Classic Rock Magazine Interview – 1999

CR: You’ve played with everybody from Ashford & Simpson and James Galway to Nils Lofgren and Peter Frampton, do you consider yourself a rock ‘n’ roller at heart?

ER: Well, rock ‘n’ roll is certainly close to my heart, but so are many other styles of music. When I first started playing guitar (in 1956) rock ‘n’ roll was a different animal – doo-wop was still in the forefront, as was early R&B (race music, as it was called then). But as time went on, and with the broadening of my musical vocabulary thanks to three terrific guitar teachers, I started to learn and appreciate many other musical styles. When I became a studio musician (late ’60s), an important prerequisite was to be able to play (and read) *most* musical styles.

CR: Would it be fair to say you’re best known for playing with Steely Dan?

ER: Their success certainly had a lot to do with bringing me into the public eye.

CR: Jimmy Page is supposed to have said that Reelin’ In The Years contains his favourite guitar solo of all time.

ER: …and a wonderful compliment, too!

CR: Do you consider it your best piece of work, and if so did it ever become an albatross?

ER: It’s guitar work that I’m very proud of – an albatross, never! But there is a very large body of my playing that I feel is equally interesting. Needless to say, when one plays on thousands of recordings, the law of averages dictates that a very large percentage of that work will never see the light of day.

CR: Are you still in contact with Becker and Fagen?

ER: Oh, yes. In fact, whenever I can, I use their recording studio in New York for my productions – it’s a fabulous facility.

CR: How did you get involved with them?

ER: Donald, Walter and I were part of the back-up band for Jay & The Americans. One of the Americans, a fellow named Kenny Vance produced most of the early Steely Dan demos, which Gary Katz then took out to ABC Records in L.A. to make the deal.

CR: Which albums did you play on?

ER: Can’t Buy A Thrill, Katy Lied, and The Royal Scam. (They had asked me to do some playing on Aja, but I wasn’t available at the time.)

CR: Would you like to have played live with them?

ER: I did, on a number of occasions in the ‘early’ days – a number of times in the New York area, and at the Fillmore West in San Francisco.

CR: Larry Carlton recently complained that Becker and Fagen used to make people play their parts 15 or 20 times before picking the right take. That must have been pretty stressful.

ER: No, not at all. That’s simply the way they like to work. In fact, I found recording with them to be extremely enjoyable. We always laughed a lot while ‘working’.

CR: Were they hedonistic times?

ER: ‘The times’ in general, yes. In the studio with Donald & Walter, no. It was a very ‘serious’ endeavor, in that we were always looking to record something ‘a cut above’ what was popular.

CR: And how did the SD experience end?

ER: It never did :-)

CR: Was your work with the Doobies through Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter? (How long did you play with them?)

ER: Partially; I’d also known Keith Knudsen from the bay area, when I lived there as a member of SeaTrain back in 1969 – and of course, Michael MacDonald, when he was a sideman with the Dan (74). I appeared live with the Doobies sporadically over the period of 1975 through 1981 (until their big change of personnel).

CR: Did you have trouble containing your excitement when you played with Stevie Wonder?

ER: Nope. He’s such a genius!

CR: What did you do with Peter Frampton?

ER: I recorded one album with him, called Breaking All The Rules (1981) – produced by David Kershenbaum.

CR: I was surprised to see that a purist like yourself had would work with a conveyor belt tunesmith like Desmond Child…

ER: The Desmond Child And Rouge album (his first lp) had some wonderful material on it – and the backing band on the recording was smokin’ – as I recall, it was Allan Schwartzberg on drums, Will Lee and Neil Jason on bass, Paul Shaffer on keyboards – and recorded at Media Sound in New York (an absolutely legendary studio, and for good reason) – we had a ball!

CR: You played on Asia’s Arena album. How did that come about?

ER: They called me from out of the blue. (I don’t recall how they got my phone number, but I’m glad they did.)

CR: What were the guys like work with?

ER: Absolutely horrible! –no, just kidding. I enjoy them a lot – we keep in fairly constant contact, and I look forward to doing some more good creative work with them. We really enjoy writing together, as well as playing and recording.

CR: It was a big co-incidence that you played with Asia, because shortly beforehand, John and Geoff said they’d dug out their old Steely Dan LPs again..

ER: hmmm… a good thing too!

CR: How did you rate Arena?

ER: That’s a difficult one to answer. When one has a personal involvement with a project, many factors come into play. My memories of the project are quite fond. There are some things that I would have done differently had I been the producer, but I wasn’t. :-)

CR: Am I correct in thinking the only live work you did with Asia was a VH-1 session; if so, were you asked to go out on tour with them?

ER: You are correct. We discussed touring on a number of occasions, but the timing was never right – I spend quite a bit of time in the ‘States.

CR: I believe you’ve been doing an album with your old pal Steve Gadd. Is there no new blood around?

ER: There’s plenty of new blood around, but then, while there are new candy bars on the market, I still prefer for Cadbury’s ‘Time Out.’ I simply think that Steve is one of the best.

CR: Age versus experience thing: What do you make of someone like Jonny Lang?

ER: Who? All kidding aside, I do find that with age and experience, comes a certain advantage of having built and developed style and technique, and after many years of playing with ensembles and soloing, one learns (hopefully) how to construct a solo that delights, that retains the listener’s interest. And how to play as a team member – it’s not about ‘Hey listen to me’ – it’s about ‘servicing’ the piece of music that you are playing a part in. Sometimes ‘brilliance’ is finding the one or two notes that bring together other elements within the piece’s framework, and playing nothing else. I feel just as good doing that as when I play an intricate solo.

CR: If people want a definitive album Elliott Randall’s work, which one should they buy?

ER: I don’t think that I could name just one. As I said earlier, I have quite an affinity for numerous styles ranging from rock to jazz to latin to classical, and on… HOWEVER, I’ve compiled a very interesting CD of much of my early recording work, which includes Steve Gadd (Drums), Tony Levin (Fender Bass), Jeff Baxter (Guitar), Willie Weeks (Fender Bass), Eric Mercury (Vocals), Carson Whittsett (B-3 Organ), and others. More details and ordering information can be found here: www.elliott-randall.com/cd

CR: Who do you consider to be your favourite guitar partner?

ER: Just as I don’t have one favorite guitarist, I don’t have one favorite guitar partner. Over the years I’ve been very fortunate to play with many great ones. David Spinozza, Hugh McCracken, John Tropea, Dean Parks, Yomo Toro… the list goes on and on.

CR: I gather you’re not too fond of managers; who do you consider the most incompetent, managers or A&R men?

ER: I think I’ll pass on that one, thank you! But I will say that the one management company who really did take care of business in a most professional manner was the Robert Stigwood Organization, with whom I was signed in the early seventies. The one comment I would make about A&R people in general is this: many of them are afraid to step out on a limb when they come across original talent. Rather than take a risk (read: risking their position/weekly paycheck at the record company), they tend to ‘find’ and recommend re-hash talent. It’s like this: ‘The Spice Girls are in, so I’ll sign a spin-off, because that’s what’s selling.’ WRONG! – It’s about taking chances!

 

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