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Interview: Carl Verheyen - Trading 8s

Interview: Carl Verheyen - Trading 8s

Carl Verheyen talks about working with everyone from Joe Bonamassa to Steve Morse and Robben Ford for his latest release, Trading 8s.

So imagine you’re at the NAMM show and you hear this guy playing an old Strat through a cool piece of gear. The guy is simply wailing as he flawlessly ties together a buffet of diverse guitar styles and colors. A crowd forms. You’re hearing the lexicon of all that has become 21st century guitar. From bebop to country, fusion to rock and roll, he’s doing it all with a craftsman’s touch and an artist’s flair for the melodic. It’s a wide interval ear fest until he stops, hands you his guitar and asks you if you’d like to try it out.

I think not! I’m not following Carl Verheyen! No way! How do you follow a guy who has recorded guitar for icons such as Dolly Parton, Stanley Clarke, Supertramp and The Bee Gees? That’s the short list. Recently he’s played on the soundtracks to Land of The Lost, Star Trek and Up. He even played in the house band of this year’s Academy Awards and performed “Moon River” with host Hugh Jackman in front of 68 million people.

With a bunch of solo records under his belt, Carl Verheyen has been doing his thing for a long time. I’m not the guy to play guitar right after Carl Verheyen at a NAMM show, but he found some heavyweight cats to join him on his new release titled Trading 8s. It’s a rockin’, diverse and earthy record featuring guest pickers Joe Bonamassa, Rick Vito, Steve Morse, Robben Ford, Albert Lee and Scott Henderson. I caught up with Carl so he could tell me all about it.

I’m really enjoying your new record. How did this all come together?

It really started when I wrote a handful of tunes. I talked to Joe Bonamassa about two or three years ago about doing a record together. We always said, “Yeah, let’s do it in September.” Then September would come around and then I’d be on the road or he’d be on the road, so that never happened. When I wrote “Highway 27” I asked Joe to play on it. He said, “I’m coming to town Tuesday and I can do it on Wednesday.” It just happened overnight. We spent about an hour and fifteen minutes together in the studio tracking our solos. It went down super fast. That included getting the sounds. He picked out one of my 100-watt Marshalls that he liked and played his signature Les Paul. We put a baffle between the two 4x12 speaker cabinets and we both sat in the studio facing each other. If he made a mistake it would ruin my track, so what we did was completely live. That inspired me to pull the rest of this together in terms of guests.

I’ve always enjoyed your Beatles cover of “Taxman.”

Thanks. I was going to play the entire solo but I thought, “How fun would it be to trade 8s with Scott Henderson!?” He’s a buddy of mine from the Musician’s Institute. We’d show up every once in a while, hang out in a room and play. He kept saying, “Let me do one more take! One more take, but stop me when it’s good!” I used my ’58 Sunburst Strat on that.

I take it you had everything recorded before you brought in the guests.

Pretty much. I had tunes that I had been playing on the road, and we went in and tracked six or seven of them at once. Basically what I was looking for was getting solos out of people. In the case of Robben Ford on “New Year’s Day,” he played solos and played fills throughout, which really wasn’t something I was planning on. I turned him loose and he sounded so good. There’s not one lick that I would take away. He did a runthrough just to figure out where the changes are, and it was every bit as good as anything that he did after that. It’s a shame we didn’t record it. Robben Ford has a wonderful touch that’s uniquely his own.

The songs are solid and the guests really bring their individual personalities to each track.

I agree. In the case of Rick Vito and Steve Morse, I didn’t actually get a chance to play with them in the studio because of our schedules. Steve was on the east coast in his studio. He had me send him the track and sent it back with his stuff on there. I asked him for a solo and some harmonies on the melodies. This is on the song “On Our Way.” I’ve been a huge fan of Steve’s since the ‘70s so I know his playing pretty well. I figured since the song is a pretty ballad, he’d give me the beautiful lyrical side of his playing with a clean guitar tone. He might even do an acoustic guitar solo. It won’t be the blazing, shredding Steve that we all know. It’ll be a different part of his playing.

When the track came back my jaw literally dropped. He was able to play the most beautiful, singing, lyrical, melodic solo, but it’s got that burning Steve Morse shredding edge too. It was so musical it just blew my mind—it was the last thing I expected. I couldn’t stop listening to it.

[On that song] I used an acoustic twelve-string, an acoustic six-string capo’d and my ’65 Strat for the main melody stuff. For my solos I was looking for something somewhat clean, and I actually used my Flying V through a Princeton. On the second half of that solo I slipped in an Xotic BB Preamp pedal.

When you’re trading solos with guitarists of this caliber, do you find yourself soaking up a bit of their style?

I really do. I listen to Joe Bonamassa’s vibrato for example and it reminds me a little of the old Cream-era Clapton vibrato. I’ll spend hours after just being in a session with a guy like that, working on my own vibrato and making it as exciting as Joe’s. When I played with Robben I went home and spent many hours just trying to get a few of his little bends and phrasing things together. I played along with the recording until the phrasing sounded identical. But I’ve been doing that for years with everybody, people like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, you name it.

Allan Holdsworth. That must have been pretty cool to sit around with a guy like that.

We hung out together back in the ‘80s. I would go down to his house and we would jam. He turned me on to some chord voicings that my hands just would not reach. [Laughing] So I just went into a room, shut the door and said, “I’m not coming out of here until my hands can play that chord.” [Laughing] I think getting kicked in the butt by fellow players is always healthy. Every one of those guys on Trading 8s kicks my butt in some way and that makes me want to work on more stuff.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to trade solos with Albert Lee.

Al came back from the road and the next day he was in the studio with me. I used a crunchy Telecaster tone. I think I played my 1960 Tele custom through a Victoria Tweed Deluxe. I did that because I knew his guitar tone would be pristine clean. He never uses any distortion, ever. So I thought to really contrast it, a Telecaster is what you need here and a dirty sound would be best. He played through his Music Man 1x12 combo that he’s been using for years along with his Ernie Ball Music Man Albert Lee model guitar. My only fear was that most of my country playing had been copped directly from records of his. [Laughing]

I notice you like small amps in big rooms.

Yeah, it’s an old trick of mine. I use little amps that are not very distorted. On one side I’ll use my SG, and then in stereo I’ll use a Les Paul through a different small amp, but cranked. No pedal, but I’ll take my little ’63 Gibson Falcon and turn it all the way up. The other side will be like a Tweed Deluxe and crank it up too. Instead of having a lot of distortion, which would turn things into mush, it’s better to double it for your sonic girth and not use so much distortion. I think almost all microphones like small amps better. When you have a huge amp it’s just beating up a microphone and doesn’t deal with it as well. I like small amps with a close mic and something in the distance. Maybe twenty feet away for that ambient room sound. It’s really great way to record.

What’s it like being a referee for all these guys?

Everybody’s bottom line is just stellar and it’s fresh and new to me. I’m just like they are in the studio when I’m on the other side of the glass—“I got one better! I got one better!” The thing is, you know what you were going for and whoever is listening and producing has no idea. They’re digging what’s happening but you tried for something that didn’t happen, so you need one more. Somebody has to say, “What you did is every bit as valid as what you may have been going for.” That’s how the happy accidents happen.