August 16th, 2005
Interview by: Harvey Cline
There are corner stones in smooth jazz today that need no introductions. You can't talk about jazz very long without mentioning this artist several times in the conversation. Twenty five releases after his initial offering in 1976, brings this popular guitarist full circle with his latest release of strictly solo material after a six year absence from recording. We are happy and honored to be able to chat with recording artist Earl Klugh just one week after the release of Naked Guitar.
Smooth Views (SV): We want to welcome jazz pioneer guitarist, Earl Klugh to Smooth Views.com. Earl, how are you?
Earl Klugh (EK ): Oh I'm doing just great.
SV: Congratulations on your new cd. I believe it's been out for a week now. It's called Naked Guitar which features fourteen songs. Earl, how long did it take you to record this disc?
EK: I did it over four months. I was doing it in my studio at home, so I kind of took my time. I was really trying to get a good flow going. It took a little longer than I thought, but four months is still not too bad.
SV: Are you the only artist on the disc?
EK: Yes I am.
EK: I thought that was the case when I was listening to it. How long have you had the studio in your home?
EK: Oh for a couple of years now. At least two years.
SV: I'm sure that is much easier than having to secure time in a studio.
EK: For some situations yeah. I like to work on things, edit stuff and it's basically a studio for my work. So a lot of times I do guitar stuff here and a lot of keyboard and synthesizer stuff so it works out real well. I don't have to ever worry about doing my parts when I'm in a studio or any degree of proficiency. So it works out good.
SV: I imagine when you get that inspiration, it's good to be able to go down to the studio, record that then, instead of losing that and trying to pick it up later on.
EK: Yes it is.
SV: What's some of the thought process behind this new disc? I know that it's a little bit different than several of your previous ones.
EK: Yea, I hadn't made a record in quite a while even though I still tour every year. We go out and do a fair amount of touring, but hadn't made a record in about five years at the time that I started this. So I didn't really want to get involved in doing anything that too many people were involved in. I just didn't feel like that at the time. And along with that I also felt a need somewhat of a shift in direction. Just simply looking back at my records you know and taking that time off I thought I'd like to try some different things now, maybe some things that were more personal and less having to do with whatever marketplace you're trying to hit, which I never really did. But there's always pressure from the powers that be to go in one direction or the other. I just kind of decided I'm going to try to create a situation where I can do what I want and not have to hear what I should be doing. I would always do what I want, then you have to hear all this stuff. This was a nice way to come back; to do a nice solo guitar, something you can really sink your teeth into and really make special. So I feel really good about the record. I've been working on quite a bit of original material, and until I did this record, it didn't seem to have a direction for it. So I think this was very good to get something completed and get me back and out there again.
SV: Well with that being said, I know there's a mixed bag of various songs on there. Do you have one or two favorite songs on the disc?
EK: I really like the song “In The Moonlight.” It's a really great, great song. It lends itself to a different type of approach with the harmonies and stuff, you know. It was a song that I had heard in a movie. I had a recording of the soundtrack, and I used to listen to it in my car. So what I did, I tried to put it together from the memory of the soundtrack. I kind of created my own harmony base because I'm sure I was missing some of the real things, but it was more of an abstract coloring of the chordal thing than the original version. But I really like it. For that reason, I like that song very much. “The Summer Knows” turned out good because I've always loved that song and wanted to record it. I had never really attempted to just play it as a solo piece like that. One afternoon I got started and said, “Oh this is real good,” and I managed to luck up on a really good take of that, which is good. “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” was fun. I just thought it would be a fun tune, and its different type of an approach. It's more of a finger style type of a piece. I kind of played like that a lot as a boy. I do it to have fun with it. It was fun to find a song that work so well. At that point I had recorded seven or eight songs. I just wanted something that would change the feel of the record. It's fun. It gives you a laugh.
SV: Yeah, exactly. I thought the same thing when I was going through there, and I said “Wow, is that really what I'm hearing?” Was it tough narrowing down the song list to the fourteen that are on the disc?
