Louie Shelton: In Session
AAJ: How about Barbra Streisand?
LS: I have such respect for her, she's one of the greatest artists, she's fantastic. Even now when I see her TV specials, there's just no one who performs with all the emotion and perfectionit's almost like she's living every note she sings. I'm a huge fan of hers, and when I got to record with her she was being a bit of a tyrant with the producers and arrangers. We had a full orchestra there with strings, horns, percussion, and everything, and she chased everyone out except me, the pianist, the bassist, and the drummer.
She sat there and worked tunes out with us. It probably didn't feel good for the producer and arrangers. She had a reputation for taking over, but in all honesty she just wanted to be a part of that process and sit there and work the tunes out. She didn't want to be an add-on to someone else's trip. So that was my experience with her, working the tunes out one on one. She respected us and was very nice with us, and she wanted to be a part of that group.
AAJ: You did so many sessionsI don't know if you are aware of this bit of trivia. Before Steely Dan formed, the songwriters Donald Fagen and Walter Becker wrote a song for Barbra Streisand, and she did it on an album you played on. It's called "I Mean to Shine."
LS: Wow. No, I didn't know that!
AAJ: If I'm not mistaken, you and Dean Parks are good buddies and worked together often. He and several of your other buddies, like Jim Keltner and Larry Carlton, did a lot of work for Steely Dan. Did you have any interaction with them back in the 70s?
LS: Unfortunately, I didn't, but I loved their stuff. I had gotten out of the session scene and we [with Seals & Crofts] had our own studio, Dawnbreakers, out in the valley by that time. So our paths never really crossed. And being from New York, they also did a lot of work there. I know they flew guys to New York to do overdubs.
I know they flew Larry [Carlton] out. Once when he got there they said, "Where's your amp?" And he said, "I thought we could rent one." And they said something like, "No, we've got to have that brown one." So they waited for him to fly his amp in before they would even consider recording!
AAJ: How about Larry Carlton?
LS: What can I say about Larry that hasn't been said, other than I knew him in the very early days and I had the good fortune to go down and see Larry play at an after-hours club with Donnie Brooks. He was playing a 175 and a lot of B.B. King licks and was already a great player.
From left: Robben Ford, Louie Shelton, Larry Carlton
That was a time when people were starting to ask me if I knew other players who were my age and had a similar style. So I started recommending Larry for sessions. Of course once anyone heard him play, he didn't need my recommendation. He was living down in Torrance, [California], when I first met him. So when I got him some sessions he would come up to L.A. and stay at my place, and we'd head off to the session the next day.
Over the years we've remained really good friends. I remember when Larry first started doing his solo albums. I had done a solo album for Warner Bros. my first year as a session player. Boyce and Hart had gotten me a deal, but somehow I didn't see the value in it for myself, but Larry was dedicated to it. He was kind enough to mention me on the back of his first record as one of his influences, along with some great company I don't deserve to be withB.B. King, John Coltrane, and maybe one other person. I was grateful to him for that.
He continued with that, and he was doing these gigs over at Dante's along with his session work. He really paid his dues as a dedicated musician who wanted to be known as something more than a session player. He's had his ups and downs and it hasn't been easy, that's a long, tough road being a solo artist. But I think he's in a comfortable place now where he's being rewarded for all that hard work, and just plays better and better all the time.
AAJ: How about Boz Scaggs?
LS: It was a really fun session with Boz because he was there and gave us a good guide vocal to play to, and he was into what was going on in the studio with the musicians. He was involved with the arrangements and the sound. That Silk Degrees album was his breakout record. He was from up in the Bay area, but he came down to L.A. to do that.
This wasn't an overnight success for him. He'd made some records and done a lot of playing. So he was a seasoned trouper at that point, and somehow it all came together with David Paich, Jeff Pocaro, and David Hungate, who eventually became Toto. It was a perfect thing where the pieces fell together, and it still holds up today.
AAJ: How about Ella Fitzgerald?
LS: She's a legend, and of course most of her career took place before I was on the session scene. This was a record that Richard Perry produced, who also produced the Barbra Streisand album I played on. He was the new young hot producer in townhe did Carly Simon, Ringo Starr, and believe it or not, the first Tiny Tim album is what made him a success.
The way we made this record with Richard wasn't like working with Barbra. There was no one-on-one with Ella, we were working from charts. It wasn't like I got to do an Ella Fitzgerald gig, I was just part of the band. But I was a huge fan of hers and I am still, she's one of the greatest singers of all time, and I'm proud to have been associated with her for that little moment in history.
AAJ: What comes to mind when you hear Tommy Tedesco?
LS: I smile when I hear Tommy Tedesco's name. He was so much fun (laughing) if it wasn't directed at you! He was really a fun guy. I loved Tommy. I didn't get to work much with him, because again, there was this transition of new players, but occasionally I did get to play with him in the early days. He was great at what he did, everybody loved him, kind of like Glen Campbell, they just loved to have him on the session because it was such a good vibe.
He wasn't known for great solos, but he played his parts well, and he could read anything. He was a special guy.