Larry Eugene Carlton (born March 2, 1948) is an American jazz, smooth jazz, jazz fusion, blues, pop, and rock guitarist. He has divided his recording time between solo recordings and session appearances with various well-known bands. Over his career, Larry Carlton has won four Grammy Awards for his performances and compositions, including performing on the theme song for the television series Hill Street Blues (1981).
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Carlton was a session musician in Los Angeles, making up to five hundred recording sessions a year, including albums by Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, The Four Tops, Christopher Cross, Barbra Streisand, the Partridge Family, and Charly García’s Clics modernos. His guitar work on Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne” from their 1976 LP The Royal Scam has been listed as the third best guitar solo on record by Rolling Stone magazine. From 1971 to 1977 he played with the jazz-rock group The Crusaders. His playing on their version of Carole King’s “So Far Away” is one of the highlights of The Crusaders’ first album. In 1977 he signed with Warner Bros. Records for a solo career. The album Larry Carlton, also known as the “Room 335 album” was released in 1978. The album was recorded at Larry Carlton’s Room 335 (studio). In 1979 he played guitar on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. Also in 1979, Carlton played Dreamflow from Paulinho Da Costa’s album Happy People. Although still relatively unknown outside his fan-base, Carlton produced six albums from 1978 to 1984, during which his adaptation of Santo Farina’s “Sleepwalk” climbed the pop and adult contemporary charts and his 1983 LP Friends garnered a Grammy nomination. In 1979, Carlton appeared on the Grammy award winning, self-titled, debut album by Christopher Cross. Guitarist Eric Johnson also played on that same album.
His solo career took a twist in 1985 when he signed with MCA Master Series for an acoustic jazz album. The result was Alone / But Never Alone, which included a rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer”. During this time Carlton worked with musicians from around the world, . From 1985 to 1990 Carlton did various solo projects including the 1986 live Last Nite. He won another Grammy for his cover of the McDonald/Abrams song “Minute by Minute,” from the successful LP Discovery.
In 1988, while working on his electric guitar LP On Solid Ground, which was released in 1989, Carlton was the victim of a random act of violence, shot in the throat outside Room 335, his private studio in Southern California. The bullet shattered his vocal cord and caused significant nerve trauma. Carlton managed to recover quickly and completed On Solid Ground by the end of the year. He continued his work with the electric guitar in 1991 when he started to record a blues album, but decided to delay the project to meet demand for a more commercially oriented jazz offering, which resulted in Kid Gloves. Renegade Gentleman was finally released in 1993, featuring Nashville harmonica player Terry McMillan on several tracks.
From 1994 to 1997 Carlton participated in various tours (notably with Toto guitarist Steve Lukather) and released an album (Larry & Lee) with fellow jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour. In 1997, Carlton took Ritenour’s place in Fourplay.