On a cool summer night (Friday, July 31st), I took in the Larry Carlton Trio at Yoshi's in San Francisco. Sitting with a couple of my guitar buddies in fantastic seats, we watched the legendary Mr. 335 play his namesake guitar in the company of his bass player son Travis Carlton and drummer... dammit, can't remember his name! and I can't find him listed on either Carlton's site or Yoshi's. Maybe someone that reads this can remind me, or maybe I can dig it up in my email sent messages folder...
This was actually the first time I have had the pleasure of seeing Larry Carlton live. He was a big influence back in the day when he played so tastefully on those Crusaders records and so many others. His guitar parts on Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne" are legendary and universally lauded (Rolling Stone labeled his solo one of the three greatest in rock history). But ever since he began a solo career, he seemed to put out rather dull records - glossy, heavily produced, with little vim and vigor - a progenitor of the sort of music that's come to be known as (excuse me as I try to control my facial expression here) smooth jazz. After buying his first couple of LPs, I kind of stopped paying attention to him.
But as his recent duo CD and DVD with Robben Ford aptly demonstrated, he is as ever a masterful musician. The Yoshi's show bore this out in spades. His touch on the fretboard and the finesse of his right hand are phenomenal. By turns delicate, sassy, growling, tender, always soulful, he stated melodies, improvised solos, and brushed harmonies when his son Travis took solos. As icing on the cake, his tone was also just about perfect, just gorgeous. Me and the gents at my table were all smiles the entire performance.
Aside from his musical gifts, Larry is also an open, affable, warm, humorous and eminently likable performer. One amusing exchange took place where he mentioned that someone had emailed his manager and insisted that he mention his anniversary from the stage. First pretending to be dismissive and a trifle annoyed by the request, he then proceeded to ask the man to stand in the audience, and said he would play "Happy Anniversary" (which is the same song as "Happy Birthday") for him and his wife and that he could choose the key. The man called out "B minor." With an amused raising of eyebrows and a few comments about how strange it was to ask for it in a minor key, he said "whatever" and proceeded to play a harmonized and minorized version of the tune, stressing every point where what was normally a major third or a major seventh was now flatted, and making an amused stinky face. The audience was howling.