EK: In some ways, yeah. There were a lot of songs that I thought would work, and when I played them they didn't seem to work. The first four or five songs I recorded all seemed to fit. Then to find four or five others that didn't fit. They were too similar in rhythm or not enough variance from the other songs. The further down the line I got with the record, the harder it was to pick the next songs. Also, too, when you're doing a solo record, CD's are so long now. I didn't want to do a record of just improvised music for eight minutes at a time. I didn't want to do that type of record. So, the longest time was like five minutes and forty seconds. There were songs that were just a little over two minutes, too. I didn't want to have fifty songs on the record so I settled on fourteen. That ended up being about fifty five minutes so that works out pretty good.
SV: In the back of your mind, did you always know you would finish up with “Angelina” (from his 1976 debut disc).
EK: No, actually I had just finished the record. That's a good question. I finished the record and I thought it was great. My fiancé said “You don't have any of your old songs on the record.” I said “I know,” but I'm doing a album of standards and classic tunes and I just want to do that. She said that I really need to find one of the tunes. I said that it just breaks the reality of the record to me because all of those songs were standards and everything. So then I heard it from a couple of other people as well. So I said, “What can I do?” I'll try one. I kept thinking I don't know which one to do. So finally I was up here and I thought about that song and said, “That's pretty,” but then I thought that I've got to find a way to play it different than what I did. You know, it's really interesting that I get the most comments on that song (“Angelina”) and “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead.” It's very interesting. Certainly, I fought the idea of putting one of my songs on the record. But then when I thought about it, my song “Angelina” (I wrote that probably 32 or 33 years ago), I figured that will qualify. It's not a standard but at least it's from a time period where I can justify it in my mind. For me to play a new song in the middle of the other stuff, just breaks the reality unless you're doing a record where you're mixing all that just to have one. It worked out nice. I get a lot of complements on that which is very interesting because it's a very simple way of playing a song, probably the simplest song on the record. That's very interesting.
SV: It's always good to re-visit the past and I'm sure that will enable a lot of your newer fans a chance to go back and see some of your catalogs from 1976 and the early years pick up there and re-invent Earl Klugh.
EK: Yeah, I think you're right.
SV: I've got one question I've wanted to ask you for two years. (laughter) Where in the world have you been, and what have you been doing?
EK: Oh my goodness. (laughter) You know, I've been doing the same thing I always do. I tour all the time. You know we tour all over the world. It's been getting crazy, like two years ago I went to Russia, and I did some shows over there with Stanley Clarke, Gato Barbieri, and George Duke. I went to South Africa las Fall. Fall before last actually. Then this year we went to India and did a couple of shows and Delhi and Mumbai. In between that, we're touring around the United States. So I'm still doing my thirty or forty shows around the United States, which is a lot for me. I've also been playing with my regular band which is a couple of keyboards, drums and sax. Then I've been doing some things when I could find some really special type of place. I've been doing some shows like a traditional trio with acoustic bass and drums and myself. We've been doing two or three of those type shows. We'll play for like a week or four nights. I like to go to places that are nice and acoustically balanced. So we've been doing that. I've been doing all of that. Probably though, I've made quiet few shifts in my life which kind of changed things up for me because I lived in Michigan since I was born. Even though I traveled a lot, and there were periods of time like in the seventies and eighties where I would really spend eight or nine months a year either in L.A. or New York. I never owned a place anywhere but Michigan. So in 1999, which was the last album that came out in August, my mom passed in October of '99. It was only me and my brother there trying to put things together and take care of all of that. I just kind of didn't feel like sticking around too much after that, so I moved down to Atlanta. So that took another year and a half. So I really didn't do much during that period of time. I tried to make some decisions on where do I want to go, what do I want to do. I came down here and I rented a place for a while, bought a bunch of pro tools and equipment and started training; learning how to run a computer. (laughter) So I could train to go into a different direction and still travel with the band. And, too, at that time I had had two long record company associations. The first one being with Capitol Records and that lasted for several years and at Warner for eleven years. Those were the two companies I knew and was very comfortable. I did a side trip, and signed with another label and it didn't work out for me. I got a little bit gun shy. I've got to get out of this situation and find a different role or a different way to do things. That was some of it that took me away at least three of those six years. But then after that, it was like I got to a point where I was thinking that I'm enjoying playing my shows but I just don't have any real idea of what I want to record. So this album was really good because now I've got all kinds of ideas of what I want to do next. I really think I'm going to get my band record done before the end of the year or at least done enough where it will be out at least in a year of this record which is a pace I like to stay on. I think I'm fully back and re-invigorated.
