Louie Shelton: In Session
AAJ: You've stressed the importance of a solid foundation in the blues for jazz and rock players. I know you recorded with Otis Spann and Solomon Burke, but what really blows me away is that you recorded with T-Bone Walker twice, and he recorded a song you wrote, "For B.B. King." You probably know this, but B.B. King once said that T-Bone's "Stormy Monday" is what caused him to take up electric guitar. Do you remember the sessions and pitching that song to T-Bone and his reaction?
LS: I knew I was doing a session with a legend, and it's one of my great memories. And I was fortunate, because he passed away shortly after that. I think he was in his early seventies when I recorded with him. I did know of his background, but I didn't know how much of an influence he had been on B.B. King. Later on I did read that. You know, in the South we had black radio stations and my family listened to them a lot, so I'd heard him and had a blues record collection. Of course I was a huge B.B. King fan. I always loved hearing those great blues players, so I really enjoyed when I was finally able to get the records and learn what they were doing.
As to writing that song, that was a fluky thing. We ran out of songs, but we still had some studio time. So the producer said, "Does anyone have a tune?" (Laughs) I didn't really have a tune, but I raised my hand and said, "I've got one, it's in B flat, and it goes like this." So we counted it off and played the blues in B flat. So they asked me what I called it, and I said, "Blues for B.B. King." T-Bone loved the idea and it got on the album. It's funny, if you had approached them three months prior, and said, "I've got a tune I'd like you to consider for the album," chances are it would have never made it on there.
Actually, I learned that trick from Quincy Jones. I used to do the early "Bill Cosby Show" with him, and it was usually just me, a keyboard, bass, and drums. It's not like he'd be up writing all night for this show, he'd just say, "I need 30 seconds of blues and let's take it up to C." So that's how that happened on the T-Bone session. I have that album cover sitting in my studio, it's one of my favorite memories and I feel proud to have been associated with, and fortunate to have been called to, that session. And you know, [guitarist] Larry Carlton was on that session too, I think he was just starting.
AAJ: Jim Gordon, a session drummer you worked with often in L.A., joined Clapton's Derek and the Dominoeshe even wrote the coda of "Layla." Did that album register on your radar screen back then?
LS: Yes, it did, and Jim Gordon was my favorite drummer. As a matter of fact, I did a Louie Shelton album in 1969 entitled Touch Me (Warner Brothers, 1969) that's out of print today. And Jim Gordon played on that.
Jim had gotten into the studio scene shortly before I did. He and I were part of the new brigade, there was a generational transition going on, certain bands were disappearing, bands like Jan & Dean and the Phil Spector thing, and then we got Motown out there, the Jackson Five, the Monkees, and a lot of new younger things, and along with that came a new set of musicians. So when Jim left to do the Eric Clapton thing, we sure missed him.
Unfortunately, when he came back, it wasn't with the same disposition he had left with, which was a very pliable, whatever-you-want attitude. They were hitting the drugs pretty heavy and that can change a person. But I'll tell you something interesting.
I was on a session once with Jim Gordon, and I was playing this Ovation 12-string guitar. And Jim said, "Man, I love that guitar, I've got a Martin D-45 guitar or something," and he said, "Eric gave it to me, and we wrote "Layla" on it. I'll trade you even." So of course I said, "Sure." So here I end up with a guitar that Eric Clapton supposedly wrote "Layla" on. Somewhere along the way it got away from me. I've been sick about it, because when I heard about Eric getting 200 grand for one of his guitars, I thought, this guitar has to be worth something, too. I'd love to get my hands back on that one, as I would a few other guitars that have gone by the wayside.
AAJ: On the Internet I've seen lists that show you on a lot of Phil Spector productions, but I wasn't sure about it because the timeline didn't seem to fitmost were pre-1966. Had you worked with him much prior to getting called to that John Lennon session?
LS: No, not really. I have trouble putting some of that together, too, because I didn't keep track of stuff. So I'll even refer to the Internet to see when I recorded with someone, and I've found out my name shows up with a lot of people because there was a compilation put out later on, even after I'd quit doing sessions. But then again, yeah, I did work on Sonny & Cher, and I did do some sessions before I broke into it big time.
AAJ: What did you think of Phil Spector as a producer?
LS: I had already had some experiences with Phil on the A&M Records lot. He was disrupting people's sessions by causing a lot of noise and commotion out in the hall, coming down there drunk or crazed out on drugs. Literally, I was in studio B with [the American pop rock duo] England Dan and John Ford Coley, and Billy Preston was over in studio A. He had a bunch of friends there and Phil showed up. He was ranting and raving, and the noise was literally coming through the door. The engineer had to go out and quiet him down.
He'd been banned from the A&M lot before for firing a gun off or something. So, he was a raving maniac sometimes. He was pretty toned down when I did the John Lennon session, but he was still weird. He came snaking through the halls with his version of incognito, with a top hat, the darkest sunglasses you've ever seen, a black cape, and a cane. I don't think I ever had a conversation with Phil Spector. I certainly loved some of the records he made, but I wish he hadn't gotten so weird.