TOULOUSE ENGELHARDT IS NO LONGER CONTENT TO BE THE
most amazing 12-string guitarist you’ve never heard of. With
a sizzling new solo album and old music getting rediscovered,
the sun-crusted Californian—born 59 years ago in Milwaukee,
Wisconsin—is finally poised to finish the breakthrough
he started in the 1970s. He first showed off his dazzling double-
six chops on the LP Toulousions, made for John Fahey’s
Takoma Records in 1976, and remastered for CD 20 years later
by Hollywood Records. Initially compared to Takoma label
mates such as Leo Kottke and Robbie Basho, Engelhardt proved
hard to pin down—picture Dick Dale and J.S. Bach wrestling
for the soul of Reverend Gary Davis and you get some idea of
His nerves got frazzled in the ring,
however, and the guitarist opted for simply
raising a family in Laguna Beach.
Engelhardt collects old sci-fi and fantasy
posters, and in his second coming this
zeal has infected his packaging, as well
as his music. Check out Engelhardt’s
wacky Martian Lust disc, recorded in 2006
with a Mosrite 6-string made for him by
Semie Moseley himself. His current outing,
Perpendicular Worlds [Lost Grove],
made with the production team known
as TEA, contains nine originals and two
standards, by Davey Graham and Jimi
Hendrix. This collection of swirling solo
miniatures, recorded mostly on 12-string
and with only the subtlest of effects, is
garnering the biggest raves of his life.
So the beret-wearing eccentric gets
pulled in from the margins once again.
Guess everyone should have listened in
1988 when Moseley called Engelhardt,
“One of the most creative guitarists I
have ever heard.”
You started with surf music, but your dad
played tenor guitar.
He was really a virtuoso and he loved
Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt.
My mom was an opera singer. My first
years were in San Francisco, and then
Hermosa Beach, where Ozzie and Harriet
Nelson lived next door. I’ve got
photos of Ricky and me with beach buckets.
Eventually, we migrated to Orange
County, where my parents bought me
my first Mosrite, a fantastic Ventures
model that was stolen in the ’70s.
By the time we moved to Palos Verdes,
there were garage bands everywhere. Two
blocks away, Eddie & the Showmen practiced,
and I got to know Bob Knight, the
sax man. I liked the simple, melodic lines.
That’s so important to my music, even
today. In fact, I’m doing do a version of
“Miserlou” on my next record.
You’ve said you only had two guitar lessons,
but apparently the teachers were pretty
It was the summer of 1966, and a pal
said, “You gotta come down to the Lighthouse
and hear some jazz.” We were kids, but on a hot night they’d open this porthole
door. “Tequila” had just come out,
and the band was playing that. Pretty
soon, my friends took off after some
surfer girls, and I stuck around. After
the show, I went down the alley behind
the place, and there was Wes Montgomery,
sittin’ on the steps by the
kitchen door, having a cigarette. Before
I could say anything, he said, “You’re a
guitarist, aren’t you?” I asked him how
he did those octaves, and he reached
around the doorway, pulled out his Gibson
and showed me how he worked that
big thumb of his.
The other was Larry Carlton. He had
a ’57 Bel Air and he drove to my house.
The lesson was in my bedroom. He told
me I should learn to read and really get
to know the instrument, but I just
wanted to play some songs. He taught
me “Walk, Don’t Run” and left. My parents
said, “If you’re not going to do what
the man tells you, we’re not paying for
any more lessons.” So that was that.
What prompted the focus on 12-string?
It was the Byrds influence. They
played at my high school in 1966, and
I was knocked out by [then] Jim
McGuinn’s Rickenbacker—by the
power of that thing. Davey Graham
was another one who played the 12.
Believe it or not, my first was a Fender
Villager. Sheesh. Then I saw what David Crosby was playing, and wanted
to get that. It was a Martin D-12-28,
so I got one, a ’71.
You later toured with the Byrds, and that
has proved a lasting connection.
