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October 28, 2020
Live Review: Larry Carlton at the Blue Note 8.20.08 PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 22 August 2008 14:33
By Ken Volpe - GJD
Sometimes you are fortunate enough to witness live music that is legendary. I mean check it out… Larry Carlton at The Blue Note in New York City. Our table was front and center. What more could I want?  

Before the show started, my buddies and I had a chance to spend a few minutes with Rick Wheeler who is Larry’s guitar tech.  Rick was kind enough to check out my friend’s guitar, which is a Gibson Larry Carlton model. He gave it the “thumbs up” so we headed downstairs to grab some dinner before the show.

The show started promptly at 8:00pm with Larry walking on to the stage picking up his 335 and playing a beautiful solo guitar piece.  Next, his son Travis joined him on the bass for a slammin’ blues duet. Soon after that, guest drummer the amazing Billy Kilson from NYC sat behind the kit to fill out the trio. They started off playing a few of new tunes that the audience had never heard before.  Let me give you the titles so that you can be on the lookout for them – “Freeway,” “Walk With Me,” and “Comfort Zone.”

Between each of the songs, Larry engaged with the audience about the tunes, the band, and his new record company, 335 Records. The overall balance of sound was fantastic.  Larry’s signature sound and dynamic approach wowed the audience. I have to say that usually when you hear new songs it can be a bit of a challenge. I mean you want to hear the artists’ old classics that you are familiar with but that didn’t seem to matter on this night. I might even say that most of the new songs were instant classics.  

Next up was a short medley featuring Larry on his trusty Valley Arts Steel-String acoustic guitar with the band still laying down the rhythmic grooves behind him. On the latter half of “Smiles and Smiles To Go” the band broke into an upbeat Samba jam where Carlton really took off.  

Shortly after that Rick Wheeler’s lovely wife, Laurie, jumped on stage to sing two Be Bop numbers. The band allowed her to take the spotlight and she did not disappoint. The crowd really loved her performance. After she finished her two songs Larry told a few jokes about Bop singing and improvisation that had me rolling in my seat. Larry is a very warm performer and this comes through in both his music and in his stage presence.  

The band finished the 90-minute set with six more tunes with some more new tracks that featured extended jams with Travis Carlton and Billy Kilson. Travis did a bass solo on one tune that reminded me of the great Abe Laboriel. Man, that Travis got his dad’s genes for sure. On the last song of the night Billy Kilson took an incredible drum solo.  Before the show, Rick Wheeler warned us that Billy’s playing would blow us away and he was right. After the show I had a chance to speak with Billy. I told him that some guys swing it and some guys dish out the funk but he was killin’ it on both counts. Also, he was doing some stuff on the hi-hat that I never had seen or heard before. Wow.

So let me get back to Larry for a minute. I’ve been listening to him for about 30 years now and have seen him perform many times over. The thing that always strikes me is how true he is to his own style. He doesn’t cop out with tons of gain or an overload of extra fast notes… shredding. Yes, he can shred if he needs to but only when the emotion of the melodic phrase calls for it.  The other aspect that floors me is that no two of his improvised solos ever sound the same. Unlike most other guitarists, the guy simply doesn’t recycle his ideas, it just flows from him. Between those last few statements and his ever-present dynamic touch, there you have it…Larry Carlton playing his guitar.  

Let me finish up by talking about Larry’s signature tones. For years he played his 335 and then moved on to other guitar models. In the last couple of years he is back to his 335 but has made a significant change in his choice of amplification. Larry had been a long-time user of the infamous Dumble amplifiers. But on this night, his Dumble served a different purpose. It was the back-up amp to Larry’s new Bludo-Drive 100 watt amp head. As a result, Larry’s tones were sweeter and fatter then ever.  Amp guru Brandon Montgomery has done well. His Bludotone amp company is on the rise right there with the best of them.  

After the show I got a chance to rap with Larry for a couple of minutes and we set up a GJD interview to air in September. I look forward to speaking with Larry about his new music, his new inspiration and his new amp.  Next time he comes around to your neck of the woods, go see him. I have that say that Larry Carlton is one of the greatest guitarists alive and he gets better all the time.


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