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Klugh, Earl

Earl Klugh

1953–

Guitarist

Over his more than three-decade-long career, Earl Klugh has come to be considered "one of the finest acoustic guitar players," according to Brian D. Holland of Modern Guitars Magazine. Though often referred to as a jazz guitarist, Klugh has resisted critics' attempts to pigeonhole his music into genres. "I don't have time for all that," he told Holland. "I like it all; I enjoy it all. I incorporate as much as I can from all the different idioms, from classical to blues to jazz." Klugh's innovative approach to music earned him a Grammy Award, thirteen Grammy nominations, and the honor of being called a "Living Legend."

Grew Up with Music

Born in Detroit, Michigan, on September 16, 1953, Klugh grew up with music. At age three, he began formal training on the piano. But the piano did not spark Klugh's imagination like the guitar did, which he started playing in 1963. Klugh linked his embrace of the guitar as his instrument to the time he saw Chet Atkins on the Perry Como Show when he was 13 years old. Atkins "changed my whole concept of playing," Klugh remarked in Down Beat. "He … played the instrument like I wanted to hear it played, playing chords and melody simultaneously with a finger-style technique." Klugh confided to Holland: "I literally went out and got all the Chet Atkins records I could find."

Klugh relied heavily on records to learn the guitar. "You know, back in those days it was pretty isolated when attempting to do something as rarified as finding ways to learn how to play finger style guitar," Klugh explained to Holland. "I had an old Silvertone record player…. Basically I'd lift the needle back and forth and just work with my fingers. I'd just sit there all day until something clicked. And that was really my method of learning how to play, after about a year or so of guitar lessons as well." Atkins' finger styling formed the foundation of Klugh's technique, but he did not close himself off from other sources of inspiration.

Klugh drew more inspiration from a host of musical styles, including American folk, Beatles' rock and roll, Brazilian music, classical music, and of course the Motown sound that was developing in Detroit at the time. Among the myriad musicians Klugh listened to over the years, Bill Evans stood out as another important influence on his original sound. It was Evans' use of harmony and chords that particularly struck Klugh. "I just thought his concept was so strong, and the way he voiced chords was so beautiful that I tried to adapt as much as I could on the guitar," he told Holland. Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida also figured prominently in Klugh's mind. "I was really fascinated by the music coming out of Brazil," Klugh remarked to Siddhartha Mitter of the Boston Globe. "The sophistication of the songs. That was always a part of what I went after." His diverse interests and the development of his own finger style technique soon set him apart from others.

Career Boost from Jazz Greats

Within a few years of learning the guitar, Klugh had become an instructor at a local Detroit music store. One day, jazz great Yusef Lateef overheard the 16-year-old Klugh playing in a practice room between student sessions. Klugh remembered what happened next as "like a fairy tale," he told Harvey Cline of SmoothViews. "[Lateef] came in and he was really interested as to why I was playing the classical guitar. This was like 1970, in the middle of the city of Detroit, and he was like 'Where's the fascination that drew you in to this instrument?' He was so intrigued. I think it was that by itself. He was playing in town. So he had me come down to the club and sit in with him." Lateef's good impression of Klugh was later reinforced when the experienced jazzman featured Klugh as a guest player on his Suite 16 album later in 1970.

After that first session at Baker's jazz club, Klugh befriended the owner, who "thought I was just a nice kid," Klugh told Cline. "I would hang out there whenever I could. Through the years I got to meet a lot of the musicians." It was there that Klugh formed a friendship with jazz guitarist George Benson while still in high school. Benson played in Detroit a few times each year, and when he did Klugh visited with him. "We'd get together during the day and play a little from time to time," Klugh related to Bill Piburn of Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine. "He was fascinated that I was playing the classical guitar and was trying to play other types of music on it…. At that time I was nowhere near the player I am now, but he was very encouraging."

Not long after Klugh enrolled in Michigan State University in the early 1970s, Benson invited him to begin touring with his group as a regular member. For a little over a year, Klugh toured in the United States and Europe with Benson's group. He also participated in two of Benson's albums in 1973: White Rabbit and Body Talk. Klugh told Guitar Player that his time with Benson was "the best musical experience of my life." "It really put my feet to the fire," he added in his interview with Piburn. "I learned so much about how the business was going to be…. I saw that it was going to be hard but I knew that this is what I wanted to do." Klugh went on to credit Benson with opening doors for him as a solo artist.

