Louie Shelton: In Session
AAJ: Unfortunately, in 2009 we lost Dan Seals, who was the first person you ever produced. He went on to quite a career in country music. Had you two stayed in touch over the years?
LS: Oh yes, we were very close. As a matter of fact, I produced a great album called Make It Home (Nuance Records, 2002) with Danny when I was in Nashville. Commercially it didn't do what it should have, but it is an absolutely fantastic record. Of course we only had limited promotion, but we had distribution, so it was distributed well. We had four record promoters on it, but because it wasn't on a major label it couldn't get any radio play. The stations would come right out and tell you that.
He'd had ten number one country songs, but then all of a sudden the record company had signed some new artists, so they dropped Dan Seals. He hadn't had a record deal for five years, but I knew he was still a great singer and a great artist, and he was touring and people were still going out to see him. So I got this batch of songs together and we did this album in my studio when we were in Nashville. It came out absolutely great.
We're kind of relatedhis daughter married my wife's sister's son. We all lived close together there in Nashville. Dan lived half a block down the street from me at one point, his kids and my kids, and all our nephews and nieces are very close. He and his wife and kids are all very committed Baha'is, and the same is true for me and my family.
AAJ: I remember walking through a big mega music store in the 90s and seeing your first solo CD, Guitar (Lightyear, 1996). I bought it without knowing quite what to expect, and it became, and remains, one of my favorite CDs. My first thought was, why did you hold out on us so long?
LS: I guess it's still this way, I tend to put myself last on the list. Actually, I had started that album in the early 80s, I had Carlos Vega and a few guys coming over to the house, and we worked up some tunes. Then all of a sudden this move to Australia comes into the picture, I move here and set up a studio and another couple of years roll by, I'd whittle away at a tune here and there, but meanwhile I was working on other bands. So it wasn't a priority.
But you know, it's funny about that record, when we moved back to America from Sydney, I got it released on a label in New York called Lightyear. So one night I started up the car and one of my songs was playing, and it kind of freaked me out. I was thinking, do I have my CD in this car? But I had the radio on a jazz station. It turned out one of the network jazz companies had picked it up, and it was playing on 30 jazz stations around the country. And others picked it up, and the response ended up being pretty good.
I've got some new stuff I think will do really well. I'm in the process of deciding how to go with it, if I should hook up with a record company or do it myself as an Internet record company. Unless you get with someone who is actually going to do some promotion it isn't worth it, because I can get orders over the Internet and the money goes in my pocket. Whereas, if I sign with a record company the first thing I'll get is a notice that I owe them such-and-such because they Fedexed it to 100 megastores. That's what happened on that first one. I don't know how it sold, I've never seen a statement.
AAJ: I thought it was one of those albums where everything came together. You had half a dozen strong compositions, and really funky versions of "Georgy Porgy" and Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle," and you even nailed it on the cover design and the notes.
LS: I loved the artwork on that CD. A photographer had been over at my studio and he was just taking all these shots of guitars, parts of guitars, and stuff like that. So later I was at his office and he had a proof sheet on the desk, and I said, "You know what, you've almost got something there." So basically we took that proof sheet and rearranged a few things and that became the album cover, and I thought it was a great cover. We got Glenn Baker, a genuine music historian, to do the liner noteshe's one of these guys who knew more about what I'd done than I did. I just saw him on TV here [in Australia] this morning, because today was Elvis Presley's 75th birthday, so they had him on a morning show.
AAJ: You followed Guitar with Hot & Spicy (Sin-Drome, 1998), an album with a somewhat mellower but rather sensual vibe. You had Victor Wooten in the studio with you. How did you guys meet?
LS: His brothers played at a club every Wednesday night in Nashville, and sometimes Victor would go down there. We worked together first on someone else's project, but I was of course aware of his great bass playing from watching him with Bela Fleck. He's the nicest guy, and when I asked if he would play on my record he was more than willing.