Clarence White gave me a lot of
tips. He turned me onto playing with
a capo. Chris Darrow was in a latterday
version of the band, and he’s been
a constant, as well, producing a lot of
my music. Chris was also in Kaleidoscope
with David Lindley, who has
been like a big brother to me, pushing
me to get back out there. David made
quite a few calls for me. Recently, he
turned me onto Hani Naser, this fabulous
percussionist, and I appear as his
special guest. Jack Bruce is one of the
best people I’ve ever worked with. As
far as influences, Vernon Reid once
said I sound like Sandy Bull on speed.
I don’t listen that much to other people,
although I have to admit that Pat
Metheny has been a subtle influence
in recent years—even if we don’t sound
Tell us about plugging in at McCabe’s Guitar
Shop when that Santa Monica landmark
was still reserved for folkie purists.
I played there in the Toulousions era,
so I started with my 12-string. But then
I pulled out the Mosrite and played
“Pressed Hams,” a tune I still do, with
its purposely corny runs. Man, it was
drenched in reverb. Phil Gallo wrote a
review in Variety, and mentioned that I
was the first guy to play electric guitar
on their stage. I was blacklisted from
that place for 20 years [laughs]!
More recently, you’ve been associated
with Taylor and A Davis Guitars, both of which
Art Davis used to make guitars for
Taylor, before he went out on his own.
I can’t do some of the counterpoint I
need on my Taylor 855 Jumbo, which
has very low action. The Davis
SD12MCS, from 2003, has a bright,
crystal-clear sound. It’s made out of
solid Santa Cruz cypress. It’s smaller,
not as deep as the Taylor, and the neck
is a bit thinner. It was Jackson Browne’s
guitar for a year, before I got it.
I also have a ’76 Ramirez 1A classical that’s
pretty nice. There are three nylon-string
pieces on the new record, although one
comes from 1978. One day, I had this gig at
the UCLA coffee house, and cellist William
McNairn was there with me. The rest was
12-string, and I had forgotten my classical
guitar. So for “Lost in the Luminiferous
Ether,” I ended up playing this cheap, madein-
Tijuana nylon-string that belonged to a
girl Bill was dating. Someone recorded it on
a Sony tape deck and gave it to me. Last year,
I finally pulled out the cassette.
What kind of action do you like and do you favor
any special tunings?
The action is medium-high, I use D’Addario
light-gauge bronze strings, and my
calluses are pretty thick. I also take a lot of
calcium glutamate. People assume I use open
tunings, but I don’t find that any easier. My
favorite, which Christopher Parkening also
uses, is a simple dropped-D. My version of
“Anji” is in standard tuning.
Counterpoint on the 12-string is very difficult,
but I have strong enough hands to just
about pull it off. Fahey pushed me to use
more dissonance, and I play in odd times
within the same song. I guess I’m still influenced
by that first Fender going out of tune
all the time, because I play in Db a lot
[laughs]. My main characteristic is that I’m
willing to go out on a limb. For example,
when I do “Third Stone From the Sun,” I
go right off the fretboard. Leo Kottke and
I call it “shotgun guitar.” Leo worships Jeff
Beck, so he switched to using his nails. But
I use National steel fingerpicks. They’re
not super-comfortable, but they make it
happen for me.
Where did you get the monicker?
I was opening for the Byrds around 1973.
At that point, it was McGuinn, Clarence
White, bassist Skip Battin, and Dennis
Dragon on drums—his dad, Carmen, wrote
the soundtrack to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Anyway, some Hell’s Angel was heckling
me and I shot something equally vulgar at
him. We had it going back and forth. Thirty
thousand people were laughing, but I never
got to finish my set. I was using my original
initials then—T.L. Englehardt—and the next
day, there was a review and the writer said,
“I don’t know what T.L. is for, but it might
as well stand for Too Loose.”
Why did this resurgence take so long to
I got disillusioned and lost my own
momentum. I skipped the whole Windham
Hill era, and took a sabbatical from the New
Age. So now I’m doing Old Age instead. It
took me 30 years to put out three records.
But as I got older, I was able to deal with
pressure better and realized I could be more
prolific if I needed to be. But you know, guitarists
have a wonderful memory. If you do
something great, the players remember.
What next, a surf band?
This record’s certainly a reflection on the
years I disappeared. I think I need to let more
people know this side of me before I go off
on some other tangent. I have to be careful:
I’m the new guy again!