Established Career

Klugh left Benson's group and played with a few other bands, most notably a 1974 tour with Chick Corea's Return to Forever. Playing with Corea impressed the value of developing himself as a solo artist and writing his own music, Klugh related to Guitar Player. Klugh's work to develop his own sound paid off by 1975 when Klugh signed a contract with Blue Note Records, a company that Benson had introduced to Klugh's music. He released his first solo album, Earl Klugh, in 1976. That debut album "instantly" made Klugh "one of the top artists in contemporary and smooth jazz," according to Nick Dedina on Rhapsody.com. Made at the height of popularity for smooth jazz, his next albums Finger Paintings and Living Inside Your Love sold well, and his fourth, Crazy for You, became his first gold record.

For the next two decades, Klugh could only be described as a prolific musician. He toured extensively and recorded about one album per year. In 1978, he even recorded with Chet Atkins. After Blue Note was acquired by Capitol Records in 1979, Klugh released such albums as Late Night Guitar, Low Rider, Wishful Thinking, and Night Stories. These popular albums featured Klugh playing pleasing smooth, romantic tunes, including such standards as "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "Mona Lisa."

At a Glance …

Born on September 16, 1953 (some sources say 1954), in Detroit, MI. Education: Attended Michigan State University.

Career: Guitarist, 1963–; Blue Note Records, music label artist, 1975-mid-1980s; Warner Bros., music label artist, mid-1980s; Earl Klugh Trio, founder, early 1990s; Windham Hill, artist, 1999; Koch Records, artist, 2005.

Awards: (With Bob James) Grammy Award, 1980, for One on One; Washtenaw Community College, Living Legends Award, 2006.

Addresses: Home—Atlanta, GA. Record label—KOCH Records, 22 Harbor Park Dr., Port Washington, NY 11050. Web—www.earlklugh.com.

The year 1979 marked an important development in Klugh's career, as it was the year he began collaborating with pianist-composer Bob James. For more than a decade James had been working with such influential musicians as Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, and Sarah Vaughan, among many others. Klugh had met James a few years earlier, opening for him at venues, and the two developed a friendship. When they worked together to produce One on One, it sold over a million copies and won them a Grammy Award in 1980, and the Connecticut Classical Guitar Society wrote that it was "a veritable watershed in contemporary jazz." In 2006 it was "still cited for its astonishing combination of progressive daring and popular accessibility." Klugh remembered to Piburn that One on One "really changed things and kind of put us into another stratosphere. It came out just after my Heartstrings record that pretty much established me." Klugh and James developed a lifelong friendship and collaborated again on the duo albums Two of a Kind in 1981 and Cool in 1992, as well as various other recordings over the years.

The success of Klugh's collaboration with James did not impede his other work, however. When he moved to Warner Bros. in the mid-1980s, his output did not stall. In 1988 he produced Collaboration with his longtime friend George Benson. At Warner, he also released such solo albums as Life Stories, Whispers and Promises, Solo Guitar, Midnight in San Juan, Sounds and Visions, Vol. II. A 1998 compilation called The Best of Earl Klugh featured highlights of his work from the late 1980s and 1990s.

Developed Distinctive Style

Over the years, Klugh developed a distinctive style all his own. Downbeat referred it as as "his trademark classical guitar sound." While his name became almost synonymous with smooth jazz, Klugh continued to defy categorization. "Believe me. I'll just be remembered as Earl Klugh the acoustic guitarist," Klugh told Keith A. Owens of the Michigan Chronicle. In a Business World profile that pegged Klugh as a contemporary jazz musician, David Gonzales conceded that "Klugh truly has a gift of exquisite harmonic textures and melodies," adding that "his skill transcends the genre." A Philadelphia Tribune review of 1995's A Sudden Burst of Energy noted that Klugh had an "uncanny" ability to make genre-less music. Despite the difficulties of his music being labelled, Klugh remained true to his own unique style. In a 2003 concert review in the Washington Post, Mike Joyce noticed that Klugh's "acoustic guitar style, which almost exclusively emphasizes single-note lines," had remained relatively consistent since the 1970s. Klugh's commitment to his sound did not grow old with his legions of fans. Sales of Klugh's music remained high—several of his recordings were re-released—and he continued to draw huge crowds as he toured.

After three decades concentrating of consistently producing instrumental music, Klugh recorded his first album with a vocal track in 1999. On the Windham Hill label he released Peculiar Situation with vocals by Roberta Flack. The album enjoyed strong sales, and after recording it Klugh did not record another album for six years. During the period, Klugh concentrated on live performances, touring throughout the United States, India, South America, and South Africa. He even began hosting weekend jazz events at the Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs in 2003. More than just commercial tours, Klugh participated in an American Goodwill tour sponsored by U.S. State Department.

