Guitar man Perth-bound

For more than four decades Larry Carlton has enjoyed a reputation as one of the world's best electric-guitar players.

Never heard of him? Well, that's a pity, because Carlton's recording and performance history is impressive. He's a four-time Grammy winner, 19 times a nominee and a celebrated session musician for some of the world's top artists.

From the 1960s until the 1980s Carlton was in the recording studio between 400 and 500 times each year, laying down tracks with artists as diverse as Sammy Davis Jr, Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Herb Alpert, Jerry Garcia, Joni Mitchell and John Lennon.

"I've always been a versatile guitarist," Carlton reminds me in his brief interview from Tokyo, where he is touring with his band.

His solo career came from a recording company executive's suggestion that he really ought to think of himself as an artist capable of headlining his own act rather than staying in the studio. That suggestion led to his first recording contract and the start of a touring schedule around the world that is continuing into his seventh decade. (He's now 67).

Carlton is also known in the guitar world as Mr 335 - because his guitar of choice is the semi-acoustic Gibson 335, one of the world's most versatile instruments.

Over the years, as he admits, he has used other guitars, such as the Fender range, but it's to the Gibson he returns.

"I'm not really a guitar collector," he explains. "I've got about seven or eight at home, but that's about it. I bought my first Gibson 335 in 1969 and still play it because I find it creates every kind of sound I need from jazz to rock, pop and the blues.

"Every now and then, though, I like to bring out my 1951 Fender Telecaster, but it's the Gibson I'll be bringing to Australia."

Carlton discovered the appeal of the guitar at the age of six when he noticed an old acoustic guitar at his grandparents' house.

It wasn't long after that that Carlton's little hands were around the fret-board, and he's been connected to the instrument body and soul ever since.

For the first eight years of his musical career he learnt from the same teacher and by the age of 16 was gigging around southern Los Angeles where he grew up, honing his skills with other teenage musicians.

"Gradually I moved into the recording studio in LA while still playing in my bands," he says. He has been a member of the 70s jazz group the Crusaders and the rock group Steely Dan, achieving a kind of immortality when his solo work on their song Kid Charlemagne was voted the third best solo in rock history. (Note for guitar trivia fans).

When Carlton went into the studio to record as a headline artist he announced his arrival with an album called With a Little Help from My Friends. It revealed Carlton as an instrumentalist and occasional vocalist of broad-ranging taste from the Beatles' title track to such popular songs as Macarthur Park, People Get Ready, By the Time I Get to Phoenix and Monday Monday.

Carlton has enjoyed many collaborations, and his concerts and recordings with fellow guitarists Robben Ford and Lee Ritenour have expanded his audience appeal.

He has also written and arranged for many artists, and created film and television soundtracks, among them the famous theme for the cop show Hill Street Blues and the feature film Against All Odds.

It's been a musical career of awards and nominations, although there was personal tragedy in 1988 when two teenage intruders who broke into his home shot him in the neck, causing damage to his vocal cords. He endured years of rehabilitation, and now supports an organisation devoted to helping the victims of violent crime.

'I bought my first Gibson 335 in 1969 and . . . find it creates every kind of sound I need.'


The West Australian

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