By: Dr. Matt Warnock
In the forty plus years that Carl Verheyen has been playing the guitar, he has risen to the upper echelon of the modern guitar world. A long time first-call session musician on the L.A. scene, Verheyen has appeared on countless film scores, TV soundtracks and records as a sideman. One would be hard pressed to turn on the TV, internet or radio at anytime of the day and not hear Verheyen riffing away on the opening of a favorite sitcom, laying down a groovy funk lick during the chase scene of a blockbuster movie or soulfully strumming his guitar behind any number of famous artists.
Aside from his successes as a studio guitarist, Verheyen also leads the Carl Verheyen Band, a modern rock-fusion trio that explores many different musical genres including jazz, funk, blues, country and of course good old rock n’ roll. Verheyen’s latest album, his tenth record as a leader, features the guitarist alongside some of the guitar world’s greatest pickers. The album, which contains nine originals and one cover of the Beatles “Taxman,” features Verheyen along with Joe Bonamassa, Steve Morse, Robben Ford, Albert Lee, Rick Vito, Scott Henderson and keyboardist Jim Cox.
Aside from these great musicians, the band features Verheyen’s long time, rock-steady, rhythm section with Dave Marotta handling the bass duties and Walfredo Reyes Jr. holding down the fort behind the drums. These three musicians can cook like only a well-travelled group can. They are constantly playing off of each others ideas and pushing the soloists to explore new rhythmic and melodic territory, no matter what style or groove the tune calls for.
Drawing upon an age old jazz term that means to trade solo sections between the lead instrument and the drummer, Trading 8s puts a modern twist on this concept by replacing the solo sections with highly-energized trading sessions between Verheyen and his many guest soloists. Approaching his latest album with this concept in mind, Verheyen has created an atmosphere which is constantly pushing each player to new heights of creativity and spontaneity.
As the short improvised sections are passed between soloists, each player draws inspiration from his fellow guitarist, pushes the music one step further, then passes the ball back for the next round of trading. While this concept is not new to the musical world, Verheyen’s extensive use of trading helps makeTrading 8s stand out against the many guitar-heavy albums released this year.
Matt Warnock: Your latest album Trading 8s features a series of tracks where you’re trading short solo sections with other guitarists, instead of having each guitarist take a longer solo on their own. How did you come up with this concept for your latest release?
Carl Verheyen: The idea first began to develop when a lot of my fans had heard me play that tune “Taxman” live, and they told me I should record that song. I started to think that if I recorded that song it’d be great to have the soloists trade eight-bar sections, instead of the normal two-hundred bar solos from each guy. Each soloist could kick the other guys butt a little bit and really ramp things up.
Once that idea came around, using eight-bar trading for that song, I started to write “Highway 27,” featuring Joe Bonamassa on the album, which would feature us trading solo sections. All these guys are my buddies, and we’ve played together many times before, so it seemed like a cool idea to feature each soloist in this way. As I started to get more into the writing for the new record, I started to think that the trading eights concept would be a great idea for all of the two guitar tracks on the album.
Matt: One thing that seems to happen when you start to trade eights like this for an extended period of time, is that each soloist really feeds off of what the other guys is playing. It’s almost a constant source of inspiration during the solo section. Were you able to record live with all of these great players and really dig in on the communication and cross-inspiration during the solo sections for the new record?
Carl: There were two soloist who I didn’t get to play live with. Steve Morse did his track in Florida and Rick Vito did his in Hawaii, being in L.A. I was able to play with all of the other guys, but not with those guys. With Steve, I had expected him to lay down a beautifully melodic solo, but instead I got this cranked up, reaming, high-energy solo. But it also has a melodic quality to it, so I feel I got his entire personality on that track. When I first listened to it I went, “Wow, what is this?” It was kind of a shock, it was so good. With the other guys it was more give and take, since we were able to be in the same room together.
Matt: You’ve got some of the top guitarists in the world on your latest record, including Rick Vito, Joe Bonamassa, Steve Morse, Robben Ford, Albert Lee and Scott Henderson. How did you decide on who you would ask to be on the record, was it a tough choice to narrow down your picks to just six players?
Carl: It was more like I picked my friends and guys that I know, guys that are amazing players as well as friends of mine. The only guy I didn’t really know beforehand was Rick Vito. I was doing a clinic at a place here in L.A. called California Vintage Guitars, which is a wonderful guitar shop where they empty out the middle of the shop to host clinics.
I’ve seen great players there like Pat Martino, Ted Greene, just some amazing players do these clinics. I’ve been lucky enough to do several clinics there over the years and during one of those afternoons I looked out into the crowd and there was Rick Vito. I think he even raised his hand at one point and asked a couple of questions.
I didn’t really know him before that, but I was thinking it would be great to have a slide solo on a tune I had written for the record called “Higher Ground,” so I asked him if he’d be into doing a track for the Trading 8s record and he said sure. I had been a fan of his going back to his days with Bob Seger, and of course his stuff with Fleetwood Mac is amazing. The other guys were really musical friends, and I felt I shared a bond with them that would really contribute nicely to the album as a whole.
Matt: All of the tunes onTrading 8s are originals with the exception of “Taxman.” What is it about that tune that speaks to you and inspired you to include it on your latest album?
Carl: I’m a giant George Harrison fan, as I think everybody who started playing guitar in the ’60s is. You just can’t escape that amazing amount of work he did with the twelve string guitar, the rockabilly influenced stuff, his sitar playing. I’m just a huge fan of his musical milieu.
The drummer in my band, Walfredo Reyes, used to play in a band with Dave Lindley called El Rayo X. I had met Walfredo in the ’80s and we used to do sessions together, so I would go check out this band, and they would do everything as either Reggae or Ska.
