At age 66 this month and 40 years in, John Scofield is at the prime of his career. A major guitarist in the jazz scene since the 1970s, “Sco” is one of the most prolific jazz geniuses, in a perpetual cycle of recording and touring. In 2016, he received his first Grammy award for the album Past Present, and two more followed in 2017 for Country for Old Men. He’s been nominated a total of nine times and almost constantly has several projects in the works. “I haven’t had a lot of dead air time,” he says.
Few session musicians can lay claim to the deep roots of Reggie Young. Among guitarists, he is revered. His instinct for phrasing has consistently rendered artful licks mimicked by hundreds of other players. The now 80-year-old musician of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) crafted some of the most famous guitar riffs in history. Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away,” James Carr’s “Dark End of the Street,” Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) member Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” Dusty Springfield’s classic “Son of a Preacher Man,” and Elvis Presley’s comeback hit, “Suspicious Minds.” The list goes on.
In the 1960s and early 1970s Young and the rhythm ensemble known as the Memphis Boys were at the heart of the American Sound Studio at 827 Thomas Street in Memphis. What followed in that five-year period, between 1967 and 1972, was an unparalleled run of more than 120 Top 40 hits.
“We thought it was normal,” Young says, “but it was extraordinary. The talent of everybody combined contributed to the success.” Session work would take Young from Memphis to Nashville and corridors along the way at FAME Studio, Muscle Shoals Records, Stax Records, and Royal Studios. The work led to major tours around the country and Europe and as an opening act, witnessing Beatlemania. “I feel like I was in the middle of the peak of the session world as a studio player.” Of those days, he says, “It was rewarding. There was a lot of camaraderie.”
The story of Reggie Young may well be the story of Southern soul music. He was born in Caruthersville, Missouri, in 1936, and raised in Osceola, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee. His father played Hawaiian guitar—old music like “Sweet Lelani,” Young recalls—and bought him a National flat top when he was 14 years old. Young was fueled by the Delta blues, as well as Django Reinhardt and B.B. King. Most of his musical education came by way of radio, inspired by the Chet Atkins and Jerry Byrd show, Two Guitars, which aired on the now famous WSM radio out of Nashville.
By 1955, Young got his first break with Eddie Bond and the Stompers, which recorded the rockabilly song, “Rockin’ Daddy.” The song charted quickly and Mercury Records signed the band to a deal. A local disc jockey promoting tours hired them to join a tour that included Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, and Roy Orbison.
In 1959, Young was working at Royal Studios cutting records, expanding his range with saxophonist Ace Cannon, trumpeter and bandleader Willie Mitchell, and drummer Al Jackson. Young wrote several instrumentals with Mitchell, who would later produce Al Green’s most successful albums. Young recalls playing the Plantation Inn in West Memphis with B.B. King’s band. “A white guy couldn’t sit in with that band. The crowd wouldn’t go for it. So, I’d do it, but I’d be behind the curtain,” he says.
Young says, “You could sell instrumentals in those days.” He was just practicing on his old ’59 Gibson when, he says, “I tuned the guitar down two whole steps, striking the loose strings with a pencil in a rocking rhythm. The strings were heavier back then and it sounded real good when I played a shuffle beat.” It was an old jazz trick the drummer would use with his sticks on the upright bass. The record was signed and the tune “Smokie Part 2” became the number one R&B hit and rose to number 17 on the pop charts. Instrumentals would set the standard for the label for several years and Billboard voted Bill Black’s Combo the number one instrumental band from 1960 to 1962.
Young was drafted into the Army in 1960 and served for almost two years at Kagnew Station in Ethiopia. When he returned, “Smokie” was still on the charts. Fortunately, Young says, “The studio gave us a choice of paying us scale or letting us have a piece of the record. We all took a cut except for the saxophone player. He got scale—$41.25—and we made a lot of money.”
In between sessions, Young often traveled to New York City to work for Atlantic Records, adding guitar to releases by R&B greats Don Covay and Solomon Burke. Because of their success putting out smash hits, Bill Black’s Combo got an offer to be an opening act for the first American tour of The Beatles. Thirty days in the states and 30 days in Europe. It was in 1964 and “A Hard Day’s Night” was a hit.
