Far away from the winter woods and the winter light on the beaches I had the house to myself……and Steely Dan on the stereo. Particularly the album ‘The Royal Scam’ and the guitar work of Larry Carlton. Mr. Carlton’s session work is well documented and the list of sessions he has played on is almost endless. His solos on the opening track of this album (‘Kid Charlemagne’) are surely worth its inclusion in the greatest guitar solos of all time (as ‘the composers’ note in their sleeve note that accompanies the ‘Scam’ album; “Here comes a guitar solo – Larry Carlton, no problem there”). But let’s not forget his work (I think) on ‘Don’t Take Me Alive’ where the feedback sustain lasts just long enough and then we’re off again. Or ‘Green Earrings’ where I think both Carlton and Walter Becker solo. The trouble is that five guitarists are listed in the personnel but no detail as to who plays on what – ‘the composers’ are at it again!!
Listening to Carlton’s guitar work on this and other albums by the Dan reminded me of his work as a member of The Crusaders (particularly on the albums ‘Southern Comfort’ and ‘Those Southern Nights’ – the track ‘Spiral’ on the latter has another jaw dropping solo). It also reminded me of one of my all time favourite examples of his work – there is a song on Joni Mitchell’s album ‘Court and Spark’ called ‘Help Me’ which features the musicians from the L.A Express and there is the background is Mr. Carlton (he is listed on the personnel), his solo from about 2. 50 onward is a delight, understated and totally in service of the song, but a delight.
It seems to me that Larry Carlton has appeared in some form or other on most of my favourite albums. Whether he solos or just provides a guitar part that is, in the vernacular, ‘in the pocket’, he speaks as a player schooled in whatever genre you like to mention. He also brings that subtlety and expertise that jazz and blues players often bring to other people’s records. Witness the Dan’s exhaustive roster of players drawn from the jazz world, and Joni Mitchell’s move in that direction, initially with the L.A Express (which features another fine guitarist in Robben Ford) and later with members of The Crusaders, Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny. To repeat the words I borrowed from Bruce Springsteen, he makes the guitar speak, in any language you like.
(The line from Bruce Springsteen is from the song ‘Thunder Road’ on the album ‘Born to Run’).