IF ANYONE CAN DISPROVE THE OLD SAYING “Jack of all
trades, master of none,” it’s session ace Carl Verheyen.
For three decades now, he’s been a first-call player in
Hollywood—playing everything from gigs supporting
Miley Cyrus, B.B. King, LeAnn Rimes, and Glenn Frey,
to working the late-night talk show circuit and scoring
innumerable television dates (including Seinfeld, Cheers,
Frasier, Married…with Children, and Scrubs) and countless
movies (including the 2009 blockbuster Star Trek and
the Pixar/Disney animated hits Up and Ratatouille).
But calling Verheyen a studio rat is like saying Remy
the gourmet-chef rodent from Ratatouille was a good poison
detector for his colony—it misses half the picture.
Verheyen has also been a member of Supertramp since
1985, and for the last few years he’s been turning up the
burners with his own fiery Carl Verheyen Band.
“I’ve really tried to cut down on the studio work and
put more of that energy into my own band and touring,”
he says. “I used to do ten sessions a week, but I realized
it wasn’t making me any better, it wasn’t making me any
more well known, and it wasn’t enabling me to achieve
my own musical vision. I was just being a sideman in
the service of somebody else’s vision.”
His latest solo release, Trading 8s [King], finds him
singing and swapping licks with a roster of illustrious
players, including Joe Bonamassa, Steve Morse, Robben
Ford, Albert Lee, Rick Vito, and Scott Henderson.
Did you begin Trading 8s knowing you’d have all these great
No. I’ve been buddies with Joe Bonamassa for a number
of years, and we had talked about making an album
together in the past, but then we both got really busy so
we never got that idea off the ground. Once I’d gotten
him to play on this album, however, I started thinking
about all the other potential guests I could have.
So the songs weren’t written with these players in mind—
which is nice because it puts them into a setting a little different
than the one’s we’re used to hearing them in.
Right. For instance, we’d been playing “Taxman” in
the band for about three years and people kept saying,
“When are you going to record that?” So we finally did
it, with Scott Henderson sitting in. I asked Steve Morse
to play on “On Our Way” because you usually hear him
just blazing—he’s one of the strongest guitar players I’ve
ever heard—but there’s a whole other side to him that’s
lyrical and melodic. That’s what I thought he’d give me,
but I got a beautiful, melodic solo out of him that was
Similarly, Bonamassa’s playing on the title track isn’t as
thick and bluesy as one might expect.
Joe can play a lot of styles, but he’s very disciplined
in his approach to making his own music and growing his fan base. He really tries to keep it within
the blues format. I admire guys who are able
to rein it in and do one thing, but I don’t
have that discipline—or even that desire. I
love to play jazz, rock, blues, country, rockabilly,
metal, and bluegrass. I’m kind of all
over the place.
How do you usually write?
I wrote “On Our Way” in the shower,
which I think is why the main theme is more
of a melodic statement than a guitar statement.
But most of my song ideas come after
playing for an hour or two and coming across
some kind of a riff or melodic idea that can
be developed into a song. I’m a practice-aholic—
I find my center as a person when I
practice. If I have a couple of days where I
can’t practice, I don’t feel good about myself.
How did you and all the guests prepare for the
With Joe, he just walked into the studio
and I had about 45 of my amps there. He
said, “You got any Marshalls?” I said, “Yeah.
What do you want—45, 50, or 100 watts?”
He picked 100 watts. So we put two 4x12
cabinets out in the room, put the heads in
the control room, put a gobo between the
cabs, and miked them. We recorded at the
same time, so if one guy screwed up we had
to do it over again, because we were bleeding
into each other’s mics. What you hear
on that song is the fourth take. But it was
different with every player. With Robben, I
went to a studio near his house, and we
recorded together—but we weren’t necessarily
trading eights, we were trading entire
choruses. I played two and then he played
two. With Scott, I had my stuff down on tape
and I took it over to his home studio. With
Albert, I waited for him to get back from
England, and then we booked the studio two
days later and just went in there and carved.
You’re a big fan of matching specific guitars
with specific amps. What are some of your favorite
Around 1989, I started to think that my
’61 Fender Strat through a Vox AC30
sounded better than $60,000 worth of rack
gear. I said, “The hell with this stuff,” and
went back to more of a rootsy sound based
on that marriage of the guitar and the amp.
My Gibson SG sounds fantastic through this
1976 Marshall JTM45, and my Les Paul
sounds great through a 1968 JTM50 plexi.
But I’ve got about 65 different guitars and
about 50 amplifiers. They’re all different,
and they all sound great.
