Carl Verheyen’s Studio Diary.

May 1, 2011

gp0511_backpage_nr1AS I WRITE THIS COLUMN, IT’S OSCAR time, and L.A. is abuzz with crowds of stargazers, blocked off roads, and bleachers and tents going up on Hollywood Blvd. I played on the 81st Academy Awards show two years ago, and I found myself in the hot seat. I thought I was going to be an electric soloist in a small group apart from the orchestra that played movie-theme music as the show went to commercials. But things changed. Dramatically.

We had one rehearsal and two prerecord sessions—all music is pre-recorded in case there are technical difficulties on show day—at Capitol Records in the two weeks prior to final dress rehearsals at the Kodak Theater. Then, at the dress rehearsal the evening before the show, a guy with a clipboard and a headset walked up to me and said, “Mr. Verheyen, we’d like to talk to you about your solo.” I asked, “What solo?” He replied, “The solo-acoustic version of ‘Moon River’ that you’ll be playing at the foot of the stage during the ‘Music in the Movies’ segment of the broadcast.”

That was the first time I had heard anything about it—which gave me the distinct impression the director was making it up as he went along. I didn’t know Henry Mancini’s classic standard— much less have a solo-guitar arrangement at my fingertips—so I used every bit of down time, coffee breaks, and the dinner hour to learn it, as the rehearsal for the segment was slated for later that night!

As I sat on the edge of the stage with my Avalon signature acoustic plugged into a direct box for the run-through, I noticed the photos on the seats that showed who would be sitting inches away from me: Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, and Penelope Cruz. Arriving home after midnight, I set my alarm to practice early in the morning. I worked in some cascading artificial harmonics and open-string chords, and memorized my arrangement before heading to the theater for one more rehearsal. Soon, the stars were on the red carpet, the band was on stage, and it was “lights, camera, action!”

After playing electric guitar for the first three hours of the show, the guy with the clipboard came to set me up during a commercial break. I had brought my acoustic live rig—a small rack with a Raven Labs preamp, a Lexicon LXP-1, and a dbx 160x compressor. As I was tuning up, a crew member said to me in a very matter-of-fact tone, “Don’t screw up, because besides the 3,100 people here in the theater, there are 65 million watching on TV.”

I walked to my position, and all the movie stars immediately started asking me questions. “Nice guitar—what is it?” “Whatcha gonna play?” It was a hang! Sitting toe–to-toe with Meryl, Angelina, and Penelope, it took all my feeble powers of concentration to get through “Moon River.” Host Hugh Jackman provided further distraction as he chatted away while I performed. I’m no stranger to the hot seat, but, to this day, I still get a little nervous whenever I hear “Moon River.”

A member of Supertramp since 1985, Carl Verheyen has also logged a dazzling 25-year career as one of L.A.’s premier studio guitarists. His most recent release is the DVD, The Road Divides.

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