BLUE NOTES
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LIFE

Preview of guitarists Steve Lukather and Larry Carlton's blues gig in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 January, 2015, 11:47pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 January, 2015, 11:47pm

"The blues had a baby and they named it rock'n'roll," Muddy Waters sang, and although the parentage is less obvious than it used to be, it is inescapable in the guitar playing of Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather, who play the AC Hall together on Thursday.

However, it's not the same blues: Carlton and Lukather were born at opposite ends of the (blues) baby boom - Carlton in 1948 and Lukather in 1957 - so their formative influences are different.

By the time the "British invasion" of the mid-1960s was re-exporting the blues to the US, at previously unimagined volume, Carlton was well into his teens. He grew up with the sophisticated jazz-influenced urban blues guitar playing of T. Bone Walker and B.B. King, setting the foundation for his versatile style.

Lukather heard the more anarchic take on the music of Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix, and that shaped his.

Carlton approaches the blues as a jazzman and Lukather as a rocker. It's an effective combination of styles, as the occasional duo's Grammy-winning live recording No Substitutions demonstrates nicely.

Recorded in 1998 in Osaka - Lukather and Carlton both enjoy significant and overlapping followings in Japan - it was released in 2001 and won the Grammy for best pop instrumental album in 2002. It's a curious category for them (Carlton has three other Grammys, Lukather four). No Substitutions is essentially a jazz-rock-blues album, with Carlton choosing Miles Davis' All Blues and Lukather selecting Beck's The Pump for the cover tunes; the rest were Carlton compositions. The covers allowed each man to excel in his particular territory and invite the other into it.

Both musicians have plenty to bring to the table. Their repertoire includes Cause We've Ended As Lovers, a great guitar instrumental ballad also belonging to Beck (although it was composed by Stevie Wonder), Hendrix's Red House, and The Crusaders' Put It Where You Want It on which then-band member Carlton played the original lead guitar.

Carlton and Lukather started out as session players. Carlton then embarked on a solo career and later succeeded Lee Ritenour in contemporary jazz quartet Fourplay. Both artists have performed with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Chet Atkins, Joni Mitchell, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones. Although the most famous guitar solo on Jackson's Thriller is Eddie Van Halen's on Beat It, Lukather provided many of the other guitar parts on that album, and played both bass and backing guitars on the Thriller single. His remarkable session résumé and solo albums notwithstanding, Lukather is probably best known as the lead guitarist and occasional vocalist with Toto and is the longest consistently serving member of that band.

Don't expect Toto songs at this gig though. The Carlton-Lukather repertoire leans much more towards the blues and Carlton's jazz-fusion originals, but with a rock edge provided by Lukather's crunch-tone lead and rhythm parts.

"It has been almost 15 years since we played together and I am coming back to this a different person and player than I was … and very much look forward to playing again with a clear head and a huge smile. The band is killer - Keith Carlock on drums, Jeff Babko on keys and Travis [Carlton's son] on bass. Can't wait!" Lukather says.

The gig, at Baptist University's Academic Community Hall, starts at 8.15pm on Thursday.

Take Three

Three albums featuring Lukather and Carlton in the company of their jazz and blues peers.

  • Friends (1983, MCA): Larry Carlton attracted some heavyweight jazz friends into the studio for this album, including Michael Brecker, Joe Sample and Al Jarreau, but the high point has to be Blue for TJ, on which Carlton and B.B. King trade licks and original ideas with taste and passion.
  • Stay Tuned (1985, Columbia): Lukather and Carlton both got the call to appear on this guitar star-studded project marking Chet Atkins' Columbia debut. From the jazz side George Benson and Earl Klugh showed up, along with Mark Knopfler, Brent Mason and Dean Parks from rock and country.
  • Lee Ritenour's 6 String Theory (2010, Concord): although he and Ritenour have worked together over the years, Carlton is not on this album, but Lukather plays on three tracks. Other guests include John Scofield, Keb' Mo', Taj Mahal, Mike Stern and Pat Martino.