Lasting Appeal

Klugh recaptured his desire to record in the mid-2000s and released Naked Guitar in 2005. He produced the album from his home studio. The album, reminiscent of his earlier Solo Guitar recording, featured Klugh alone on his instrument, plucking out intricate new melodies for such disparate tunes as "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead" and the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Klugh told Piburn that on the entire album only one song was arranged; the others were all improvised. "This was a nice way to come back; to do a nice solo guitar, something you can really sink your teeth into and really make special," Klugh told Cline, adding "I think this was very good to get something completed and get me back and out there again." Indeed it was. Called "a welcome return from a true master of his instrument," by Jonathan Widran in All Music Guide, Naked Guitar earned Klugh his 14th Grammy nomination.

Naked Guitar served as witness to Klugh's continued love affair with music and especially the guitar. "There's so much more I want to do. That's the fun thing about playing guitar," Klugh told Holland. "My enjoyment is searching out new things to play everyday, and ways to play it. That's the enjoyment I get out of it. My favorite time is practicing…. There's nothing you can play that someone hasn't played some way before, yet it's fun to work it out for yourself. That's what I truly enjoy." With his further experimentation, Klugh was working toward releasing another album in 2007.

Selected discography

Earl Klugh, Blue Note, 1976.
Living Inside Your Love, Capitol, 1976.
Finger Paintings, Mobile Fidelity, 1978.
Magic in Your Eyes, United Artists, 1978.
Heart String, United Artists, 1979.
(With Bob James) One on One, Columbia, 1979.
Dream Come True, Liberty/United Artists, 1980.
Late Night Guitar, Warner Bros., 1980.
Crazy for You, EMI, 1981.
Low Rider, Capitol, 1983.
(With James) Two of a Kind, Capitol, 1983.
Wishful Thinking, Capitol, 1984.
Night Stories, Capitol, 1984.
Soda Fountain Shuffle, Warner Bros., 1984.
Life Stories, Warner Bros., 1986.
(With George Benson) Collaboration, Warner Bros., 1988.
Midnight in San Juan, Warner Bros., 1989.
Whispers and Promises, Warner Bros., 1989.
Solo Guitar, Warner Bros., 1989.
Best of Earl Klugh, Volume I, Blue Note, 1991.
Earl Klugh Trio, Volume I, Warner Bros., 1991.
(With James) Cool, Warner Bros., 1992.
Best of Earl Klugh, Volume II, Capitol, 1992.
The Earl Klugh Trio: Sounds and Visions, Vol. II, Warner Bros., 1993.
Move, Warner Bros., 1994.
A Sudden Burst of Energy, Warner Bros., 1995.
Peculiar Situation, Windham Hill, 1999.
The Essential Earl Klugh, Capitol, 2003.
Naked Guitar, Koch Records, 2005.

Sources

Periodicals

Business World, June 10, 1996, p. 30.

Down Beat, October 1983; February 1986; January 1992; May 1993; July 1993.

Guitar Player, October 1981; August 1985; November 1986; October 1987; December 1989.

Los Angeles Magazine, January 1990.

Michigan Chronicle, June 14-20, 2006, p. A1.

Musician, June 1990.

Philadelphia Tribune, May 17, 1996, p. E10.

Washington Post, August 16, 2003, p. C9.

On-line

"Artist Profiles: Earl Klugh Interview by Bill Piburn," Fingerstyle Guitar, www.fingerstyleguitar.com/html/fsg_artp_ek.htm (January 22, 2007).

Earl Klugh, www.earlklugh.com (January 22, 2007).

"Earl Klugh," All Music Guide, www.allmusicguide.com (January 22, 2007).

"Earl Klugh," Rhapsody, www.rhapsody.com/earlklugh/more.html (January 23, 2007).

"Earl Klugh Interview," Modern Guitars Magazine, www.modernguitars.com/archives/001589.html (January 22, 2007).

"Earl Klugh Is a Living Legend," The Voice: Washtenaw Community College, www.wccnet.edu (January 22, 2007).

"Earl Klugh Shies From 'Jazz Musician' Label to Embrace All Manner of Music," Ann Arbor News, www.mlive.com/ (January 22, 2007).

"Fingerstyle Jazz Master," Connecticut Classical Guitar Society, www.ccgs.org/events06-07/klugh.html (January 24, 2007).

"His Music Is Smooth but Passionate," Boston Globe, www.boston.com/news/globe/living/articles/2006/12/29/his_music_is_smooth_but_passionate/?page=1 (January 23, 2007).

