Longtime bass player and session legend Leland Sklar spoke with MusicRadar.com about working with 10 musical greats, including Carole King, Jackson Browne and James Taylor.
“I didn’t know anything about this guy Jackson Browne. When I got called to do the session, my assumption was that he was going to be black. I was doing a lot of sessions for black artists, and just by his name, that’s what I figured. I walked in and it was like, ‘Wow, this is a surprise!’
“He pulled out his guitar and started playing Doctor My Eyes, and I just thought, Oh man, this guy’s great! This was his first album, but already his songs were so exquisite. I loved the way he played and sang.
“We did it at Crystal Studios, and it was kind of the Section guys – Russ Kunkel, Craig Doerge, Danny Kortchmar and myself. I remember when we cut Doctor My Eyes, Russ did that originally with congas on the basic track and overdubbed drums.
“Jessie Ed Davis then showed up and did the guitar solo. It was basically him taking his guitar out of the case, listening to the track and noodling around to get an idea. When he was done, Jackson said, ‘Yes! That’s great.’ Jessie was so insanely good that his noodling was better than most guy’s soloing.”
Lee Sklar’s bass playing can be heard on Jackson’s first album and Running on Empty, as well as a couple of songs on For Everyman (including the title track) and three tracks on The Pretender.
“The rarest of entities in this business. By the time I met up with her, she’d already lived five lifetimes. When you look at her body of work, even when she was a teenager, it’s staggering. Most people could have stopped at that point and been legends.
“She’s a really fine musician. You know, you get some of these people who kind of plunk around on the piano; they have talent, but it’s only on one level. Carole knows music theory, she can write lead sheets – her talent is very, very developed.
“She’s also just a nice person. She’s like the quintessential Jewish mother: she’ll take care of everybody at sessions, she’s concerned about everybody’s well-being, and she wants to know how everybody’s families are, all that stuff. A wonderful human being.”
Lee played bass on Carole’s Thoroughbred and Live at the Troubadour.
“It’s almost hard to describe James Taylor. He’s one of the most gifted writers we’ve ever had. You put him up to anybody, and he stands right alongside them. He’s also one of the most underrated guitar players – an absolute monster. And, of course, there’s his voice. I remember Miles Davis said that James was one of the best white singers he’d ever heard. He blew Miles’ mind.
“In terms of living a life with somebody, I’ve probably spent more time with James than with anybody else. I helped him build his house, we lived in buses and hotels for decades – we have a very rich history together.
“I was thrilled a couple of years ago when we put together the Troubadour Reunion Tour with James and Carole King. It was very special to play with the old gang again. The music was, of course, out of this world.”
Lee appears on all but two of James’ albums from the ’70s and ’80s (only Sweet Baby James and Walking Man are missing his dexterous playing).
Lee Sklar also talks about Warren Zevon, Crosby & Nash, Don Henley, and others. For the full article and pictures, check out MusicRadar.com.