Carl Verheyen39s Session Stories

October 7, 2009

 You've heard monster player Carl Verheyen's guitar work hundreds of times, on TV, in movies, with Supertramp, and on his own records, like the most recent Trading 8s, which has him throwing down with Steve Morse, Joe Bonamassa, Robben Ford, Scott Henderson, and more.

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Verheyen talked to GP about the session cat part of his amazing career.


You’ve played on a ton of records, but I’m fascinated by your TV dates. What was the first television session you did?

I played on “Laverne and Shirley” during one of their last seasons; I think that was in 1980.

Your guitar playing can be heard on episodes of Happy Days, Cheers, Scrubs, Lost. Talk about the Happy Days gigs. The show was set in the 50s, so what would your rig be?

We were all playing 335s back in those days in the studio. I probably used the back pickup on my “3” and ran it through one of my old blackface Princeton Reverb amps with a handful of pedals. This is about 2 or 3 years before the big rack craze in LA. The racks started showing up around 1983 and I remember Buzzy Fieten turned me on to (rack designer) Bob Bradshaw. I became his 2nd client after Buzz. I used that stuff through most of the 80s, until I began to realize that my old Fender Strats through a Vox AC30 sounded better than $50,000 worth of rack gear!

I was always under the impression that Tommy Tedesco got all those gigs.

I would work with Tommy and Dennis Budimer a lot back then. Dennis was very helpful and showed me the proper studio etiquette while Tommy was a little more hard core: sink or swim, you’re on your own! But I really loved him and what he taught me by example.
My favorite Tommy-ism was when we did a workshop together at a local music school. When asked what guitars I bring to a session I replied: "I always have a trunk of 12 electrics and another trunk of 10 acoustics delivered, plus 8 to 10 amps. Producers are very savvy, they know the difference between a Tele and a Les Paul." Tommy's response was this: "I bring one electric and one acoustic. You like it? You bought it. Let's move on."  Classic Tedesco!

What’s the biggest difference doing a modern show, like Lost, as opposed to a show back in the 80s?

Lost is mostly orchestral so when they need guitars they actually come to my house with a laptop, a mic and the charts. We call it a “field recording” because the orchestra is already recorded and they sweeten with guitars “in the field.” Movie dates are generally recorded the same as they always were, with a big orchestra and the rhythm section working together on one big sound stage.

You’ve also played on a bunch of movie scores. Which was the most challenging?

Most recently Speed Racer kicked my butt a bit due to the very difficult reading in odd time signatures. I played a Les Paul through a semi distorted THD head (with Abraham Laborial on bass) and 7 drummers for two days straight. When I see guys like Harvey Mason, Bernie Dresel (who’s played on my CDs) and Alex Acuna (from Weather Report) struggling, I know I’m in deep!

I thought your work on the soundtrack to Ratatouille was great. What do you remember about those sessions?

I remember there was a lot of Django-style guitar so I went out and found an old Maccaferri guitar. I also played a bit of mandolin on those sessions. That was really fun because I was one of the principle soloists along with Frank Morocco on accordion and a violin player.
When you’re in the hot seat playing the solo with a 105 piece orchestra the conductor actually refers to you and asks if you’d like another take. At that point the perfectionist in me that labors over my own CDs has to compromise with the time consideration and decide whether it’s worth it to make 105 guys do it again and again so I’m happy with my solo!

What sort of reading chops do you need to make it through a TV or movie date?

Everyone on those sessions can read much better than the guitar player!  The last thing you want in the studio is to have people waiting for you to get your part together. I learned to read late in life, sometime in my 20s I taught myself.  But the hardest part in learning to read was the rhythms. Once I figured out that there are only so many rhythmic variations on 16th notes I could isolate and learn those figures. Eventually I learned to see a rhythmic figure and know what it was supposed to sound like before I played it. That sure helped!

You’ve said that as much as you love guitar, vocal music is a huge source of inspiration to you. You’ve obviously worked with some amazing singers like Christina Aguilera. What does a great singer do for your guitar playing, live or in the studio? 

I’m lifted up by the emotion that comes through a great singer’s interpretation of melody and lyrics. I take that emotion and instantly transfer it to my solos and rhythm parts. It’s an automatic reaction, I’m swept away. Making records or playing live with Supertramp was always a real joy for me because those guys can really sing! It also makes me see the big picture: that I have too much music inside me to be a sideman or guitarist for hire exclusively. I’ve got to do my own music and tap into that emotional element that made me love music in the first place.

When it comes time for you to make your own records, how does all your session work inform what you do?

First, I believe I’m much faster in the studio than most solo artists. I preplan my parts and subsequent tones at home before having all my amps, guitars and effects hauled down to the studio. So I don’t waste time experimenting in front of the microphone too much, unless my original ideas aren’t working.  Few people realize that I don’t labor over these records; instead I’ll do all the overdubs on 3 songs in a single day.  When budget concerns matter it pays to be prepared as well as fast.
Second, certain producers, songwriters or film composers will prompt me to do things I wouldn’t have thought of, so I’m constantly logging sonic ideas, new signal paths, obscure tunings, hook motifs, chord progressions….anything that I could use later in my own music. I’m very grateful for all the production techniques I’ve learned over the years.  And it works the other way, too. Once I find a sonic trick that becomes one of my trademark tones I’ll use it on other people’s records.
An example would be my “tuned reverb” sound. I place a Dobro on a stand next to a small amp and tune it to the key of the song. Then I take the Dobro’s pickup out to its own channel on the board and as I play a strat through the nearby amp, the Dobro resonates in the key of my solo and we bring that fader up on the board. The reverb reacts differently as I play up and down the neck and creates an ethereal strat tone like none other. I first used it on “Silence is Golden, part 2” from the Slang Justice CD and again on “Henry’s Farm” on Trading 8s.
I believe studio work is a craft and making your own music is an art, so I’m very lucky to be satisfied on both sides of a career in music!

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