Larry Carlton

  • Jazz and rock guitarist and songwriter born in 1948 in Torrance California.
  • Carlton began guitar lessons at the age of 6. His first paid gig was at a supper club when he was 14. He became interested in jazz by listening to guitarist Joe Pass on the radio, and he expanded his interest to other guitarists like Wes Montgomery and B.B. King. In college, he played at clubs in the Los Angeles area. By 1968, he caught on as a guitarist for The Fifth Dimension, and his work as a session musician started in 1970, supporting pop artists like The Partridge Family and Andy Williams. He also released an album as a solo artist on an independent label in 1968, and another in 1973.
  • In 1971, he was invited to join The Crusaders, the jazz fusion group that had recorded music beginning in 1961. He refined his performance technique with the group, with a rhythmic blues style. He recorded and toured with The Crusaders from 1971 until 1976, releasing 8 jazz albums. He also participated as a Crusader for albums in 1986, 1995 and 1996.
  • While with The Crusaders, he was highly sought after for session work, and as the 70s progressed, he participated in hundreds of recordings for artists ranging from Michael Jackson to Joan Baez to The Four Tops to Joni Mitchell to Barbra Streisand to Billy Joel, and most notably, Steely Dan.
  • After his memorable guitar solo on Steely Dan’s Kid Charlemagne (Rolling Stone ranks it at #80 on their list of Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time), he was signed to a record label, and 12 solo albums were released between 1978 and 1989. In 1980, he was asked to perform the guitar work for the theme song to the television show Hill Street Blues, written by Mike Post. The song was released as a single and it peaked on the Hot 100 at #10. Carlton won his first Grammy award for his work, for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.
  • Recognition as a Grammy contender became common in the 80s. Carlton received 7 nominations for Grammy awards during the decade, winning for Hill Street Blues as well as the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for the song Minute By Minute, which was part of his 1987 album Discovery. His final album of the 80s, On Solid Ground, was delayed in its release, due to injuries Carlton sustained when he was randomly shot in the throat outside of his recording studio. His left arm was paralyzed for 6 months, leaving him unable to play the guitar, but with intense therapy, he recovered.
  • He continued to record and perform in the 90s, 00s and 10s, with 17 solo albums released between 1992 and 2017. Additionally, he joined the smooth jazz combo group Fourplay in 1997, participating in 7 album releases. Carlton picked up 2 more Grammy wins in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category – No Substitutions – Live in Osaka in 2001 and Take Your Pick in 2010, plus 9 more Grammy nominations.
  • I don’t often write about the session musicians, but Carlton is such an important contributor to the success of hundreds of artists, as well as a major jazz star himself, so I chose to give him some love on the blog. Here’s a clip from a 1988 concert, where Carlton performs a montage of 4 songs that featured his guitar work – Theme to Hill Street Blues, Kid Charlemagne, Don’t Take My Alive (another Steely Dan piece) and Put It Where You Want It (from his days with The Crusaders). The dude can play!

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