RB - I have to ask you something, and maybe I'm ignorant for asking this 'cause I probably should know. But, how did you get the nickname ‘Captain Fingers?'
LR - That was actually from the early session days. You know it sounds like it should be something more sinister or sexual or something. But, it was from my roadies carrying around all my guitars. I had this huge trunk like a lot of session players did. And I had, I don't know, must have had 20 guitars in there and they were always complaining about the weight and calling me Captain, you know. So Captain Finger stuck and I wrote a tune and named an album that, and it's been sort of my tag ever since.
RB - Can you remember your first paid session? .. which was very early, wasn't it? I mean you were a teenager?
LR - Yeah. Definitely. Well, one of the funniest things was that I joined a rock 'n roll band when I was about fifteen. It was a jazzland group called the Afro Blues Quintet back in the 70's. And they actually had quite a few records out and were starting to make a name for themselves. And the leader decided he wanted to chase the 60's and the 70's and he got himself a rock 'n roll girl singer and uh, form a rock 'n roll band and I was in high school and my Dad used to drive me to rehearsal on the other side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula in this sort of million dollar house that was over looking the ocean. Nobody could ever figure out how these guys afforded all the stuff. But, I was Mr. Naive and a very serious young musician and I could play jazz and I could play rock, which back then there wasn't too may people doing that -- especially in my neck of the woods. So, I joined this group and it was kind of a cross between jazz and rock -- it was this old Afro Blues Quintet that became a rock n' roll band. And, lo and behold, the producer that produced our demo was John Phillips from the Mama's and the Papa's. So I went up to his house. He had a studio and he had the fancy house in Bel Air and here I was recording with this rock 'n roll group and John Phillips is producing and I was quite impressed as a teenager. And, later several months down the line my father bought a local news paper and our friends who where the leaders and the manager of that band, they discovered a bunch of marijuana in their attic. They were supplying, I guess, part of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. So that was my first entrée into the rock 'n roll world. And my Dad and I had a hoot about that. I don't think we should put this in the article, but... (edit).
RB - Isn't it funny how that stuff happens. Reflecting back, besides your own solo projects, what were some of your favorite records and why.
LR - Well, it was sometimes they weren't the biggest hits that's for sure that I was on. Sometimes they were favorite records because of the company I was keeping. Anytime I worked with my buddy Dave Grusin it was a pleasure. You know, uh, I remember when we did this movie called Three Days of the Condor for Dave. It was just an incredible sort of jazz group and the score to that album to that movie is very special and uh, it's something that's stuck with me all those years, you know. And so anytime I work with Dave or people like Quincy it was great. Uh, I remember the Give Me The Night album with George Benson. Quincy hired me to sort of be George's shadow and uh, obviously play a lot of the rhythm parts and to sort of help George out with his guitar sound and just kind of tweak things for him whenever I could help. And, of course, I was big George fan and still am. It was a pleasure working on that album. There was a funny story connected with that album. George was living in Hawaii at the time and they were mixing the album and one thing happened to George's guitar on the track and George was, you know, thousands of miles away and they had to finish the mix and Quincy calls me, practically in the middle of the night, and says ‘Lee you got to come down and fix George's guitar here. We screwed up George's guitar.' So I came down there, I think I punched in two or three bars that were supposed to be George. Then had to sound like George. I don't know if George ever heard about that, you know.
RB - It's like being a stunt double, or something.
LR - Exactly. And there was another interesting story on that album. We were recording one night and I think the band was incredible with Harvey Mason and Herbie Hancock and Greg Fillingains and Ray Parker, Jr. and myself and, uh, I forget who was playing bass. Willis Johnson, I think. And, so incredible band all sort of triple scale type players and we cut a track for George. Of course, George is there and sounds great. And, Quincy's all excited 'cause he says Stevie Wonder's coming down with a tune for George. He wrote a tune for George. So, we're gonna wait for Stevie Wonder. I said, oh great. Everybody's real happy about that. So, Stevie's famous for being late, you know, and it being a night owl. So we wait, and we wait, and we wait and now it's about 2, 2 o'clock in the morning and Quincy's got all these incredibly expensive musicians just hangin' out and finally Stevie comes down with his entourage and that takes another hour for everyone to say hello and hang out and finally Quincy gets Stevie over to the piano. Let's hear the tune Stevie. And Stevie sits down to play the intro. He says it goes somethin' like this. He plays the intro and everyone's going yeah man, sounds great and Stevie stops. He says how do you like it so far Q? You know he called Quincy Q. Q says, great man, go ahead. He says well just give me a few more minutes then I'll finish the tune.
