The buzz about Fire Wire, the new record by guitar legend Larry Carlton, was that he was going to rock more than he had in years.
Yes, the guy who played incendiary guitar on Steely Dan cuts like “Kid Charlemagne” and “Don’t Take Me Alive,” not to mention a million studio dates, was going to do something he’d never done – give up the duties of producer.
“Talking with the folks at BMG, we thought it might be exciting to bring in an element with a vision I might not have,” Carlton told VG. “So I interviewed a number of candidates and kept coming back to Csaba [Petocz].”
Petocz mixed and recorded Carlton’s previous album, Sapphire Blue. But that didn’t make it easier to give up the role of producer.
“It took us many months to articulate his vision,” says Carlton. “He could hear it in his head, but for me to grasp it, we had to have quite a few conversations.” How far did the search go? “I would play, and Csaba would set the amp. It was actually very cool!”
As a result, the songs on Fire Wire are quite different. “I found it difficult, at first, to compose for the CD, because the songs are not harmonically sophisticated or funky. So I started writing different lines, to get the energy Csaba described to me.”
Some of the sounds may shock longtime fans, with hints of everything, including heavy metal and grunge. On the first few tracks, Carlton used his trusty 335 and his famous Dumble Super Overdrive amp. But after recording them, he spent two months away from making the album.
“I went back to my little studio, but my 335 wasn’t at the house, so I pulled out a ’57 Gibson Les Paul Special and composed the second half of the album on it. When I sent a demo to Csaba, he immediately asked, “What guitar are you using? I love the tone.” So we used the Les Paul Special the rest of the way.
“I used the Dumble on everything, but Csaba also integrated a Vox AC-30, and put mics on both. He was very creative getting guitar sounds.”
He also was a guest on a Christmas album released last year by Anita Baker. “She hand-picked the guys she wanted to play on the record, and I was available – and flattered – that she called. I went in and did my four or five songs with the band one Sunday afternoon.
Carlton and his wife, singer Michelle Pillar Carlton, live in Nashville. “We’re one hour from my daughter and her two kids, so I spend time with them when I’m in town. We have a little farm with horses, dogs and cats, so, we’re living the quiet, country life.”
The road keeps him busy about 100 nights a year, and also keeps him from a job he dominated for many years – studio work. “I really enjoy just going out and playing with my band.”
Guitar fans of all shapes and sizes will be happy to note part of the road work he is planning involves Robben Ford. He and Ford recently played a gig in New York City, and Carlton says there’s more to come! “I’ve been wanting to do something with Robben for many, many years. I contacted him about doing the show in New York and he was up for it. And, yes, I have plans for Robben and I to do more together in 2006 and into ’07, but I’m not going to tell you anything about that now.”
Carlton also has a signature Gibson 335, the guitar which he was so prominent in bringing to the forefront back in the ’70s. “It’s going very, very well. Gibson geared up all of last year to do a mass production. We’re also gearing up now to do an acoustic Larry Carlton model, so I’m pretty excited about that.”
It might be hard for guy who’s played some of the finest solos in the history of pop and rock music to put it all in perspective, but Carlton has a good grasp of things.
“As I reflect on my very, very blessed career, what comes to mind is that I’ve played the guitar the way I like to play it and that world has agreed,” he said. “So, that’s a blessing right there. It’s not something you can plan on. I think most musicians are driven by making music they like and then if someone likes it, there you go! Really, I’m a blessed man.”
Photo courtesy RCA/BMG.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.