Remembering Larry Coryell (pt.1)

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I vividly recall my weekly trips to the Franklin Music store while in high school and my obsessive journey through practically every LP bin in the store. I wasn’t necessarily an open-minded teen, looking for new and exciting music forms (though, in retrospect, it seems I was). Still under the influence of popular music (which, at that time, mixed rock, Motown, folk, country and full-fledged pop musics into one perpetual playlist) I used the covers of the LPs to educate myself. I knew about rock and folk music, of course, but learned of country artists, jazz artists, classical orchestras and composers, Broadway shows, all from studying those LP covers.

By this time I was also into the guitar – any guitar, any style, any level of playing. I was most immediately drawn to cover shots with guitars pictured, my teen-aged imagination just piqued by the music that was lurking on that vinyl disc. I wasn’t much of a guitarist at that time – with literally no guitar instruction available other than a folk-singing father of a younger friend, I was fumbling along on my own, snatching bits of ideas from TV variety shows, where popular groups would lip-sync their latest hit. So, it was with this fascination-driven mentality that I encountered Larry Coryell’s Offering album.

I’m not sure I can express exactly what drew me to that record – the cover is quite artistic, of course, but there was something about this guy holding this immense guitar that hinted at new music, an unique experience. He didn’t have the physical demeanor of Barney Kessell or Herb Ellis, wasn’t sporting the suit-and-tie look still associated with a preconception of jazz. He had bushy hair, giant glasses and a fantastic guitar. The back cover was even more convincing – the quintet didn’t look that different from guys I was hanging around with at school, albeit a bit older. I could imagine sitting there with them just looking cool.

The list price for Vanguard LPs was $3.49 that week, which was beyond my high school budget (circa 1969). But I persevered – upon each return visit to the store I checked the sale banners – various labels had weekly specials when the price would drop by $1. Each week I checked that the record was still in the bin. Three weeks passed – my patience was rewarded when that banner touted all Vanguard LPs for $2.49! I wasted no time in dashing to that bin, grabbing the record, pulling those three $1 bills out of my wallet and buying Offering.

My parents were very tolerant with my musical obsessions. In the era before earbuds and headphones, they had to be tolerant with my often redundant listening habits. This time it went even further. Upon returning home, I rushed to the venerable Fisher stereo system, placed the LP onto the turntable and was astonished by what I heard. The very first track, Foreplay, was unlike any music I ever heard. I played the track six times, all the while running around the dining room, calling out superlatives and exclamatories. When I finally calmed down my mother walks into the room and asks “Is the whole record just that one song, over and over?” I, of course, replied with more superlatives and impassioned exclamations.

I literally had to not listen to the remainder of the record until the next day and the artistic knock-out punches continued. This was group of musicians creating something exciting on many levels, opening new doors into musical expression. For me, it was truly a turning point –  I had a new take on music and new determination to play music like this. The music of the rock and pop idols had nothing close to this – I had to learn to play like this.

Back in the LP days, to learn a song/solo/guitar part you played the vinyl LP over and over again, cuing the needle to the spot as many times as needed. I’m sure those repetitions clocked into three figures as I attempted to figure Larry’s solos out by ear. I had no idea where to begin. After wearing out the first copy of Offering and procuring a second, I realized it was time to find a teacher – this was jazz, after all, and I was in totally uncharted territory (for me). I asked friends who had taken lessons if their teacher was accepting new students. He wasn’t – but he supplied two names: Pat Martino and Tom Giacabetti. As it turned out, Pat was out on tour for several weeks, Tom wasn’t. I studied with Tom for five years and still employ his lessons today.

I also met Larry Coryell some months later…..

More to come

 

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