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Five Questions With LT

“LT” is Linda Taylor, guitarist, producer, songwriter. If she looks familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve seen her providing the wild music for the improvisational comedy show, Whose Line Is It Anyway?

But, lest you think that she’s someone who has just magically popped into the music world, think again. Linda picked up the guitar at four years old and has been involved in music ever since.

LT’s playing has taken her all over the world, playing with standout jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum, Japan’s pop superstar Namie Amuro and Tracy Chapman, just to name a few. Last year, she released her first solo CD, Pulse (of which you can read the Guitar Noise review), a joyous celebration of her funk and R&B roots fused with a healthy dose of jazz and blues. If you love instrumental guitar pieces, then you will definitely want this CD in your collection.

When I first approached LT with the thought of doing an interview for Guitar Noise, I had a lot of things to ask, and that quickly turned into a lot more! Linda has graciously agreed to answer questions on all sorts of topics that I think will be of interest to you. For this segment, I thought it best to start with some general introductions to her background, her songwriting and current projects. In future segments, we’ll be covering soloing and improvisation, recording, producing, songwriting and other aspects of making a career in music.

And so, without further adieu, here are today’s five questions:

GN: While a lot of people now know you because of your work on Whose Line Is It Anyway, you’ve actually been in the music business for quite some time. Could you give us some insight as to how you developed such a great feel for both funk and jazz?

Thanks for the props! I’ve always dug funk and R&B. I guess jazz came a little later. As a kid I spent virtually all of my time playing along with EW&F, Isley Bros., Ohio Players, Gap Band, etc., etc. I only regret that I didn’t start earlier – my teachers were trying to instill theory instead of groove. Whassup with that?

So I worked out the rhythm stuff with the groove bands, the single-line stuff and voicing stuff with the (at that time) current R&B artists like Evelyn King, and Luther and Jeffrey and all the Quincy productions. For soloing, I pretty much stuck with BB King. “Live At The Regal” is pretty much all you’ll ever need to know about playing the guitar, or playing any instrument for that matter. That album is a study in communication.

Which is probably why my soloing tends to be more short-phrased and rhythmic. I hear things rhythmically first, so that tends to be where I start my approach. From there, I’m just trying to find the one note that will say the right thing.

My interest in jazz came much later, despite several attempts to ‘get it’ in high school and college. I like the harmonic stretches, the structure plays and regrouping. It’s certainly more freeing than pop music, although sometimes I miss the parameters of pop. Frankly, I think it’s just as difficult to hold a groove for five minutes on one chord than to noodle a bunch of scary scales. I guess I like to play the scary scales over the groove. That’s a fun marriage.

GN: You’ve certainly played with people from many diverse musical styles. Did you have to learn to change your own style when playing with someone more “folkish” like Tracy Chapman or more “pop” like Namie Amuro (and how on earth did you ever hook up with her, anyway)? Or were you able to bring your own stylings into the mix? How much say does a backing musician have in this type of work?

In a pop situation, when you’re a sideman touring for an artist, the job is to play their music their way. The sideman’s personal style isn’t really relevant, unless it’s specifically requested. Quite frankly, when people are playing my music, I want them to start with the album. If we take off from there, that’s cool, but I have to trust them first. Make sure they know where I’m coming from and where I’m trying to go.

I’ve never toured with an artist who didn’t want the sideman to start with the album. Learn the parts just like the record, use sounds as similar as you can, and play it just like the album. There are exceptions to every rule, but let the artist tell you otherwise.

I met Namie Amuro’s MD through a good friend of mine, Kiki Ebsen, whom I’ve toured with several times. It was an amazing gig: Namie is as big in Japan as NSync is here. We were doing stadium tours with a huge stage show, dancers, lasers, tons of techs (ah…the good ol’ days), the works. Great gig! Talk about a specific gig – there were so many guitar tracks on her albums, and basically Carlos Rios and myself would just divide ’em up and play as many as we could.

GN: Do you feel your experience in supporting other artists helped you when you approached other musicians to assist you with your projects, such as your CD, Pulse?

Absolutely! Being a sideman should be required experience for being a solo artist. Being able to see the artist-sideman relationship from both sides is really helpful. I think I gained a lot of empathy for the front man’s role once I started hiring people for my own projects.

GN: Touching upon your songwriting, how much of it stems from improvisation and how much of it is methodically planned before anyone else even hears it? I guess I’m asking how you go about writing your songs like, say, Baby Blue?

Writing different styles requires different tools. In all cases, I need to decide what I want the song to say. Is this a groove tune that’s going to make people shake, or is this a tune that’s going to make the listener think, or smile, or hang on for dear life? I guess the one thing I always want to do, no matter what style, is make the listener feel comfortable enough to trust me. So if I dip and swoop, they’ll follow along because I’ve already shown them that we’re going home again.

Several of the songs from Pulse were inspired by what I was studying at the time. NY Garden, for example, was a play on Coltrane changes, the minor thirds moving up and down. I wanted to combine the floating quality of that kind of progression with the unwavering foundation of funk.

Baby Blue was a different story. Wasn’t quite as scientific. I wrote the first part very quickly. It was just one of those wonderful moments when you should be practicing, but you’re writing instead. But I wanted the bluesy part to take off, in a way that blues progressions don’t usually do. That’s how the second part happened. The best way for me to get from A to B is to put down the guitar and just start humming something. That is actually how I do most of my writing now, just start humming. It works for me; I don’t have to be in front of a computer, or have an instrument in my hands.

GN: What sort of projects are you currently working on and are you still performing live?

Currently, I’m spending most of my time scoring for film. It’s a whole different way of thinking, and I’m really enjoying the challenge. There’s a technical side to composing for film that I’ve never encountered before, such as frequently shifting time signatures and tempos to accommodate different scenes. It’s a different world, but very satisfying.

I’m also producing and composing for other artists. I’m working with Glenys Rogers, an amazing singer. She’s got a deep, rich alto, and her vibe is somewhere along the lines of India Aire, or Macy. We’ll be playing in LA late in July, in promotion of her second album. Watch her website for more details.

More Questions with LT