In this exclusive interview, renowned session guitarist Larry Carlton talks about how his early love of The Beatles and jazz guitarists like Wes Montgomery influenced the development of his style. He also explains why growing up listening to steel guitar players led to his signature use of volume pedals to mimic that sound, and talks about discovering B.B. King at age 16 in his grandmother’s record collection.
Larry Carlton’s melodic “smooth jazz” style made him one of the most in-demand session players in LA during the 1970s and early 1980s. He recorded an average of 500 sessions a year with everyone from Steely Dan and Billy Joel to Michael Jackson and Barbara Streisand, and has won four Grammys. His guitar work on Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne” from their 1976 LP The Royal Scam is ranked as the third best guitar solo on record by Rolling Stone.
Carlton has also had a notable solo career, with albums like Friends in 1983 that have included collaborations with such equally talented guitar-player buddies as Lee Ritenour and Robben Ford.
Carlton’s early influences were Wes Montgomery, BB King and John Coltrane but he became known as a progenitor of the “L.A. Sound” due to his contributions to so many influential albums as a session player in the 1970s and ‘80s. Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark album, for example, displayed the distinct volume pedal technique he developed, which Mitchell called “fly fishing.”
His catalog of film and TV work includes the theme to “Hill Street Blues,” for which he won a Grammy in 1981.