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Louie Shelton: In Session

By Published: January 27, 2010
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Leaving Home—Glen Campbell—Session Work

AAJ: At 17 you were already on the road, and you met fellow Arkansan Glen Campbell when both of you were playing clubs in New Mexico. He's a bit older than you—were you two aware of each other back in Arkansas?

LS: No, that was a strange set of circumstances, because I left Little Rock with a steel guitarist who had been offered a job in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and they also needed a guitarist. So that was the first time I really left home. We went to Santa Fe to a six-nights-a-week job, and on our off night we went into Albuquerque to a club that Glen Campbell's uncle, Dick Bills, owned. He had his own band and Glen was playing with his uncle in that club. That was when I met Glen. The band I was in moved around—we went to Denver and Flagstaff, and we ended up in Albuquerque. By this time Glen had left his uncle's band and had his own band at a club called the Hitchin' Post, and we were just down the road at the Chesterfield Club. Then we got to hang out more with each other, and when the touring bands came through town, there would always be a jam session at someone's house after hours. That's where I would meet up with Glen and players from other bands. So I got to know Glen really well in Albuquerque.

AAJ: By the early 60's Glen Campbell was a premier session guitarist in L.A. Did he help you get into session work?

LS: He sure tried. What happened is, he headed out to California a couple of years before I did. During that time I put my own band together in Santa Fe, and Glen's former drummer joined my band. At some point we decided to take our band out to California, and the night before we were to leave, everybody backed out except me and the drummer. So we went to California straight to Glen's place. By this time he was in the scene there, the top session guy. He took me around and introduced me to producers, and there were a couple of times when he'd had a late night and didn't want to go in the next morning, so he sent me in as a sub. But none of that really took hold for me, so the best I could do were the B-grade publishing demos.

But as the story goes, these publishing demos had been with Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and they got picked to do the Monkees' TV show. They liked working with me, so they offered me the gig to do that. That's when I came up with the lick for the "Last Train to Clarksville," which became a number one hit, and the first thing you hear is my guitar. Then after that, all the producers asked who played guitar on that, and that's when they all started calling me. Who knows, had it not been for that, maybe I wouldn't have gotten a start. It's weird that way in these circles, it's a handful of musicians who get all the work. I was lucky that Glen had made that transition to artist by this point and was no longer doing session work. So that slot was vacant anyway —no one had taken over the spot. The older guys were more from a jazz background. They hadn't acknowledged the new rock & roll and the different sounds. They weren't coming up with any of that.

AAJ: I wanted to ask you about "Valleri." I remember hearing it on the radio and it actually made me stop and listen. There's a basic fuzz tone backing that you could imagine the Monkees playing, but there are also these amazing runs that sound like Johnny Smith on steroids. Looking back now, I wondered how the producers allowed that, because they were trying to create this illusion that the Monkees were playing this stuff. And anyone who played guitar knew that there were only a handful of people in the rock world who could come close to playing that. Was that an inside joke with you studio guys?

LS: I actually did that as a joke. I was feeling cheeky, we had a hit record out, and that approach came from a Carlos Montoya flamenco style, but I was doing it on an electric guitar. I never think about what I'm gonna play—if something comes into my head, it's just there. But I did start it as a joke and kind of laughed, and then the producer says, "No, no, no, that sounds great, do that!" And I said, "You're kidding, I was just joking around." But they recognized it as something that would work on that record.

I got an email yesterday from a guy in Florida. He said he was driving his 11-year-old daughter to school and had the radio on, and "Valleri" came on. She was half asleep and then she perked up and said, "That's an awesome guitar solo!" So he wrote that he didn't know who it was at the time, but he went online and looked it up. I emailed him back and said, "Give your daughter a hug for having such great musical taste!"

I've had more comments on that than probably any other thing. I think probably note for note it's one of the most notes per bar solo on any pop record I know.

AAJ: I love those iconic things on records. Another one for me is drummer Hal Blaine's triple backbeat on the Ronettes' "Be My Baby." That had to be a thrill the first time you played with Hal and the Wrecking Crew.

LS: It was, and it was a new territory for me, because I definitely was aware of those A-string players. To come in and actually set up my guitar, sit down and have an arranger or producer count a tune off, and here I am playin' with these guys. It was almost distracting for me to be in the company of these players whom I had admired for so long. Luckily, straight away they were the nicest guys, very complimentary, and after a couple of sessions I felt like one of the guys.

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