RB - So that song never made the album?
LR - That song never made the album.
RB - How did you get into doing studio work? Obviously studio musicians are hired (a) because they can read and (b) because they usually get a sound that people want on their records.
LR - Right.
RB - And so. how did it all happen for you?
LR - Well, I studied with a great teacher. A couple of great teachers, but primarily this really terrific teacher named Duke Miller who has since passed away. And, Duke was also the head of the USC School of Guitar at one point. And, uh, I studied with Duke from about age 12 on and Barney Kessel had recommended I go to Duke. My Dad had called up Barney Kessel 'cause I had gone through all the teachers we could find at that point and uh. And he said call Duke Miller, he's the best. So I went to Duke and Duke sort of trained me to be a studio musician. He really. He was a studio player in his early days and he was there in North Hollywood and my Dad would drive me from Palos Verdes to North Hollywood every week and from 12 to about 16 I studied with Duke and later at USC I continued to study with Duke and we remained very close friends. So, he taught me to be a studio player, really. And, that meant being an excellent reader and playing jazz, rock and classical and everything else you could imagine. And the, so I really had my eyes on being a studio musician more than an artist as a young person. And then, uh, as I uh, started doing demos and even those couple of sessions for John Phillips and people like that I started to meet a few other people and I also started to hang out at the jazz clubs in LA which was primarily the Lighthouse and Shelly's Manhole and Dante's and the Baked Potato. And, Dante's had guitar night on Monday nights and one night Howard Roberts couldn't make it and I had hung around and then they had kind of gotten to know me enough that and I sort of played, I think, with a couple other groups that were had gone into the Baked Potato, uh, and I was a side man. So the owner said, well Lee, can you put a group together, Howard can't make it tomorrow. and I said yeah, yeah, I can do that. And I didn't have a group you know. So I put something together and I went in there on that Monday night and lo and behold a young drummer walked in named Harvey Mason who was the young hot session drummer at the time and everyone was talkin, Hey there's Harvey Mason, he just played on Chameleon, Herbie Hancock's record, you know, and came up with that beat. And, uh, so Harvey on the break started talkin to me, said hey man, I'd like to play with ya. So, pretty soon Harvey's playin with me and at one point Harvey said, hey you know I work for Dave Grusin alot, he said Dave should hear you. And, I think Dave came down, or Harvey introduced me to him. And, then also I happened to see Dave Grusin at a party at Sergio Mendes' house where I also met Antonio Scarlo Shobin the same night.
RB - Wow, now how old were you?
LR - I was about 20. And then Dave started using me and. You have to understand that Dave's name in Los Angeles, even in those days, he was. You know, if Dave Grusin was using you, you were fine, you were okay. And, uh, so that kind of opened up the door.
RB - Can you recall many more memorable sessions?
LR - Yeah, there are a bunch of them. I can reel these off for hours. One quick one. Harvey Mason and I used to go up to Fantasy Records all the time in San Francisco in Berkeley and work for Orin Keepnews which we loved to do because Orin was recording with Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and trying to cross a few people over like Bobby Hutcherson and he would call Harvey and I 'cause we were the contemporary musicians, but we could also play straight ahead. And, Harvey and I were hired to go up there and I think, I'm not absolutely sure of the record, it might have been Sonny Rollins, and Harvey and I would kind of go up on a Monday morning and if, and sometimes the record would last five days and we would stay there and come back at the end of the week, or sometimes it would be three days, whatever. So we were goin up on a Monday morning on one of those little commuter flights and just talking our asses off and the plane lands and we get off and we're still talking about whatever subject it was and we walk out the door and we realize we had gotten off in San Jose. And, ...
RB - With your guitars, or without?
LR - With our guitars. At the time, I think I would just bring my guitar and they would supply the rest of the stuff, you know. And so we got off in San Jose and we realize we had screwed up and the session was like in an hour, and so we had to take a taxi from San Jose to Berkeley and the Fantasy people had a good joke on us because they had a monthly magazine in their record company and it came out and it says Does Harvey and Lee know the way to San Jose.
RB - That's a good one.
LR - And on the same thing. There was another story I used to be a friendly competitor with another great guitarist, Jay Graydon. And Jay and I were really kind of the top two guitar players around that period. Larry by that time had already kind of drifted into almost his solo career or with the Crusaders or whatever. He was a little older so he had kind of moved on.