At the time, Young says, “The union had a trade agreement with England and we were the trade band for The Beatles. In Europe, we backed up The Ronettes, who had the hit, ‘Be My Baby.’ Lulu was there, and The Kinks.” The tour yielded great music, long jam sessions, and new musical partnerships. Young became good friends with George Harrison. On the second leg of the tour, he met a 20-something Eric Clapton (then a member of the Yardbirds). “He was a blues player and I was too, so we hit it off pretty good. We learned from each other,” Young says.
In 1967, Young joined the house band of guitarist and producer Chips Moman (of Stax Records fame) as part of The Memphis Boys. at American Sound Studio. With Young on guitar and fellow Local 257 members Gene Chrisman on drums, Bobby Wood and Bobby Emmons on piano and organ, and Mike Leech and Tommy Cogbill alternating on bass, they ushered in waves of rock and roll, soul, and early R&B. In fact, it was one of the few studio bands at the time to play both pop music and R&B.
Many musical collaborations would change, seemingly overnight, when Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis April 4, 1968, according to Young. Big acts, like Aretha Franklin, canceled bookings at American Sound Studio and worse—although musicians had long integrated—Young felt in the aftermath, even good friends became distant.
Hi Records and American Sound Studio came to an end, and Young moved on to Nashville in 1972, where he quickly became an integral member of the Nashville studio scene, playing with J. J. Cale, Cat Stevens, George Strait of Local 433 (Austin, TX), Paul Simon of Local 802 (New York City), and Merle Haggard, among others. In 2014, Young contributed to the album, The Breeze: An Appreciation of J. J. Cale, produced by Eric Clapton and Simon Climie.
In the mid 1980s, Young hit the road with The Highway Men, which comprised Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson of Local 433, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson of Local 257. He says, “It scared me at first to leave my main job, doing studio work. But we’d go out in fall and springtime, all over the world for five years.” Young remembers each star trying to outdo the other on stage at night. He says, “Everybody had a bus. It looked like the Ringling Bros. Circus.”
Of his distinctive sound, his wife, Jenny—a classically trained cellist and member of Local 257—says, “It’s his tone; even at 80, he has beautiful tone.” Young adds, “I was never trying to be somebody else.” Eric Clapton famously singled out Young in his autobiography as one of the best guitar players he’d ever heard.
Earlier this year, the musician who was responsible for scores of hits by other artists finally recorded his first solo record, Forever Young. In his golden years, the master of session work finally found time to record his own solos. Everyone who has heard the classic songs he made famous over a 60-year career will recognize the soulful, lyrical strains of Young’s genius.
Carl Verheyen of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) is considered one of the most skilled guitarists on the scene—a guitar player’s guitar player—a combination of talent, intellect, and a lot of soul. As a first-call session player turned solo artist, he’s a musical chameleon who consistently demonstrates artistic innovation. “The only thing I turn down is flamenco,” Verheyen says.
With the success of his own band—and doing many concerts abroad—he does fewer sessions these days. Still when he’s home, in LA, he’s happy to do record projects, TV shows, movies, or jingles, recalling a time when he made a living exclusively from union dates. He became a member in 1975, at 21, when he had an opportunity to backup Frankie Avalon provided he had a wah-wah pedal and a union card.
From then on, union gigs provided steady work, about eight to 10 sessions a week, six days a week. He says, “The scales are set for you and the residuals pile up. We used to call it the Special Payments Fund. Now it’s the Film Musicians Secondary Market Fund. In your 20s and 30s, when you’re doing a ton of sessions, you’re not thinking about a pension, but every one of those jingle residuals, every record, every film, adds a few bucks to your pension.”
Verheyen cut his chops playing acoustic guitar in bars five nights a week in his teenage years. “In the beginning, I was just knocked out by The Beatles and The Byrds. Roger McGuinn was a huge influence. That segued into the more virtuoso guitar players like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Duane Allman,” he says.
Verheyen studied at Pasadena City College for two years and for one semester at Berklee College of Music. “I realized the experience I needed was on stage. I understood theory; it came easy. It felt like I could get out there and start playing.” But, he does not recommend that for everybody, admitting, “I was able to fall into some good musical situations, like playing two nights a week with a jazz band—where everybody was better than me. That forced me to learn songs every day and practice seven or eight hours a day and then go back to that gig and be that much better.”