What did you use on this album?
I’m a big fan of Dr. Z amps, and he (Mike Zaite) has made me a few that got a lot of
use on this record, including a Carmen Ghia.
I have three old plexi Marshall heads that I
like to use for solos. My clean sound for the
last five or six years has been a ’63 Vox AC30
on one side, and a 1964 Fender Twin on the
other side. The Vox gives me all kinds of
high-end sparkle from my Strat’s single-coils,
while the Twin gives me more midrange girth.
I’ve also got about nine little tiny amps—a
Gibson Falcon, three Fender Princetons, a
tweed Deluxe, a blackface Deluxe, an Italian
amp called The Valve, and a German Bergertone—
that really get it done in the studio.
Do you take those on your session dates, too?
My typical rig for a soundtrack is two 1x12
cabinets and a 16-space rack that I slave three
or four heads through. I also take a big pedalboard
that’s about three or four feet long.
Which heads do you usually take?
I usually take the Carmen Ghia and an
old blackface Fender Tremolux. I’ve also been
using a THD Flexi-50 running EL34 power
tubes a lot.
Which pedals would you consider indispensable
to your sound?
The indispensable ones would be the ones
on my live pedalboard, like the Landgraff Perfect
Distortion and an Italian pedal from VDL
Professional Analogics called the Il Distorsore.
What I’m looking for is something to
saturate my sound enough to make it real
fluid and easy to play, and yet still be able to
tell which pickup I’m using. Single-coil distortion
has a lot more character than
humbucker distortion, because there are more
things you have to do—you have to run them
through the right pedals, and you have to run
them through the right amp with the right
amount of gain. If I take one of those vintage
Marshalls and turn it up to 6, it gives me a
semi-crunchy sound. And if I put the right
pedal in front of that, I get enough saturation
that I’m over the top for soloing. It’s got
enough sustain and warmth that it’ll hold
and hang just like a humbucker—but you can
still tell which of the five pickup settings I’m
on. That’s my ultimate goal in finding the
right pedals and the right tone. My other
indispensable pedals are a Hermida Audio
Zendrive, which works really well on the
clean side of my rig, and I also use vintage
Fuzz Faces, Rats, old Tube Screamers, a TRex
Mudhoney, and a Fuchs Cream pedal.
Is your approach to recording your own material
different than your approach to sideman
When you’re making your own music,
it’s completely your musical vision and the
concept is purely artistic. I’m trying to make
a statement that will last for all time. When
I’m doing studio work, I’m not really an
artist—I’m a well-listened craftsman. What
I mean by that is that I’ve got the tools to
do the job: If it takes a Les Paul through a
Champ, I’ve got it. If it takes a Rickenbacker
12-string through a Fender Twin, got it. And
when I say “well listened,” I think about
when I played on this movie called Walking
Tall not too long ago and they said, “We need
that ZZ Top sound.” The well-listened craftsman
knows that ZZ Top is Billy Gibbons
playing a Les Paul with humbuckers through
a little tweed amp, and he’s getting the
pinched harmonics and using more of a Texas
shuffle feel than a Chicago shuffle feel. And
pulling up all that musical knowledge and
heritage, and basically being a music historian
in a sense, is something I really enjoy
doing. But the artistic level there is maybe
40 percent, compared to 100 percent for your
What’s the least glamorous part of being an
A-list session player?
In the movie business, the only down side
is that they don’t credit your solo work. They
give the caterers credits at the end of the
movie, but I was the principle soloist in Ratatouille—
I played mandolin, a bunch of Django
Reinhardt-type stuff, and parts where there’s
a 105-piece orchestra backing me up—and
I didn’t get any credit.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions
players have about being a studio guitarist?
I think one of the things that people don’t
realize is the knowledge of styles you have to
have. For example, you might be called in for
a country session, and if you’re the hat-wearing,
boot-wearing Telecaster player, you’re
probably going to nail it, right? But many
times the producer and artist huddle together
in the control room and then come out and
say, “Y’know, it’s too country. We want to take
it a little more country rock.” And if you’re
that guy with the boots, hat, and Tele, you
might be going home because you don’t have
a concept of country rock. Or they might even
want to take it in another direction and get
out the acoustic guitars for bluegrass—or
whatever. I’ve seen it happen many times
where we started in one direction and turned
completely around and made the song entirely
different. And it’s that knowledge of styles
that gets you hired. If you’re a specialist, you
may work, but you’re not going to work nearly
as much as the guy that composers, producers,
and songwriters can trust no matter where