The day before (July 10 2001) I’m talking with these gentlemen about their special musical adventure, that seems to result in a new career. A chat with Carlton (1948) and Lukather (1957) has to be clearly defined, because they went through it all in the world of pop, rock and fusion music. If they are in charge and in the mood they can tell stories for days and days about all the bigger and smaller artists they worked together with, and about their own bands The Crusaders and Fourplay (Carlton) and Toto and Los Lobotomys (Lukather) of course.
To start the interview with Larry I took the album Golden scareb (1974) of keyboardist Ray Manzarek (The Doors), my first acquaintance with Carlton’s guitar playing. This album was released one year before the release of the Steely Dan album Royal scam with the song Kid Charlemagne, with Larry playing the legendary solo that made Steve Lukather totally blow his mind.
Carlton: “What an unexpected surprise. I remember very well how Ray did a call inviting me to participate in this musical project. I know that my first reaction was pretty positive because Tony Williams (drums) and Jerry Scheff (bass) also promised to contribute to the album. I also remember we had pretty much problems during the recording sessions. The concept was okay, but Ray didn’t got as much as possible out of it. I think the whole project became too poppy instead of crossing the borders. Afterwards I never got a copy of the album, so I’m curious to know what the album sounds like, especially after 27 years. Could you manage a copy for me?”
Lukather: “And also one for me, because I’m very curious to hear how Larry jacked up that album, hahaha! The line-up is the one of a super band, but after The Doors era Ray actually never did anything spectacular anymore, as far as I know.”
In 1998 the two of you did your first tour together. You guys know each other for more than 25 years, but in Japan it was the first time you actually played together on stage. Did you previously planned to record and release a live album during that tour?
Carlton: “No, not at all. I called Luke to ask him if he was interested in doing a tour with me in Japan. He immediately was very enthusiastic. In the autumn of 1998 we managed to tune our schedules to a three weeks tour in Japan. We only had to agree broadly outlined on the set list (for example The pump, All blues, Red house and some of my own classics like Room 335), because we planned to lay stress on improvisations and musical challenges. The great musicians Chris Kent (bass), Rick Jackson (keyboards) and Gregg Bissonette (drums) were willing to play the accompaniment. We hardly rehearsed before starting the tour. The reactions of the audiences were far more positive than we ever could dream of. Even that positive, that we decided, after a week, to record some concerts through private means.”
How did you finally release the album No substitutions?
Lukather: “I’m a friend of Steve Vai. Steve just established his own record company, Favored Nations, not to become a business hot shot, but to release uncommon and diverting music. And because Steve is a guitarist himself, he transmitted his marks of sympathy especially to guitar players. Anyway, we brought the tapes to Steve’s attention and they pretty much blew his mind. Steve and I did the production of the album after the band had made a rough choice of the songs that had to appear on the album. We only skipped the long drum and bass solos, but we didn’t made any overdubs. It’s all pure live music from Japan. I didn’t need to worry about any record company deal, because I just ended the one with Sony. Larry and Warner Music had an agreement very quickly. By the way, it’s a bless to work together with a CEO of a company who is a friend and who knows what you’re talking about, because he’s a guitar player himself. And a pretty good one too, hahaha!”
Is there a big difference between the 1998 tour in Japan and the US and Europe tour this year? I mean, after all you started your tour in Japan on specs so to say and since the beginning of this year there’s an album out. An album with a great response and very positive reviews from all kinds of musical scenes (rock, fusion, jazz). Isn’t the keynote of the present concerts the promotion of the album.
Lukather: “Yes and no. We already planned to tour in the US and Europe before the album came out. For the sake our fans, but also for the sake of ourselves. What we experience is that the more we are playing together, the better we get. Our playing is constantly reaching out for a higher level. That has got something to do with the attitude with respect to each other. We are permanently challenging each other based upon mutual respect. In spite of all of our experience, we are still learning a lot, both of us. That’s bringing Larry and me (and the other musicians in the band) lots of new and unexpected musical achievements. And to our fans extra musical delight. Next to this it seems, also because of all the awesome album and concert reviews, like we are working together on a new career, to put it that way. Our fantastic tour manager Sonny Abelardo for example, is keeping up with the album and concert reviews more intensive than during a Toto tour. After every concert he’s stirring us up to sign the cd. He even is urging personally on the audience to buy the record at the beginning of every concert. And at home Steve Vai is much more active in promoting “his” artists than many other record company would do. He’s a natural born marketing and pr wizzard, hahaha!”