Growing up in a “Sinatra home,” Verheyen says he absorbed the sounds of bossa nova and Carlos Jobim. He was 11 years old when he received his first guitar, a St. George nylon, and one guitar lesson for $2.50. He was hooked. He says his parents had to encourage him to go out and play some basketball. “I’d be out there with my radio in the window. When a song came on that I wanted to learn, I’d stop the game, race upstairs, grab my guitar, and try to figure out the chord changes.”
In his early 20s, he was breaking into TV and film sessions, bolstered by his instincts and flair for improvisation. To sharpen his sight-reading skills, he and another musician helped each other out, informally creating their own one-on-one course. Verheyen traded blues and rock ‘n’ roll lessons for classical guitar lessons. For two hours every day, five days a week, they read music.
It was a casual jam session with an older guitarist that proved to be a turning point for Verheyen, who says, “This guy showed me 25 different voicings for a Dm7b5 chord, something I never knew existed! That blew my mind.” Laughing, he adds, “I started down what I call the long, dark jazz highway. After five or six years, at 27, I came out of that period. I thought, I like Mike Bloomfield and I want to learn to bend notes like him and I love Albert Lee and I want to learn to play country like him. I like Segovia and I want to play classical guitar like him. Instead of going down one path, why not learn everything you enjoy? It’s just 12 little notes and the only thing that changes is the ornamentation of the style—the phrasing, tone, the choice of notes, and the way you execute them.”
In the jazz years, he played in the same Newport Beach club as a number of big names. Joe Pass happened to be playing one weekend, and Verheyen asked him if he could have a guitar lesson. It was mostly a disaster, Verheyen recalls, because Pass was not an instructor. But it was valuable because Pass said, “If you know a song in one key, you know it in all keys.” That, Verheyen says laughing, was worth the 50 bucks he paid for the lesson.
After much of the 1970s on the jazz scene, he moved to LA in 1980 and played everything from blues and rock to metal. He was a consummate student who transcribed John Coltrane solos, but was equally passionate about learning the groove on Booker T’s song, “Green Onion.”
With his newly released album, Carl Verheyen Essential Blues, he decided to rein in one style. “I called my producer about recording two new blues songs. I was planning to make a compilation of all the blues pieces off my 13 albums. He said, ‘I’ve got a better idea. In a month, let’s record a live blues album in three days.’ So, I had a month to put together what I consider the essential blues: Delta blues, Piedmont blues, British blues, Chicago blues, Texas blues, and jazz blues. I tried to come up with what represents the things I enjoy about the blues and my take on it.”
The difference between bluegrass and blues and country rock and fusion? If you ask Verheyen, it’s about attitude and perseverance. He works hard to perfect a phrase. “I practice jazz all the time. Songs like ‘Giant Steps’ and ‘Countdown’ by John Coltrane, ‘Very Early’ by Bill Evans and ‘Falling Grace’—these songs are like puzzles to unlock once or twice a week because they keep your brain sharp; you improvise over difficult chord changes.”
Verheyen owns 70 guitars and 50 guitar amps. “The rule of thumb is, if it sounds good, I don’t sell it,” he says. His collection also includes two banjos, two ukuleles, two mandolins, a mini guitar (tuned to a fifth higher), and two baritone guitars. He alternates vintage guitars, but his preferred all-around is the iconic Fender Stratocaster.
“You need to know how Billy Gibbons gets his sound so you need to own that Les Paul and that Fender Tweed. And you need to understand the different shuffles—the Texans have a different shuffle than Chicago, different from B.B. King. ‘Ornamentation of a style,’ I call it. Eventually, you end up collecting the instruments that give you all those sounds. I’ve kept all that stuff because they’re all colors and textures I put on my own record,” he says.
“Acoustic guitar is another discipline entirely. You have to dig into it. Those are big strings to push around,” says Verheyen. Although he’s a fan of picking up a song and doing a new arrangement to a different tuning, key, or time signature, he says it’s got to be different enough, special, to record.