RB - So it's like when Jay was producing Jerreau?
LR - This was before that. This was a real session player, as I was. So this isn't during the 70's primarily, a little bit during the 80's. But actually I stopped doing sessions in '79, so it was mostly the 70's. And, so, one week, uh, we were just doing as many sessions as we could at one point. That was sort of like you were young and you had a lot of endurance and the more you did the more fun it was and the more crazy it was, you know. And Jay said to me, hey man, last week I did 25 sessions. And I said, no kidding, 25 sessions in one week? how did you do that? wow. So the following week, it was one of those weeks where I was hired to go to Berkeley for a few days and I think it was a Wednesday through Friday. And I had done a tone of sessions Monday and Tuesday and then I did all these sessions up in Berkeley and then Quincy called and he says Lee you got to come over and overdub on the Brothers Johnson we're mixing. And I said man, I can't make it, I'm totally booked all week long. He says you got to make it, when can you? Well, I'm up in Berkeley. When can you come home? Well, I'm coming home Friday night. And he says come to the session Friday night. So I got the session at midnight Friday night, and the other main reason I took it, that was my 26th session of the week. So, I took that session and I called up Jay Graydon the next week and I say hey Jay, I did 26 sessions.
RB - That's nuts. I mean, you usually do what three sessions a day, right.
LR - Right, exactly.
RB - There's like a 10 o'clock, a 2..
LR - Yeah, 10, 2 and 7. You know, and so I was doing you know early jingles and quadruple sessions and it was ridiculous. So, it was funny.
RB - What about sessions like movie sessions or something where you may have played with other guitarists?
LR - Oh, well, there's a great story that's in Tommy Tadesco's book about me. I was the young cocky guitar player and by that time, I was sort of the first call, and meanwhile Tommy Tadesco had been the Godfather and he'd seen my rise in the studio guitar world and all of a sudden we get to a movie called All The President's. And, uh, God the writer a great. What was his name, he was a great writer. Oh, man, I'm forgettin the composer's name. Um, anyway, David, what was his last name? He used to be married to the actress who was in the Godfather? Anyway, it maybe his name's not so important. But anyway, I was playing guitar one and all of a sudden Tommy Tadesco was playing guitar too and I had all of these sort of fairly complicated arpeggio's written out for this underscore of All The President's Men. And the first rehearsal I nailed it exactly right and I kind of smugly looked at him and I said, see, I did that right off the bat, I read it perfect. And he said, I'll bet you lunch that you can't do that perfect again when the red light goes on. And meanwhile there's about a 60 piece orchestra behind us, by the way. So, the red light comes on, sure enough I blow it. And, now I said well, wait a minute, that wasn't a big mistake, it was a little mistake. And he says no, no man you lost. You got to take me to lunch. And I said okay, let's up the bet here. So we started upping this bet and pretty. And I kept blowing it and finally the composer said about the third or fourth time, is there a problem in the guitar section, you know? And Tommy said, that's okay Lee, just play the part here, I'll buy you lunch. So,...
RB - And you nailed it the next time?
LR - Yeah, and he proved his point then. That never gamble with a gambler, 'cause Tommy Tadesco was a famous gambler. So he had intimidated me.
RB - Sounds like you guys had a lot of fun.
LR - Oh there's always some characters. I remember the great percussionist, Willy Bobo. I was doing an Oliver Nelson album and Oliver was like a god to me, a hero, you know, from all those great things he had done. And I had this solo that was right in the middle of the album and it was like I was really going for it and right before a couple bars before the solo Willy Bobo's standing right next to me playing congas and without me seeing he detunes my D string. Not just a little, a lot, and I went for that solo and the whole room broke up.
RB - I would have loved to have heard that! Is there anything else you wanted to add? I mean those are great.
LR - Well, the last very quick Tommy Tadesco story. It was almost the first time I worked with Tommy, by that time I had already met him, but not really worked with him and Tommy had heard about me for sure and I got there early 'cause the session, had a movie session, you know, made sure everything was set up perfect and I sat down at ‘guitar one.' You know, there was ‘guitar one' and there was ‘guitar two.' I just sat down at ‘guitar one.' And Tommy comes in, sits down at ‘guitar two' and then he takes out a big red marker and crosses out ‘guitar two' and he puts ‘guitar one' and he hands it to me and takes the other book.