Do you guys prefer to play for big audiences or for smaller ones, also according to the often very subtle guitar and keyboard part during the shows.
Carlton: “Well, I personally think that our music and the way we play shows to better advantage if we play in clubs like Paradiso, with 500 or 600 people. Especially when I try to surprise Luke with some improvisations in a whisper, a smaller audience is more appropriate. At moments like that we always ask the audience to be completely quiet. But of course we can also handle the big audiences. If need be we will adjust the dynamics in our music.”
Lukather: “Larry is right, but I still think it’s cool to also play the big audiences. Last week we were the opening act of an evening at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switserland. About 4000 people, very divergent. Radio and TV recordings, big stories in the local papers. I certainly feel inclined to make a party, especially if people like Gary Moore and Brian Mey are showing up at the end of the show.”
During the US and Europe tour I missed the name of Gregg Bissonette (drums). Why is he replaced by Gary Ferguson?
Lukather: “Gregg couldn’t join us this time, but Gary is a great drummer too. Gary was with me last year as I happened to cheer up the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland with my brother Edgar Winter. At the moment Gregg is preparing a tour with Jeff Lynne to promote the new ELO album Zoom.”
One of the special details of your co-operation is the fact that you guys got together from a different musical background. Can you explain how did it come about.
Carlton: “That difference that you are talking about seems to be bigger than it actually is. I started to play guitar at the age of six. In my teens I played in a lot of different bands. When we played in a night club we had to cover the smooth atmosphere of the beginning of an evening with a kind of easy listening jazz. Later on such an evening we were supposed to play the well known hits in that period. So I already played jazzy and poppy music. One day I heard Joe Pass on the radio and from that moment I started to listen more seriously to the real jazz and blues. The jazz of Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel and, let’s not forget him, John Coltrane and the blues of B.B. King and Albert Collins. Later on in my career also top musicians like Joe Sample (The Crusaders) and Jeff Porcaro (Toto) appeared to be important sources of inspiration. Actually I was always lucky to play with the first class musicians in the scene, just like Luke by the way. It’s great to play together with Luke now the way we do. Of course he’s a great guitarist and musician with a tremendous career, but I’m especially charmed by his attitude. When I’m on stage with him, he’s not trying to prove himself, no he’s just playing awesome, steps backwards and enjoys the playing of the other musicians.”
Lukather: ”I also started to play when I was very young, at the age of seven, but from a different background. My life completely changed when my father came home one day with the album Meet the Beatles. From that moment I was sure I wanted to be a rock guitarist. In the years following I thaught myself how to play the guitar. I hung out with older friends who showed me how to play and how to set the chords. When I was about 15 I started taking lessons with (classical/jazz/country player) Jimmy Wyble. He taught me how to read and I took a lot of other classes, like orchestration. I wanted to learn. At that point I was really intrigued by the whole session thing. I remember I was pretty disappointed to find out that The Monkees didn’t play on their records themselves. Anyway, at that time I got my inspiration from people like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and of course Larry Carlton (especially his work with The Crusaders and Steely Dan) and Jeff Porcaro, who was my brother and my mentor from the beginning. Later on I got more and more inspired by jazz and fusion. I’m still listening (with passion) to people like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Al DiMeola and Wes Montgomery. What’s so special about Larry is that he was one of the first musicians who fused to whole thing together, so to say. Besides he’s a very patient teacher and mentor. I learn from him every day. Actually everyone in this band is learning every day from each other. Every evening I’m dying to be surprised by Chris, Rick, Gary and Larry.”
Is this process of learning within this band stronger than during a Toto tour for example.
Lukather: “Yes, without any doubt. A Toto tour is far more structured. Toto as a band has a 25 years career. The fans and the record company certainly do have high expectations, want to hear the greatest hits and the songs from the latest album. That means a lot of balancing and a lot of rehearsal before starting a tour. As a guitarist I can only stretch out some improvisations in about three songs during a solo. That’s it. And that’s fine with me. Don’t get me wrong, touring with Toto brings a lot of satisfaction and a lot of fun. But playing with the band we got now is like playing in heaven. You never know what a concert will bring, to us and to the audience. It gives a positive tension that you can’t compare with anything. I’m a lucky guy that I can go through it all!”
Heaven, August 2001