American guitar player and singer Carl Verheyen has recently been on a UK tour and as part of the tour performed at the Borderline off Charing Cross road in late September. I agreed to meet Carl at 6pm before the gig to ask him some questions about the tour and what he is up to these days musically. We were taken to a small room underneath the main stage where you could hear all of the sound checks which gave an interesting backdrop for an interview. It was also great to explore parts of the Borderline I wouldn’t usually reach; the backstage stuff, where musicians and staff were busy preparing for the gig two hours later. Carl himself had not too long arrived from Oxford where he had been holding a guitar clinic.
The gig itself was great entertainment; the band consisted of Carl on various guitars and vocals, Stuart Hamm on bass and John Mader on drums. Stuart Hamm is considered one of the top bassists and it’s easy to hear why, meanwhile a new name on me was John Mader who put in a masterful performance, at one stage even getting out the maracas; using all tools at his disposal to get the job done!
The band played what can be described as a cocktail of blues, rock, country, fusion and a bit of Celtic with the song Highland Shuffle. Most of the songs were from his most recent CDs Mustang Run and Trading 8s but Carl also performed songs from previous albums including Slang Justice and his debut album No Borders.
Carl, thanks for being interviewed by Jazz London Radio. I first discovered you in 1994 on a CD by Chad Wackerman called The View
Thanks. Yes I remember, I played on The View and also wrote The View, I co –wrote the title track with Chad.
You played some of the tracks and Alan Holdsworth played the remainder. I haven’t really heard you in a contemporary jazz format since then, so my first question is do you still play contemporary jazz regularly?
I do, and my newest album called Mustang Run has a lot of that kind of music; and I can name a few tunes which is very much down that direction. There is a track called Fusioneers Disease that has Simon Phillips (on drums), and Jim Cox who plays a great Fender Rhodes. The bass player is from Supertramp and is called Cliff Hugo; he played brilliantly on that track. And there’s another tune on there called Julietta and St George. And the reason of that title is my grandmother was called Jullietta Ortiz, she’s from Mexico and she gave me my first guitar which was called St George. My surname Verheyen is of Dutch ancestry.
That’s a nice story. So you still play a lot of jazz.
Yep, a lot of fusion and a lot jazz. I practice jazz constantly because it is a great puzzle to unlock.
Do you still play with guys like Chad Wackerman?
Yes, I do play with Chad quite a bit, as a matter of fact I am just producing a record for a guitar player in Los Angeles called Nick Fera and I am using Chad on drums.
Your album Slang Justice which was released in the mid 1990s had a lot of vocals, with two instrumental tracks. But your last two albums Mustang Run and Trading 8s are mainly instrumental. Do you still do a lot of singing?
Yes I still do, and on my albums it is usually eight vocal tracks and two instrumentals. However with the Mustang Run record it was going to be all instrumental but the band had been playing the Supertramp song, Bloody Well Right on the go and a lot of fans had been writing in saying you’ve got to put that on the album so we decided to put one vocal track on there.
That’s interesting because Slang Justice was two thirds vocals.
That’s right; the instrumentals were Loud Guy Blues and Spotty Herbert.
I’ve been adding some of those tracks to the playlists including on the Rock and Blues show. On the title track Slang Justice was there an acoustic bass? It sounds like it but difficult to tell.
On that track Dave Marotta played a hollow body electric bass, which has a really nice sound. He has been in the band for many years but for the last two years he’s been unable to tour with us due to too much studio work and that’s ok, so we have Stuart Hamm with us for this tour, he’s something!
You have been playing with Supertramp for some time, how did that opportunity come about? When did you start playing with them?
I started playing with Supertramp in 1985.
Really? That long ago.
Isn’t that amazing? So it came about when Roger Hodgson decided to go solo, and they needed a new guitar and keyboard player, so I ended up getting the guitar gig after an audition. And it was very interesting because I got the call to audition at nine o’clock at night to go into the studio at 10am the next morning, so I arrived and apologised that I didn’t have enough time to prepare all of the tunes. And they said, “we don’t want to play any of our bloody tunes, let’s play the blues!” So we played the blues and recorded it and I got the call later that night that I got the gig. It was really a thrill because at that point I had been playing to 70 people and then all of sudden I was playing in front of 20,000 people, it was quite a thrill.
Now Supertramp, I know of them because when I was a kid I heard the Logical song and Dreamer on the radio, I know those two songs but I heard the group went in different directions. Can you explain what happened?
