In his 30-year, 30-album career, Earl Klugh has received 12 Grammy nominations, including back-to-back nominations in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category for The Spice of Life and solo release Naked Guitar. He has charted 23 Top 10 records — five of them reaching No. 1 — on Billboard’s Jazz Album charts, selling multi-millions worldwide. He is in demand as a guest session player and songwriter, and has appeared on recordings by Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Mary J. Blige, Al Jarreau and many others. Klugh has recorded collaborative albums with George Benson and Bob James, works extensively with symphony and youth orchestras, and is executive producer of the annual Weekend of Jazz, which takes place this year at Kiawah Island Golf Resort on Kiawah Island, S.C., on November 10-12.
In this interview, Earl Klugh offers some insight into the definition of jazz and being his own producer.
Thirty years and as many albums — do you ever feel you’re rediscovering the instrument when you record or perform live?
I think that’s pretty true every time I practice or play. It’s always a challenge, and that’s the good thing about music — if you’re open to it. I can only speak for myself, but I think there’s some truth to it for everybody who does this, especially over time: you sometimes get stuck in a rut. You’re not as creative as you would like to be; you’re not finding the direction you want to go. It’s natural to feel stuck. I try never to dwell on that, even as I write music or work in a musical situation. I try to work through it, look past that and find another idea or way of approaching the situation. I play guitar every day, and if I leave it alone for four or five days, the ideas come back better after some time. You can’t think about it. You may want to, but you can’t.
You’re thought of primarily as a jazz artist. Do you find that categorization somewhat limiting in terms of what you actually do?
That’s a really good question. I find the label somewhat limiting, but over the years, the way people view the word jazz — people who are actually into the music see that there is more to it than that, because so many artists embrace everything from R&B to Caribbean to classical. But I’m fine with any label because I’ll categorize it in any way. If I do an R&B track, it’s R&B, and if I do a piece with a chamber orchestra, then it’s not R&B. I’m just so fortunate that I truly love so many styles of music and embrace them all on the same level. I love some of almost everything. I keep up with new sounds and innovations in recording, and at the same time I think there is an awful lot to be said for going into an open mic and a room full of orchestra players.
You also produce your records. How do you remain objective in that capacity?
I don’t have a problem with it. It’s really interesting, because it came about for me simply out of necessity. I had a wonderful beginning in recording. David Grusin produced my first records and they were all done within a single year, so I spent about six months of that year recording and I got to see how everything was done — what goes into preparation for a record, the importance of the engineer, the studio, all the elements that needed to be there to make a quality recording — so it was a good learning curve and I was able to take the reins. I was lucky to be able to get in on the ground floor, and I thought my talent lay more behind the scenes rather than being an artist in the show business way. Producing fits my personality and I really enjoy it.
You’ve had the best of both worlds: analog and digital. What’s your take on technology?
I still have my tape machines in my basement. I have a 24-track tape recorder and a 2-track, because from 24-track you’d mix to 2-track. And I’m keeping my stuff! I’ve been using Pro Tools, but I’m getting ready to change to Logic. I’m not computer-savvy, so it’s a big deal for me to change equipment. I tend to use stuff that gets antiquated, because I can use it quickly and it works for me. My Pro Tools is so old that it is not working correctly. What I try to do now is sketch out the songs for my listening only. I do a lot of overdubs in my studio; for instance, if I’m working on a piece and I listen to the tracks, I think, I could put synth pads here, or bells there, and I can put in artificial percussion to give the percussionist an idea of the sounds I want. I like to use as much live music as I can, and the only thing I try to do is keep a click track going so that the tempos don’t flow back and forth, but I try to keep it as human as possible. I like synth sounds, but unless the song cries for it, I use them sparingly. One thing I’ve noticed is that if you’re into synth, you can tell when a record was made by the sounds that are happening at the time. I don’t want my music to get dated, so the best way to avoid that is to use live musicians as much as I can.
Now that you’ve played Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival, don’t you think he owes it to you to return the favor and play your Weekend Of Jazz?
Oh yeah, yeah! Absolutely! And especially with friends, you should do that! Eric is a great guy. I met him in the early 1990s when I was playing in Japan. We were both staying in the same hotel, we ended up downstairs at the same time and he said, “Where are you going?” I said, “I’m going to the record store. There’s a great record store I go to whenever I’m here.” He said, “Oh, great! I always go there, too.” So we went to the record store together and hung out for three hours. Eric’s great; he’s a really down-to-earth, matter-of-fact person.
Read more of Earl Klugh’s interview here: http://www.guitarworld.com/interview-earl-klugh-recording-guitars-and-re…