Verheyen has given lessons to John Fogerty and members of Maroon 5, and is ranked “One of the World’s Top 10 Guitarists” by Guitar magazine and “One of the Top 100 Guitarists of All Time” by Classic Rock magazine. He’s performed alongside Joe Bonamassa, Rick Vito, Stanley Clarke, Robben Ford, and Albert Lee. He can be heard on hundreds of albums—Victor Feldman, the Bee Gees, Dolly Parton of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), and Dave Grusin of Local 47—to name a few. For 32 years, he has been the guitarist for the progressive pop/rock group, Supertramp.
“One thing I’ve learned from being in Supertramp and bandleader Rick Davies [Local 47] is that the set needs to have a certain pacing and it needs to grab people at the first song, get them in the palm of your hand, and then it needs a place to go. Don’t start off with bombastic, crazy stuff,” says Verheyen. For instance, he’ll kick off a set with “The Times They Are a Changin” in a jazzy 6/8 time, a bit like Jimmy Hendrix treated “All Along the Watch Tower.” It’s recognizable and he points out, the 1960s anthem is completely relevant in these uncertain times. He regularly draws on another idol, George Harrison, whose “Tax Man,” played in ska style, is a real crowd pleaser.
When it comes to playing his own compositions, Verheyen gives his band a lot of latitude. He capitalizes on the talent of his high-caliber musicians by allowing them the freedom to take chances. Although not a jazz group, the music is played with improvisation and interpretation. He says, “To me, it’s better to tell a bass player, ‘Here’s what I’m doing, what do you hear against that?’ unless I’ve written a bass line that’s got to be there because I’m doubling it. The same for the drummer. I always think the drummer is going to come up with a much better part to fit the groove and the song than I can possibly program or write out.”
The Carl Verheyen Band, recording since 1988, has a 14-record discography. Verheyen has been featured in two documentaries: Grand Designs: The Music of Carl Verheyen and a film about the electric guitar, Turn It Up! A Celebration of the Electric Guitar. His instructional DVDs, Intervallic Rock Guitar and Forward Motion, are legendary. His books include Improvising Without Scales and the handbook, Studio City: Professional Session Recording for Guitarists. He has also contributed to Guitar Player, Vintage Guitar, and Guitar World magazines. He also lectures and gives master classes at the University of Southern California and at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles.
In addition to performing all over the US, Verheyen has found a market abroad in concert venues and outdoor festivals, noting that, historically, European audiences respond well to improvisation. “Blues and jazz are American art forms that they truly appreciate,” he says. “Sometimes, we’ll try new stuff on the audience and see how they like it. Then, over the months or weeks of being on the road, it begins to evolve into something better. That’s why you always want to play your own music with the people you have a deep musical relationship with and not with pick-up bands.”
For all his success, performing live and working with musicians all over the world, Verheyen says, “There is nothing like a good tracking date. Being in a room with a group of musicians and working up parts that serve the song is really exciting. That moment when the musicians come into the control room and hear the results of the last take on the big speakers is truly one of my favorite times in the studio. You get to hear your tones, from guitars and strings, pickups and pedals, and tubes and amplifiers.”
“But equally satisfying is playing a song you wrote at the kitchen table 20 years ago and seeing the whole front row of a theater singing the words along with you. From studio to the stage, it’s all part of the joy of playing guitar for a living,” he says.
You could say that Las Vegas guitarist Jimmy McIntosh has built his life and career around music business connections. The best example may be his latest CD, Jimmy McIntosh and … which features McIntosh exchanging licks with some of his personal heroes, including John Scofield and Mike Stern of Local 802 (New York City), plus Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones.
McIntosh’s earliest connection to the music industry goes way back to his mom’s friendship with Duke Ellington, who was a major influence when McIntosh was a young musician. Ellington bought McIntosh his first instrument when he was in 7th grade—a Bb French horn.
“Whenever he was playing in Detroit, Cincinnati, or Toledo we would go see him,” says McIntosh, who grew up in Temperance, Michigan, on the border with Ohio. “He would chip in money for private lessons.” The afternoon before McIntosh’s first school performance Ellington called to give him a pep talk.
