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Song Premiere: Michael Landau’s “One Tear Away”

Michael Landau is a prolific session guitarist who’s worked with Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Michael Jackson, and many others.
Photo by Austin Hargrave

A session legend who's played on classics by Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis, Michael Jackson, and Pink Floyd shares a track from his new album, Rock Bottom.

There’s no question that Michael Landau is a guitar great, but some might call him severely underrated. Though not a household name, Landau toured with Robben Ford as a teenager. At 19, he joined Boz Scaggs for a world tour before settling down for sessions with Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell (he toured extensively with Mitchell throughout the early ’80s), B.B. King, Ray Charles, Rod Stewart, James Taylor, Michael Jackson, and scores of other big artists.

Now Landau is releasing Rock Bottom, an album he made with a full band in the studio, and which showcases some of the most melodically beautiful phrases he’s ever recorded. Landau served as both engineer and producer on the record, working the console with the same artistry and meticulous attention to detail with which he approaches playing his six strings.

Michael Landau recorded Rock Bottom on analog tape and then finished it with digital software. “I mixed the record on an API console and kept it as big, open, and natural sounding as I could,” he says.

“I’ve been playing mostly instrumental music for the past 10 years, and out of nowhere I woke up one morning with the strong urge to play some hard-edged music with vocals," Landau explains. The song premiering here, “One Tear Away,” is a slow-building tune with a smoky vibe and tasteful, subtle runs. It was written with Landau’s longtime friend and collaborator, David Frazee.

“I was very happy to reunite with my old pal David on this new record,” Landau says. “David was the singer in our band Burning Water back in the ’90s, and is such a strong voice and a very interesting songwriter. David wrote the lyrics and melody on ‘One Tear Away.’ It’s got a very haunting feel.”

In addition to Frazee, the rest of the band who joined Landau in the studio included his brother Teddy Landau on bass, Larry Goldings on organ, and Alan Hertz behind the drum kit.

Besides sharing his gifted prowess on the guitar, Landau sends a message of hope in dark times throughout the record. On "One Tear Away," Frazee propels that sentiment with his vocal and lyrical contribution. “They’re an urging to not give up on living, an encouragement to acknowledge and heal the wounds within and free ourselves from self-judgments about being human,” Frazee says.

Michael Landau currently favors Fender Strats with dual humbuckers. He also has a signature Fender amp that’s a modified version of the Hot Rod DeVille III, and Suhr made him signature single-coil pickups. Photo by Austin Hargrave

“I recommend listening to it with a hot cup of green tea, or perhaps eight Guinness beers, or any other drug of your preference," Landau added. "Or maybe just let the music be the drug?"

In addition to our exclusive premiere of “One Tear Away,” check out Landau’s first single, “We’re Alright,” below. Rock Bottom is set for release on February 23.