THE SESSION SCENE WASN’T JUST ABOUT CHOPS—
personality had a lot to do with it, as well. Guys would come in
with big attitudes and all the chops in the world, and at first
you’d go, “Oh wow, that guy can really play. That’s cool.” But a
lot of these guys wouldn’t stop. They’d noodle constantly, and
just drive people so crazy that they’d want to kill you at the end
of the day. These guys were usually tortured with practical jokes.
You also had to be able to hang, but not be a brown noser. There’s
a fine line between being cool and gracious, and being like the
teacher’s pet. Brown nosers got raked through the coals. But if
you proved you could deliver the goods, it was more because of
the friendship thing that other players would recommend you
for sessions. Once you got into the scene, it became your second
family. Here’s one of my favorite stories that illustrates the
bond we had…
I was late to a live tracking session because I got a flat tire, and it was a monster
session with strings and horns and everything. Gene Page was the arranger, and he
was notorious for writing out all the parts. So I’m 19 years old, and I’m late, and
I’m panicking. Lee Ritenour is in the Guitar One chair, obviously, and as I sit down,
I’m looking at my part—which is Guitar Two—and it’s really the piano part in Db
with no chord symbols anywhere. Everything was written notes. Now, I know we’re
getting one or two takes to get this down before they move on to the next tune.
There are 60 musicians in the studio, and time is money. If I had gotten there on
time and relaxed, I could have gotten it together, but I’m all flustered. I’m late, I’m
young, and I’m new. I’m trying to make a name for myself, and if I f**k this all up—
well, bad news travels fast. And people want to kick you down, because it will open
a spot for somebody else to come in. When you’re trying to build a reputation, there’s
no room for error.
So I looked over at Ritenour, and all the color had left my skin. And I peek at his
chart, and it’s “tacet,” “fill”—nothing. Just nothing. And my part is copying the piano
part with all these voicings and five flats. I don’t think I took a breath for two minutes.
They start counting off the tune, and Rit sees the panic in my face, and he just
reaches over and switches charts on me. He gave me the easy part. He didn’t have
to do that, and I could have choked. Of course, Rit can sight read anything, so he
just relaxed through it, and at the end, I almost tongue kissed him. I go, “Dude, you
could’ve thrown me under the bus.” He just goes, “Ah, I like you.” Back then, a guy
like that could make or break you. We’ve been friends for 35 years now.