Larry Carlton: The Guitar Magician at 70

Most great Fusion, Jazz-Rock and Jazz-Funk musicians are not getting any younger. In the case of Larry Carlton his age does not show, but it is a fact.

Carlton, a true string magician, has delivered killer solo albums, and he has played with absolutely everyone in the Real Music world, including Fourplay, Steely Dan, The Crusaders, Quincy Jones, but also Joni Mitchell. Well, everyone.

Born in Torrance, California, seventy years ago today, he was into music quite early and started playing the guitar at age 6. One of the most brilliant guitarists ever, the late Joe Pass, was his teacher. Carlton actually replaced Pass in the George Shearing Quintet.

Larry Carlton, who was now known as a genius guitarist all over the place, started touring with The Fifth Dimension early on. The Wes Montgomery influence was audible.

In the late 1960-s, almost all instrumentalists felt the inner need to cover the Beatles, as if there was a law forcing them to do so. Carlton picked “With a Little Help From My Friends” for his first solo album in 1968. And it sounded great. Maybe they should have banned those horns on this one.

It would take five years until Larry Carlton would come up with his second album entitled “singing/playing” in 1973. In retrospective the singing part was not necessary, but why not try things?

By the time this album hit the record stores, the West Montgomery sound had been replaced by an approach which was close to the Fusion style he would implement a few years later.

Larry Carlton, back in the days. Photo by Warner Bros.

While continuing to develop his style, Carlton toured and recorded with Herb Alpert, Paul Anka, John Lennon, even Michael Jackson and Dolly Parton. With Steely Dan, he was responsible for the famous guitar solo in “Kid Charlemagne” on “The Royal Scam” album recorded in 1976.

Once 1978 came along, the Fusion performer Larry Carlton was here. His self-titled album released that year was full of excellent Jazz-Rock sounds. This was the style he is still known for today. His new label Warner Bros. even let him record two albums in 1981, before the Real Music period pretty much dissolved, at least to a certain extent.

After the frustrating 1980-s, GRP became a stand-alone label. Larry Carlton released several albums with Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen, while touring like crazy. The Japanese were and still are big fans. So he hit the Blue Note stages in Tokyo and Yokohama many times.

By now, there are 24 solo albums, several live albums, and tons of records by other artists and groups which he became part of. With Fourplay, Larry Carlton did as many as eight albums, between 1998 and 2015. With Steely Dan, he is on four of their best recordings, including “Aja”. With the legendary Crusaders, he recorded 14 albums.

It is safe to say that guitar master Larry Carlton was in high demand. Hell, if he had had a clone or a hologram of himself, he could have been part of three times as many records.

The great Fusion guitarist has delivered too many great pieces to mention. Some of them would be “Room 335”, “Cruisin'” and “Kid Gloves”. The Larry Carlton gig the author of these lines attended at the Blue Note in Manhattan some 17 years ago, while munching hamburgers, was excellent too.

A happy and funky 70th birthday to Larry Carlton!


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