AAJ: He's also on your album Something Live (New World Records, 2000). This was especially nice because contrary to the norm, you hadn't released these songs on your previous CDs, and it's also a treat for Miles Davis fans, with three of his compositions.
LS: The radio formats in America are so strict, the smooth jazz stations won't play traditional jazz, and vice versa. So I thought, maybe I could come up with something that the traditional jazz stations would play.
AAJ: I wanted to ask you something else about Hot & Spicy. If I'm not mistaken, you played an amplified acoustic with some interesting effects on several tracks, or was it a 12-string?
LS: That was a six-string through an effects box. When I did my first album, Guitar, my point of reference was Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour. When I left L.A. they were playing that stuff on the radio. But after I got back to the States and began Hot & Spicy and went with Sin- Drome Records in L.A., they explained that the smooth jazz stations had gone so smooooth. Guys like Peter White and Craig Chaquico were getting a lot of play, so they wanted me to do some acoustic, and that's why I came up with that kind of album. There were a few vocals too, with Seals & Crofts, and Lua Crofts, she's really a great singer.
AAJ: How about Urban Culture (Nuance Records, 1999)?
LS: Well, I was in Atlanta at a radio station and we were talking and they explained that over 40 percent of their audience was African American and they really liked more hip hop and R&B tracks. So I did Urban Culture.
AAJ: That was a very radio-friendly album, and another one with Victor on it.
LS: Yes, he was on some tracks, and we did have some great reviews from radio stations across America. Like one station in Kansas City said, it's not often that every track on a CD is great, but that's the case on this one.
AAJ: I particularly liked "Street Walkin.'" Victor really came through for you on that.
LS: Oh, yeah, that's a really funky track.
AAJ: What's next for you?
LS: I think this new record that I'm working on now is going to be a good one, especially from a commercial standpoint. I've done some good versions of tunes that people are familiar with, like "Rio de Janeiro Blue," "Walk On By," a few originals, but I've also done versions of some of the stuff I've played on like "Lowdown," "I Want You Back," and "Hello"I'm still figuring out what I'll put on the record. It's part of a record I'm doing here for Live Performances called Souvenir.
Louie Shelton, Something Live (New World Records, 2000)
Louie Shelton, Urban Culture (Nuance Records, 1999)
Louie Shelton, Hot & Spicy (Sin-Drome Records, 1998)
Louie Shelton, Guitar (Slam Records, 1995)
Lionel Richie, Dancing on the Ceiling (Motown, 1986)
Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston (Arista, 1985)
Lionel Richie, Can't Slow Down (Motown, 1983)
Seals & Crofts, The Longest Road (Warner Bros., 1980)
Seals & Crofts, Takin' It Easy (Warner Bros., 1978)
Seals & Crofts, One on One (Warner Bros., 1977)
Boz Scaggs, Silk Degrees (Columbia, 1976)
Melanie, Photograph (Atlantic, 1976)
Seals & Crofts, Get Closer (Warner Bros., 1976)
Seals & Crofts, I'll Play for You (Warner Bros., 1975)
Art Garfunkel, Breakaway (Columbia, 1975)
T-Bone Walker, Very Rare (Reprise, 1974)
Seals & Crofts, Unborn Child (Warner Bros., 1974)
Marvin Gaye, Let's Get It On (Motown, 1973)
Seals & Crofts, Diamond Girl (Warner Bros., 1973)
Solomon Burke, Electronic Magnetism (MGM, 1972)
Seals & Crofts, Summer Breeze (Warner Bros., 1972)
Lalo Schifrin, Rock Requiem (Verve, 1971)
Barbra Streisand, Barbra Joan Streisand (Columbia, 1971)
Otis Spann, Sweet Giant of the Blues (Blue Time, 1970)
James Brown, Soul on Top (Polydor, 1970)
Al Kooper, Easy Does It (Yellow Label, 1970)
T-Bone Walker, Bosses of the Blues (RCA, 1969)
The Monkees, The Monkees (Colgem, 1966)
All Photos: Courtesy of Louie Shelton