Written by Michael Pittman
May 19, 2012 at 08:00 PM
ImageLarry Carlton…who’s that? I heard that question a lot as I was talking around and fairly enough, if you haven’t followed jazz music or any of the derivatives of the genre you wouldn’t probably know. On the other hand, to a jazzer it’s like asking who Hendrix was, or Clapton; the guy is just that good and that huge of a legend. 

Born in 1948, he started playing guitar at age 6 and by high school he had grown into the jazz world, being influenced the likes of Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery and B.B. King. I was interested when I found out what a big influence John Coltrane, the renowned sax player, had on him because I know it’s natural to look to people who play your instrument for inspiration and influence. It interests me because the different parts of music are necessarily intertwined and even though a saxophone’s form, function and sound is totally different from a guitar, each can “borrow” a style from the other and the blend can create something unique. It’s the uniqueness that interests me and draws me into the music.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean. If you get the chance, get a glass of wine, sit down and listen…really listen to Aretha Franklin. If you can, make it a live record. In her voice you’ll hear a sax wail, or the soft intensity of a flute, or be smacked in the face by a trumpet attack and who knows what else, the list goes on. In my opinion it’s one of the main reasons she’s at the top and always will be. 

The thing about watching a master like Carlton is that you can hear and see the influences over and over again and even though it’s unmistakably him, the depth of the notes and rhythms he plays are well grounded in the practiced precision of a generation of musicians before him.

You’ve heard him before though and maybe not known it. How about his session guitar work with Steely Dan (notably the solo on Kid Charlemagne), Joni Mitchell, Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand, The Jazz Crusaders, L.A. Express and even the Partridge Family for cryin’ out loud! I became aware of Carlton for his work on Live at the Greek with Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham, Najee and Deron Johnson. (..has a killer version of Stratus on it BTW…) In 1997, he became the guitarist in Fourplay until 2010 when Chuck Loeb took over.

He’s been Grammy nominated 19 times and won 4 of those times. Most recently was in 2011 when a record he did with Tak Matsumoto called Take Your Pick won Best Pop Instrumental Album.
Carlton didn’t bring any merchandise with him tonight to Dosey Doe. At first I wondered why, but after giving it some thought I realized it was probably just simple economics because hauling around 28 solo records, 2 movie soundtracks and at least that many group and sideman recordings would require an extra roadie or two.

ImageThe techies out there will notice Carlton had a Bludotone amp tonight. The Dumbles had to retire unfortunately because Mr. Dumble became unable to work on Larry’s amps due to health concerns. Brandon Montgomery with Bludotone, a small custom amp builder, copied the Dumble exactly and now has stepped in and does the amps. I’m hoping the images of the amp gets printed here.
Anyway, I was able to position up close to the stage and Carlton seemed to have this sort of ethereal look in his eyes as he wordlessly picked up his ’68 Gibson ES 335 and began a 2 song solo introduction. “Playing guitar – what an amazing experience”, Larry says after the first song, then goes on with “I don’t have anything else to say right now” as he fades into the old jazz standard “Misty”.  Larry gives a lot of clinics around the country and sorta stepped into the instructor’s shoes when he gave us 3 versions of the first 3 notes of Misty and explained each version..totally fascinating.

Then we went into Friday Night Shuffle from 2003’s Sapphire Blue and we didn’t miss the horns because of the smooth as silk blues guitar licks. He knows how to play the blues but it was hard to me to break him away from the smooth jazz sounds I associate him with.

There are a lot of songs that made the top 10 (and still do) on the soft jazz and easy listening stations and we heard them tonight. Smiles and Smiles To Go was a huge hit around 2006. We all know Larry’s beautiful instrumental version of Minute by Minute which won a Grammy in 1987. There was Josie from 1977’s Aja by Steely Dan which got the crowd up and totally involved in the show. 

We heard songs that spanned Carlton’s long career from as far back as 1992’s Oui Oui from Kid Gloves, through 2001’s Blue Force. Blues Force was a cowrite with all of Fourplay. 2006’s Fire Wire was represented by Sunrise and The Prince.

The band consisted of Larry Carlton on guitars, Tim LaFave (of Chris Biotti) on bass, Gene Coye on drums and Denna Hamm on keys. Interestingly, and to show you the versatility of these players, LaFave had not played with Carlton before tonight and executed perfectly..even to the point of taking a massively beautiful solo on Burnable. Coye’s solo just about rewrote the drum solo book for intensity and subtlty in rhythm. I think all drummers should study African rhythm patterns…obviously Gene had because he was playing 6/8s over 4s and syncopating over that…unbelievable!

Carlton ended the show with a song called Room 335 that tells a story of triumph in that it was in front of his studio in Southern California called Room 335 that he was shot in the throat by a random act of violence. The shooting occurred in late 1988, but he recovered quickly and released On Solid Ground by the end of 1989. All in all it was a very nice song to end the evening on.

Thanks to Dosey Doe for an amazing, continuing lineup of appearances by people most other venues are not as likely to put on the stage as they are and making a success of it. In their 5th year and Still Strummin Strong! Look for the opening soon (the rumor mill says June something) of the 1488 location. They’ve expanded it and will be doing live music and food there too!

Autumn Leaves

MistyTV Track – If You Don’t Know Me By Now

Friday Night Shuffle

Oui Oui

Minute by Minute



Blues Force

Smiles and Smiles To Go




Cold Gold

Comfort Zone

The Prince

Room 335