarely equaled.
A native of Southern California, Carlton picked up his first guitar when he was six years old. He was introduced to jazz in junior high school. After hearing the Gerald Wilson Big Band album, "Moment of Truth," with guitarist Joe Pass, he then became interested in Barney Kessel, Wes Montgomery, and the legendary blues guitarist B. B. King. Saxophonist John Coltrane was also a major influence on Carlton, beginning with Coltrane's 1963 classic"Ballads."
In 1968 he recorded his first LP, "With a Little Help from My Friends" (Uni), which led to his joining a group headed by Tom and John Bahler called The Going Thing, a group of jingle singers who did Ford commercials. Carlton's exposure through on-camera and radio commercials for Ford led to his call on the Lohman and Barkley show for NBC-TV. During the program's second season, he became the musical director for a different NBC project, "Mrs. Alphabet," an Emmy-nominated children's show. It was here that Carlton showcased his acting skills, performing as the show's co-star, "Larry Guitar."
Shortly afterwards, the calls began to increase significantly as Carlton gained notoriety through his respect for protocol and unmistakable (though often imitated) "sweet" sound on his Gibson ES-335. To accompany the 335, Carlton broke new ground with his now trademark volume pedal technique while he was asked to play with the Crusaders on their "Crusader One" album in 1971. Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark" album, the first record she made with a rhythm section, is another fine example of his distinctive technique -- a style Mitchell referred to as "fly fishing." During his tenure with the Crusaders (through 1976), Carlton was featured on 13 Crusaders albums and was often asked to contribute material.
In 1973, Carlton released his second solo project, "Singing/Playing" on Blue Thumb Records. The album featured Carlton vocals on eight tracks. His demand as a session player was now at its zenith, and he was averaging 15
calls a week. During this time he was still performing more than 50 dates a year with the Crusaders. Carlton was featured with stars from every imaginable genre, ranging from Sammy Davis, Jr., and Herb Albert to Quincy
Jones, Paul Anka, Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Jerry Garcia, and Dolly Parton. He has appeared on more than 100 gold albums.
The following year, Carlton became exhausted from the work demands of the studio environment. Although he continued his work with the Crusaders, he became very selective in his session work. It as at this time he shifted
his emphasis to the challenges of arranging and producing and built his own studio -- Room 335 -- in his home.
During this time he also produced and co-wrote the television theme for the hit sitcom "Who's the Boss" and the acclaimed movie soundtrack for "Against All Odds." He also arranged and produced projects for Barbara Streisand,
Joan Baez, and Larry Gatlin.
As his association with the Crusaders began to draw to a close, Carlton signed with Warner Bros. in 1977. He delivered his Larry Carlton release hot on the heels of his debut session with rock supergroup Steely Dan. Rolling Stone magazine lists Carlton's work on Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne" as one of the three best guitar licks in rock music.
With more than 3,000 studio sessions under his belt by the early 1980's, Carlton had picked up four Grammy nominations. In addition to the Grammy hewon in 1981 for the theme to "Hill Street Blues" (a collaboration with Mike
Post), he also was voted N.A.R.A's Most Valuable Player for three consecutive years.
From 1973 to 1978, Carlton released four albums for Warner Bros. He also released two in Japan through Warner/Pioneer that reached gold and silver status. Three months after the 1983 "Friends" release, Carlton, along with
several other jazz artists, was unceremoniously dropped from the label. He spent the next couple of years with his family and doing non- musical activities like fishing (a great passion of his) and learning to cook. In 1985 he was approached by the newly formed MCA Master Series to consider doing an acoustic jazz album. His first release for the new label was "Alone, But Never Alone," a consensus No. 1 album on the Radio and Records and Billboard jazz charts.
The 12 months of 1987 brought some of the biggest highlights in Carlton's solo career. In addition to winning the Grammy for "Minute by Minute," Carlton received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Fusion Performance for
his live album, "Last Nite."
Coming off the success of two acoustic albums and one live album, Carlton was on a hot streak and entered the studio to work on his next project, "On Solid Ground." The all electric project was nominated for a Grammy in 1989. The release of "On Solid Ground" came almost one year after Carlton was brutally shot in a random act of violence outside his Los Angeles studio.
In 1990, MCA acquired GRP Records and the MCA jazz stable moved over to GRP. Right out of the box, GRP issued a greatest hits packaged for Carlton, "Collection." In 1991, Carlton entered the studio to record another jazz
project when things took a turn. It was in the studio with drummer John Ferraro, keyboard man Matt Rollings, bassist Michael Rhodes, and harmonica player Terry McMillan that Carlton set out on a new musical journey. But that trip would have to wait. Responding to requests for more Larry Carlton jazz, he re-assembled his jazz buddies and in 1992 released "Kid Gloves," a pop-oriented collection of acoustic ballads and biting electric workouts. The album marked the first time Carlton had included acoustic and electric tracks on his solo projects. In 1993, with six tracks from the 1991 L.A. sessions in hand, he went to Nashville to record for the first time. Joined by Michael Rhodes, Terry McMillan, Chris Layton (from Stevie Ray Vaughn's Double Trouble), and keyboard wizard Chuck Leavell, Carlton put the finishing touches on "Renegade Gentlemen."
Showcasing! Carlton's rock and blues side, Carlton's third release by GRP Records, "Renegade Gentleman," was quite a departure from any of his previous releases.
During 1993 and 1994, Carlton toured extensively with the jazz Superband of Stanley Clark, Larry Carlton, Billy Cobham, Deron Johnson, and Najee. A live album released in 1994 by this incredible band was entitled "Stanley
Clark and Friends Live at the Greek."
Carlton's latest release in 1995, "Larry & Lee," is a collaborative effort with guitar great Lee Ritenour. Considering Carlton's and Ritenour's well-deserved reputations as two of the most skilled and versatile guitarists in contemporary music, it's not surprising that their first album together is a richly satisfying affair.