“EVER SINCE I COULD SPEAK, PEOPLE HAVE asked me if I was going to play guitar in my father’s style,” says Murali Coryell, son of jazzfusion legend Larry Coryell. “As fate would have it, my brother Julian turned out to be a child prodigy on jazz guitar. My dad took him under his wing, and encouraged me to pursue my own interests. He turned me onto B.B. King’s Live at the Regal, and I knew I had to be a bluesman no matter what.”
Coryell’s commitment to his craft is unquestionable. He refinanced his home and maxed out his credit cards to manifest his sixth disc— Sugar Lips [Murali’s Music]—employing topshelf Nashville session players such as keyboardist Reese Wynans (Stevie Ray Vaughan) under the direction of drummer/producer Tom Hambridge. Dusty-voiced Coryell is a rhythm machine adept at utilizing his instrument as a vehicle for heartfelt tunes such as “Mother’s Day,” on which he delivers a stinging, poignant solo. Sparks fly when father and son trade solos on “Where’s the Spirit?” and whenever feisty Joe Louis Walker turns up.
What led you to Tom Hambridge’s doorstep?
I’d never hired a producer before, nor had I ever collaborated on songs, but I wanted to work with Tom because he produced Buddy Guy’s Skin Deep album. I feel it’s Buddy’s best ever because of the way Tom captured his blues in a contemporary setting. That’s what I wanted, so I sent Tom some demos. Of the 12 songs on Sugar Lips, he was only satisfied with two originally, because he wanted to avoid any traditional blues clichés. We collaborated and worked with other songwriters to get the rest up to snuff before heading into the studio. We wound up tracking the whole thing in two days.
What was your primary setup in the studio?
I used various guitars and amps, but my primary sound is a Fender Strat through a Fender Super Reverb. I also incorporated a DigiTech Jimi Hendrix Experience pedal here and there. I dig that pedal because the settings correlate to Hendrix’s tunes. My favorite is “All Along the Watchtower,” because when you rock the footpedal forward it’s a delay, and when you rock back on the heel it’s a wah. I used that setting on the solo section of “What You Gonna Do About Me?”
What solo on the record makes you most proud?
I feel my solo on “Mother’s Day” is the best I’ve ever played because it’s pure emotion. My mom died suddenly on Mother’s Day last year. When it came time to record, I tracked it on acoustic while my dad played the electric guitar fills. He played the first solo, and then I picked up a Tele to overdub mine. Tom told me to play as if I were talking to her. Tears were flowing down my face during the take. I looked up when I had finished, and tears were flowing down all the faces in the control room as well. That’s what it’s all about.
The harmonics at the very beginning of “Mother’s Day” are sweet.
That’s my dad playing a style he learned from Lenny Breau. My father showed the technique to me, and I use it occasionally. The simplest example is to lay down a barre, and play two notes on each string—one harmonic, and then the standard note. To execute fluently, grab your pick between your thumb and middle finger. Place your plucking hand above the fretboard, and pluck while simultaneously using your first finger to hit a harmonic an octave above the fretted note. Then use your pinky to pluck the main note on the same string. Repeat on each string to produce a cascading, waterfall-like effect.
Joe Louis Walker’s slide solo on title track is mind blowing. Did you pick up anything from him?
That was his first take. Watching him on that session actually inspired me to start playing slide in earnest. I noticed that he tuned his G-string up a half-step, which creates a major triad on the top three strings. I put a slide on my pinky, started moving it up and down over the top three strings while letting the low E ring out, and I was on my way to approximating his solo. Joe lives near me in upstate New York, and we hang out all the time.
You’re lucky to have such amazing mentors.
I’m so glad to be able to present him on my album, and my dad as well. People don’t usually hear my dad playing blues and rock and roll, but he grew up in Texas playing that stuff. The end of “Where Is the Spirit?” features the two of us trading solos live in the studio, and he just lifted the level of the whole session. I am truly blessed to have such master mentors. It was an extreme stroke of good fortune to have this record come together as well as it did, and I’m stoked to take these tunes on the road.