I started thinking that “Taxman” would be a good song to do in that style. It’s just a fun tune to do live since everyone knows it, and it’s a new twist on a classic track. Scott Henderson is playing on that track and one day we were over in his studio and he had a Jerry Jones electric sitar hanging on his wall. I have an old Danelectro sitar at home but hadn’t even considered using it on this track. After seeing it there I was inspired and I told him he should try it out on the song.
So, apart from the fusion type solo he plays during the trading section, there’s a breakdown section in the middle where I’m doing some weird sounds and he’s doing some cool, weird sounds, and one pass he did during that part was on the sitar. I think it came out great, really added a cool new vibe to the tune.
Matt: How much rehearsal went into the recording? Did you come in and work out arrangements or did you prefer to try and keep things organic and spontaneous in the studio?
Carl: For the most part I did all the arrangements myself and recorded the basics first with the band. Once I had the basics down I called each guy to come in and do the rest of the track with me. In the case of Joe Bonamassa I called him up one day and asked when he’d be in L.A. next. He said he’d be there tomorrow and he wanted to come in and do the recording then. So I booked some studio time and we went in and did the track.
I had about thirty-five of my heads and a bunch of other gear brought to the studio for the session that day. When Joe walked in, he had brought a Les Paul, I asked him what he wanted to play out of. He picks a 1969, 100 watt Marshall, and we put that in the control room with a line running out to one, 4×12 cabinet and put a baffle between that and another 4×12 cab.
Then we distance miced them, which means we had one mic on the amp and one about twenty feet away from his amp. This means that if he screws up his part, or if I screw up mine, we have to start over because we’re both bleeding through into that distanced mic.
I showed him the chord changes very quickly, the tunes in the key of Db, and we basically did the whole thing in an hour and twenty minutes, including the time it took to set up our gear. It was all done rather quickly, but it felt right to do the tracks that way.
With Robben Ford I basically said “It’s a blues in B minor, go,” and we laid down the track. He listened down one time and kind of played along, then the second time he played along and we took it. It took about forty-five minutes and then we were off to lunch. Laughs
Matt: Did you have each of these guest players in mind when you wrote the songs for Trading 8?
Carl: I began writing the material and then later I started thinking that a certain player would be perfect for a certain tune. Obviously, Robben was a perfect choice for “New Year’s Day” and Albert Lee was perfect for “Country Girl.” I think if I did an album like this again I would probably prefer to do it that way, to write the tracks with a specific player in mind, I think it would be cool to do it that way as well.
Matt: One of the things that stands out on the album is the diversity you posses in your playing. You can play jazz, blues, rock, country and fusion, just to name a few styles, and make a convincing musical contribution to each. Has being a diverse player helped your career, as opposed to if you had been a specialist in one specific genre?
Carl: It has really helped in the studio more than anything. If you’re a country player exclusively and half way through a studio session the producer decides he wants to try the song with a rock feel, or as an acoustic feel, or whatever, you’re going home. The guys who get the most work can walk between these different genres with ease, and still get the job done quickly.
I’ve always felt that that was the craftsman side of my playing. I played on a movie not so long ago and they asked for a Surf guitar version of Billy Gibbons. So I’m thinking, Ok, Billy’s a Les Paul player through a tweed amp from the ’50s, lots of pinch-harmonics with a Texas shuffle. Then I had to blend that in with a reverb drenched, tremolo, Fender playing surf guitar to come up with something that worked for them.
So I have to be a bit of a guitar historian sometimes to know how to get all of these different sounds when producers ask for it. Having a diverse repertoire of styles is definitely the key to making a living as a guitarist these days.
Matt: You also have a new DVD out called Forward Motion. Can you give a brief synopsis of the concepts that you cover during the lessons on this video?
Carl: I start with this mental warm-up exercise that I do. I don’t believe in exercises, I’m a guitarist that believes in playing lines rather than exercises. I prefer to go right to the stuff I can use on stage in my soloing and melodic playing. So I go through this mental exercise that sort of warms me up to the grid of where everything is on the guitar. Then I get into my concept of how I put lines together.
In the ’70s I read this great article by Chick Corea where he said that even the greatest improvisers are only improvising thirty percent of the time. The other seventy percent they were stringing together ideas that they had worked out ahead of time. So since then I’ve kept books full of the licks I’m working on. I think I’ve got like forty of them by now. Laughs
I have lines for major, minor, dominant and sometimes for diminished, whole-tone and augmented sounds. The DVD gets into the thought process that I go through when I develop lines. I also explain how I develop the chord voicings that I use and I get into bending and vibrato, those sorts of things. There are also some jams with my trio on there that I think people will dig.
Matt: Is the new DVD a follow up to your Intervallic Rock DVD? In other words, do people need to have worked through the first DVD to get into the material in the new DVD?
Carl: No, I think people can start right in with the new DVD without having checked out the first one. It doesn’t imply that people have all the material from the first video down before they can get into the new release.
People should know some scales and arpeggios before they check this material out, it’s not beginner stuff for sure. I know that kind of limits the market for the DVD, having more advanced material on it, but I feel that the material I talk about is great for any player to know, and it’s stuff that I use in my own playing so why not share it with other guitarists?
Matt: After releasing a new CD and DVD this year what do you have planned for the upcoming months as far as new releases?
Carl: The first thing I’m doing is a West Coast tour starting in early November. After that, I’m going to chill out for the rest of the year, but I’ll be starting to write for the next CD. For the new year I’ll be focusing on playing more in the US. I do tours of Europe almost every year and it’s great to go over there, but it’s a long ways away and takes a lot of time. So I’ll be ramping up my shows Stateside in the coming months and years to try and play a little closer to home, as well as across the pond.