SV: Well, as a fan, we are glad to have you back.
EK: Oh, it's great to be back. Thank you so much. I've been looking forward to it. You know the other thing was that it took me so long to finally find a record situation that I felt good about to release the album. It was all completely done with the record really by Thanksgiving of last year. It really took me a minute to put together something that I thought was going to be a good situation. I'm very happy and I think things are going to be good. Because I had worked with these other labels for so long that you get to know the people. You can kind of trust what they say, and whoever you go with, you have to trust them because there's a little period of time where you've got to get to know them. So all of that's good and I feel real good.
SV: You mentioned a little bit about touring, I understand you'll be in Texas and California later this year. Recently you had a show with the Atlanta Symphony there at Chastain Park.
EK: Yeah, that was about three weeks ago. Lots of fun.
SV: That seems to be a great venue and it's close to home for you there also. As you look back over the years, over the twenty five years you look back at One on One, or Two of a Kind, that you recorded with Bob James and David Sanborn. Can you believe how the genre has really changed?
EK: It's been great. I'm very fortunate. I've truly had a lot of success over the years. It's really kind of grown and turned into an entity of itself which is really nice. There's a lot of great players and musicians out there. It's good to see people get the opportunity to share their talents. It wouldn't be possible if it wasn't a growing thing. That's the most fun thing about it for me. There's actually quiet a few people I knew who were fine players that never got a record deal. Often times when these things happen and they start to have success, it's a great thing. You feel great about it.
SV: I understand you had a young start in your teens when you worked with Yosef Lateef and George Benson. Tell us a little bit about that.
EK: The Yosef Lateef thing is like a fairy tale. On weekends I would teach guitar in this music store in Detroit . I would teach kids the basics. I was like sixteen or so at the time. It was one of those days where he came into the studio to do some practicing. The gentleman who owned the studio was a drummer in the be-bop era. Yosef heard me playing in one of the rooms because I was without a student for about a half an hour. He came in and he was really interested as to why I was playing the classical guitar. This was like 1970, in the middle of the city of Detroit, and he was like “Where's the fascination that drew you in to this instrument?” He was so intrigued. I think it was that by itself. He was playing in town. So he had me to come down to the club and sit in with him. So of course, I was just a young kid, not really playing any jazz or anything. It was just a great thing. From that time the club owner thought I was just a nice kid, so I would hang out there whenever I could. Through the years I got to meet a lot of the musicians. I have so many friends from that period of time. (Chuck Mangione, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke) Just some really great musicians over that period of time that I've known all through my life. That was a great experience. One of the musicians I met from this club also was George Benson. It was probably about three years before he became the superstar that he was going to be. No actually about five years before. I worked on a couple of his records and we did some touring for about a year and a half. We went all over. We toured the United States twice in that year and we also went to Europe. Those were great experiences. So by the time I had some great experiences, I was really able to gain a lot of on the job training because that's exactly what it was. I guess I was a fair enough guitar player. Working with those guys, you spend two years like that; it ups your abilities substantially.
SV: I can imagine. That would be a great, great experience. We reviewed your disc with him just a few months back in our Retrospectives section of Smooth Views.
EK: Yeah, you know somebody told me that earlier today because we were talking about the interview. Then they ask if I had seen the review or re-review. I said “No I haven't.” I pulled it up, and I have it on a sheet of paper, so I'm going to have to read it. That's just so nice.
SV: What we do monthly is go back and look at some of our favorite discs from ten years or so back and loved when we were growing up. We always do a different one every month, and pick one that would mean a lot to a lot of people. We talked earlier about other artists, is there one you haven't recorded with or toured with (such as another guitar player) that you would like to someday?
EK: Wow, somebody that I haven't. Gosh, there's a lot of people I'd like to play with that I haven't. In a touring situation it would be hard to even pick one out.
SV : I know there's a lot of ensemble type guitar and sax people. I even thought about you and several of the guitarists out there today and call it the “Guitars and No Saxes Tour.”