McIntosh began playing guitar in 9th grade, influenced by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and David Bowie, and later, Jimi Hendrix, Allman Brothers, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny of Local 34-627 (Kansas City, MO), John Scofield, Mike Stern, Scott Henderson, The Neville Brothers, and The Meters.
After graduating from college, McIntosh moved to Las Vegas, a city he was also profoundly connected to and visited frequently while growing up. “Our roots are in Las Vegas,” he says. “My grandfather built the first permanent structure—a saloon called the Arizona Club.”
When he arrived in Vegas in 1981, McIntosh reached out to a musician he’d met at Berklee College of Music who was already working there. “I didn’t have any experience as a professional musician,” says McIntosh. “He told me to start at one end of the Las Vegas strip and go to every place that had live music and introduce myself to the band and see if I could sit in.”
McIntosh also joined the union, Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV). “My goal was always to get good union gigs. The best jobs are union,” he says. “There was a really nice union hall on Duke Ellington Boulevard and they would have bands on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights where they would get together and play big band music. I would go down and hang out.”
Throughout the years, his career expanded until he became an in-demand Vegas guitarist. McIntosh says the union has been important to that growth. Though he admits he’s played some “Vegassy” gigs that were kind of corny, he’s also managed to share the stage with quite a few big name musicians.
For a while, McIntosh played a show called Legends in Concert at the Imperial Palace. Through that job, he also worked as the house band for several annual cerebral palsy telethons. “Billy Preston was on the last one,” he says. “Playing with him was a real highlight. I was about 26 at the time.”
One steady gig for the past 25 years has been with the Lon Bronson All-Star Band. “We do a lot of Tower of Power and that kind of thing,” McIntosh says. “It’s made up of some of the best players in town who do other full-time gigs.” Aside from playing after-hours shows a couple nights a week, for a while, the All-Star Band played on a show on Comedy Central called Viva Variety.
A big fan of Penn & Teller, McIntosh was particularly pleased to get a gig playing for the magician duo’s Sin City Spectacular variety show broadcast on the FX Network 1998-1999. “It was fun and challenged your reading,” he says. It also gave him an opportunity to work with a wide variety of musicians, including Lyle Lovett of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), Jennifer Holiday, and Slash of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA). Other career highlights include working with David Foster and Kenny Loggins of Local 47, Donna Summer, and Gloria Gaynor.
Though McIntosh works steadily, he says the Vegas music scene is not as great as it used to be. “I think the heyday for working musicians was the ’60s and ’70s, when every little lounge had a duo or trio playing,” he says. “Now there’s some lounge work, but not that much. Musicians still move here, but like any place, it takes a little while to get plugged in.”
“Broadway shows have been really good for Vegas,” he continues. McIntosh played Mamma Mia in the Mandalay Bay for five years and then moved over to Jersey Boys for the past eight years. “I enjoy the steady gig, and then I can do something creative on the side. I have a trio with Keith Hubacher and José “Pepe” Jimenez [both members of Local 369].”
Having a steady gig allowed McIntosh to launch his first solo album, New Orleans to London, in 2006. “It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to make a record. All of my musical heroes wrote their own material, so I kind of think that’s the ultimate thing to do,” he says. “Then my father passed away in 2001. That’s what got me thinking—life is short; it’s time for me to make a musical statement.” He wanted to ask the Neville Brothers to be on the album, so he set a date when they would be in town.
It was Art Neville of 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) who first introduced McIntosh to Ronnie Wood backstage at a Las Vegas Stones show. They reconnected through Wood’s manager, and Woods agreed to play on that first solo project, New Orleans to London. McIntosh flew out to London to record five tracks with Wood, and was surprised when Jeff Beck also showed up and played on three tracks.
“Ronnie and I hit it off fantastically and we stayed in touch, so when I started the second record, Jimmy McIntosh and …, I was hoping he would play on it,” says McIntosh. Wood agreed and he and McIntosh played two improvised jams to open and close the album, plus Wood played on McIntosh’s cover of Wood’s “I Gotta See.” “The Rolling Stones have been my favorite band since I was a kid, so getting to work and play with Ronnie is literally a dream come true.”