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Larry Carlton Biography
Like so many other Los Angeles studio musicians, guitarist and
composer Larry Carlton was faced with a choice a number of years back:
whether to go solo and develop a name for himself under his own name or
to continue the less risky, more lucrative existence as a session
guitarist, making good money and recording with prominent musicians.
Fortunately for fans of this eclectic guitarist, he chose the former,
and has recorded under his own name for Warner Bros., MCA Records and
GRP Records since 1978.
Carlton's studio credits from the 1970s and early '80s include
musicians and groups like Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Michael Jackson,
Sammy Davis Jr., Herb Alpert, Quincy Jones, Bobby Bland, Dolly Parton,
Linda Ronstadt and literally dozens of others. Among his more notable
projects as a session guitarist were Joni Mitchell's critically
acclaimed Court and Spark album and Donald Fagen's Nightfly album. For
much of the 1970s, Carlton was active as a session guitarist, recording
on up to 500 albums a year. Although he recorded a number of LPs under
his own name as early as 1968's With a Little Help from My Friends
(Uni), and 1973's Singing/Playing, he didn't land a major-label
contract until 1978, when he signed with Warner Bros.
Carlton began taking guitar lessons when he was six. His first
professional gig was at a supper club in 1962. After hearing Joe Pass
on the radio, he was inspired to play jazz and blues. Wes Montgomery
and Barney Kessel became important influences soon after he discovered
the jazz guitar stylings of Pass. B.B. King and other blues guitarists
had an impact on Carlton's style as well. He honed his guitar-playing
skills in the clubs and studios of greater Los Angeles. He attended a
local junior college and Long Beach State College for a year until the
Vietnam War ended. Carlton toured with the Fifth Dimension in 1968 and
began doing studio sessions in 1970. His early session work included
studio dates with pop musicians like Vicki Carr, Andy Williams and the
Partridge Family. In 1971, he was asked to join the Crusaders shortly
after they'd decided to drop the word Jazz'' from their name, and he
remained with the group until 1976. In between tours with the
Crusaders, he also did studio session work for hundreds of recordings
in every genre. But it was while he with the Crusaders that he
developed the highly rhythmic, often bluesy style he has now. His
credits include performing on more than 100 gold albums. His theme
music credits for TV and films include Against All Odds, Who's the
Boss, and the theme for Hill Street Blues. The latter won a Grammy
award in 1981 for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.
Carlton delivered his self-titled debut for Warner Bros. in 1978,
shortly after he was recognized for his ground-breaking guitar playing
on Steely Dan's Royal Scam album. (Carlton contributed the memorable
guitar solo on Kid Charlemagne.'') He released four more albums for
Warner Bros., Strikes Twice (1980), Sleepwalk (1981), Eight Times Up
(1982), and the Grammy-nominated Friends (1983), before being dropped
from the label.
He continued studio session work and touring in between, emerging again
in 1986 on MCA Records with an all-acoustic album, Discovery, which
contained an instrumental remake of Michael McDonald's hit, Minute by
Minute. The single won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental
Performance in 1987. Carlton's live album, Last Nite, released in 1987,
got him a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance.
While working on his next album for MCA, On Solid Ground, Carlton was
the victim of random gun violence, and was shot in the throat by
gun-wielding juveniles outside Room 335, his private studio near
Burbank, California. The bullet shattered his vocal cord and caused
significant nerve trauma, but through intensive therapy and a positive
frame of mind, Carlton completed work on On Solid Ground in 1989.
Carlton formed Helping Innnocent People (HIP), a non-profit group to
aid victims of random gun violence.
Carlton's most recent albums include two releases in 1996 for GRP
Records, Gift and With a Little Help from My Friends. His other
recordings include 1990's Collection and 1992's Kid Gloves for the same
label, Playing/Singing (1995, Edsel), and Renegade Gentleman, a 1993
release for GRP.
Despite the tragedy that was foisted on him in the late '80s after he
was shot by gun-wielding infidels, dragging him through a long and dark
period of hospitalization and rehabilitation, Carlton's output over the
years has been steady through the 1980s and 1990s. Carlton seems to
have slowed down his touring schedule a bit, but certainly not his
recording schedule. Always happy to meet with the press, Carlton has a
sweet, peaceful personality, and one can hear it in his unique,
rhythmic, warm guitar chords and ringing guitar tones. ~ Richard
Skelly, All Music Guide
Written by Richard Skelly