The band had two main writers, the two songs you mentioned were Roger Hodgson’s tunes. But tunes like Bloody Well Right, Crime of the Century, Midnight Stranger were Rick Davies’ tunes, his tunes had the more bluesy earthy sound, so we still do all of Roger’s stuff too, and it’s the players who play on the records so it really sounds like the real thing.
This may sound crazy but I always thought they were Canadian for some reason.
Really? Well most of them are from England, Rick is from Swindon and Roger is from Portsmouth, the original bass player was Scottish and John Helliwell is from Yorkshire. He has a very dry sense of humour (laughs).
Yeah, Yorskhire men and women are known for their dry sense of humour but it works (laughs). Now I understand you have done a lot of session work in Los Angeles. Are there any movie scores, well known shows that you’ve played on that people wouldn’t know you were on?
I’ve played on the last Mission Impossible movies; I’ve played on the Pixar movies for children Cars and Cars 2. I’ve also played on The Usual Suspects and The Negotiator. These come to mind, and about 150 more, I need to check my resume to see what they are!
And hundreds of TV shows including Cheers, Seinfeld, Scrubs. On Seinfeld I was only on the source music. I have also played on Cher records, Bee Gees…
How do you get into that scene?
You work on becoming a better and better player, whilst keeping in touch with all the good musicians in LA, and you get into various rhythm sections and these guys call you because they like your playing and recommend you; you do a lot of networking in the beginning and then it can just snowball. There are contractors that hire you; like songwriters, film composers and producers. However, since around 2003 I started to tour a lot a more and made a conscious effort to make my own music, and when you are gone you can’t be at a studio but I feel like in my lifetime I’ve done enough, thousands of sessions. It was kind of a day 9 to 5 day job five days a week, different studio every day. I am really happy to be in a city half way around the world where the audience are singing your lyrics, that’s quite heart-warming.
Is there a Los Angeles studio scene only or are there other studio scenes?
There is a New York, Nashville scene and a Chicago scene but they are all smaller.
Which guitar players influenced you when growing up?
Well the earliest was George Harrison and then I got into Mike Bloomfield of the Butterfield Blues Band, then Eric Clapton from his Cream period; Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Ry Cooder and Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers.
I then I got into jazz players like Pat Martino, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, I took a lesson from him, and John Scofield, we did a double bill together last year.
And besides guitar players?
I listened to so many jazz players like Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, and of course Miles Davis and Clifford Brown. I got a chance to work with Max Roach when I was 21 years old; we went on a little tour that was amazing. I also like Curtis Mayfield. The list is huge and sometimes when I do guitar clinics I list some guitar players that influenced me and I go through and show what I learned from each player like Albert King or BB King or Hubert Sumlin of Muddy Waters band.
I think that is reflected in your playing as you play many styles of guitar and reach different audiences.
I also love to play straight ahead jazz and country music, I don’t have the cowboy hat but it is still a challenge and a lot of fun to play (smiles).
How often do you tour England?
I didn’t come last year but came the year before, so we seem to tour every other year. I keep all my gear in Germany and it has to be trucked over it over so it’s expensive to tour the UK but I really enjoy it. I actually have a huge audience in Belfast, a promoter got us there a few times and we always sell out a big indoor arena. I also tour Europe at least once a year and always come back for festivals.
A lot of top musicians seem to bypass England / Britain and play in Europe now.
There is a good scene over there especially in Germany; they are really organised and their technicians are good. When they say the show starts at 8pm they mean it starts at 8pm, if you are in your dressing room at 1 minute past they are knocking on your door (laughs). I love playing in Italy but the gigs start 10.30 at night! You’re so exhausted because you’ve been travelling all day and you want to play at 8pm but you have to wait another two hours and a half! But the food is great and some crazy things can happen! (laughs). The audiences in places like Germany, France and Italy are really passionate for the music.
Do you think fusion is still flourishing as a musical format? The death of fusion has been predicted for decades.
I actually think fusion is getting stronger now. People aren’t afraid to use the word fusion to describe what they play and people are really embracing some of the most important fusion records of the past. There is a real resurgence in America for Weather Report records, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Chic Corea records and it’s pretty cool. I joined a band recently with Mitchell Foreman on keyboards; that band plays fusion music; it’s some of my favourite music of all time.
Good to hear that you think fusion is getting stronger. There was that jam band scene which became popular for a while.
It’s still going on, we can be described as a jam band in a way; but the fusion guys tend to have more focus on what they’re creating and not meander as much. A lot of straight ahead guys can also play fusion too.
That’s great Carl thanks for the interview with JLR.
Thanks, I’m going to take a little nap before the gig!