(laughter from both)
EK: Yeah, that would be fun, wouldn't it? It's really interesting. I'm pretty good friends with both Marc Antoine and Peter White. They're really good guys. Marc and I definitely talk about trying to get together and do a song on each others record or something. I'm sure something will pop up out of that. That goes for Peter as well. I talk to him. He's such a nice guy.
SV: Well you keep that name in mind, the “Guitars and No Saxes Tour.” (laughter) I think he plays in the Guitars and Saxes Tour every year and would welcome the relief.
EK: Yeah, that's it. (laughter)
SV: Have you ever thought about playing with one of the super groups like Fourplay for example?
EK: Oh boy, well they didn't ask me to join them. Then they didn't ask me again, they ask Larry Carlton. That's ok; I still do a lot of stuff with Bob (James). We're good friends. We still do concerts and tour sometimes. We haven't made a record in over ten years, but in the past few years we went to Japan together and did a tour. We went to Venezuela and did some shows down there. About ten days ago I did a track on his album. You send it over the e-mail now. You sit there and play it, and send it back. It's kind of cool you know? So I stay in touch with Bob and we're good friends. A couple of summers ago I went up to his home up in the northern part of Michigan and hung out for a few days. You know Bob and are good friends, as well as George Benson. We're really good friends, too. So I guess maybe everybody's getting older and there's nobody out on the road playing. We just sit around each other's houses. (laughter)
SV: Except during the summers when it seems everyone is touring. I was able to check out your website this week and I just love the name “Get a Klugh.” (getaklugh.com) Where did that come from?
EK: It was pretty much a phrase that you hear and I never thought about it as far as my web site is concerned. But we were laughing about that phrase and thought that would be a nice name and something different rather than so and so dot com which is good, too. You need that as well. This would be something that would give people a laugh.
SV: There's also a “Klugh's Clues.”
EK: Yeah, we're always trying to think of something all the time. There's various things we do over the course of a year. That's the way you make people aware of the different places you go and what you're doing. Like every year we do a weekend of jazz up in Colorado Springs . It's two nights and we book two shows a night in a little auditorium space of about 2000 people. We've only done it a couple of times. The first time we did it with George Benson; I'm sorry, Bob James, Joe Sample, and Chris Botti. Then this past year we had Keiko Matsui and Roberta Flack. It's just a real good way when you have shows like this to make people aware in advance.
SV: That sounds great. I see where you are a movie nut. Have you seen any good movies lately?
EK: Wow, boy I'm trying to think. I just went to see yesterday “The Island.” I had meant to go see that movie, but I was kind of taking my time. I was in my old home town of Detroit this past weekend where they did show there. I was at one of the radio stations with my buddy Kevin and he says “Have you seen Island yet?” I'm like, “No and I gotta go.” He said “You gotta go right away, they filmed all the movie here in Detroit.” I'm wondering how they filmed that in Detroit because it's like a futuristic movie. They changed some of the streets and buildings and matt ed out some stuff. They've got this thing in Detroit called a people mover, sort of a monorail thing. They use that. I went yesterday to see that and I thought it was a good little movie. It wasn't great, but it kept you going.
SV: We'll have to check that one out then. (laughter)
EK: You know I go pretty much all the time, I can't really remember. I'm trying to think of something that really floored me. There's several things I haven't seen. I'm going to try to get to the movies at least on Sunday and try to catch a couple.
SV: That's always a great way to relax. Looking back on a couple of your latter discs, I was wondering if you still had the dog from Sudden Burst of Energy and The Journey?
EK: Aww no, I love bulldogs, but I was so busy I could never own a dog. It was always my dream to have a bulldog. It didn't quite workout that way. I'm down here now and I do have a dog and she's a little five pound poodle named Lucy. It's a whole different thing than the bulldog. I still love bulldogs.
SV: Well Earl, we wish you the best with Naked Guitar in the weeks ahead. We hope it does well for you and we're just glad to have you back on the scene.
EK: Well thank you so much. Thank you for taking your time for interviewing me.
SV: In closing, is there anything you want to tell the fans?
EK: The main thing is that I'm going to be working on a couple of different projects and hopefully we'll get a chance to see everyone over the next year and a half touring. Definitely this record is out and I have another one coming. So, I'm stepping up my activity and hope to be out there seeing everybody.
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