"An Interview with Earl Klugh," SmoothViews, www.smoothviews.com/interviews/klugh0905.htm (January 22, 2007).

"Jazz Acoustic Guitarist Earl Klugh Back in Town After a Break," Las Vegas Sun, www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/leisure/2006/nov/28/566687089.html (January 22, 2007).

Other

"Earl Klugh," Jazz Channel Presents (television), 2000.

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Klugh, Earl

Earl Klugh

Guitarist

"Earl can wail with the best jazz players, but he prefers to touch people emotionally," asserted legendary guitarist Chet Atkins in Guitar Player. "He reaches your heart with that romantic special something, and he does it with taste and class. You can't say that about many guitarists." Appropriately, it was Atkins who inspired Klugh in his early teens to approach the guitar in a manner that continues to distinguish him from other players. Klugh explained this approach in Down Beat as addressing the guitar "in a chordal way, more like a piano player instead of just one note at a time." In fact, Klugh began his musical career on the piano.

Born in Detroit on September 16, 1953, Klugh began formal training on the piano at the age of three. After playing that instrument for seven years, he switched to the guitar, and by the time he was 13 he had made up his mind that the guitar was the instrument he wanted to play. His enthusiasm for the guitar was encouraged by the increased attention given to folk music in the 1960s. The young player was particularly inspired by the popular trio Peter, Paul, and Mary, as well as by folk troubadour Bob Dylan. In addition to his interests in these performers, Klugh listened to Spanish guitar music. As writer Bill Milkowski explained in Down Beat, Klugh's appreciation for folk playing and Spanish guitar led him to experiment with a method of fingerpicking that he applied to the popular songs of that time, especially those by the Beatles.

In his middle teenage years, Klugh discovered Chet Atkins. Klugh stated in Down Beat, "I saw him on television, and he changed my whole concept of playing. He … played the instrument like I wanted to hear it played, playing chords and melody simultaneously with a finger-style technique…. I bought forty of his albums and listened to them until I was able to copy from them."

While teaching guitar and working at a Detroit music store at the age of 16, Klugh was "discovered" by jazz great Yusef Lateef. Lateef invited Klugh to participate in a jam session at the world-famous Detroit jazz club called Baker's Keyboard Lounge. Impressed by the teenager's playing, Lateef asked him to appear on his album Suite 16. Despite this dramatic development, Klugh chose to finish high school before embarking on a full-fledged professional career in music.

After graduation Klugh was introduced to jazz guitarist George Benson at Baker's. The two quickly became friends and when Benson came to town thereafter he would invite Klugh to sit in with him. After a year of working intermittently with Benson, Klugh was formally invited to join the group. This professional relationship resulted in two albums, Body Talk and White Rabbit. Speaking of his days with Benson, Klugh related in Guitar Player, "That was the best musical experience of my life. George taught me a lot about playing, and I also learned the potential of an acoustic guitar in an electric setting."

After his tenure with Benson's ensemble, Klugh accepted an invitation to join Chick Corea's Return to Forever. Although he only played with that group for two months, the experience made a lasting impression on him. He recalled in Guitar Player, "Playing with Chick was great. It made me realize that writing my own music and developing my own style and identity was the way to go." His musical apprenticeship behind him, Klugh broke out on his own and was quickly signed to a contract with Blue Note Records. He released his first solo album, Earl Klugh, in 1976. In his few years with Blue Note, Klugh produced several albums, including Finger Paintings, Living Inside Your Love, and his first gold record, Crazy for You.

Capitol Records acquired Blue Note in 1979, and Klugh cut Late Night Guitar, Low Rider, Wishful Thinking, and Night Stories for the label. While at Capitol, Klugh also collaborated with pianist-composer Bob James, ultimately producing two albums, the Grammy Award-winning One on One and Two of A Kind. Klugh remained with Capitol until the mid-1980s, at which time he moved to Warner Bros., where he continued his prolific recorded output. He joined forces again with George Benson to produce Collaboration in 1988. He also released Life Stories, Whispers and Promises, Solo Guitar, and Midnight in San Juan while at Warner.

Despite Klugh's collaborations with various jazz artists and the media's categorization of his work, as a solo artist he does not consider himself a jazz musician. He explained in Guitar Player, "There is an element of jazz in my music, but basically it's pop. I have trouble with the label 'jazz.' Number one, as a player, I'm not comfortable with all forms of jazz…. Some musicians are purists, but my music derives from what's on the radio. The fact that I'm an instrumentalist leaves record companies and radio with only a couple of categories to put me in: rock or jazz. It's a convenient way to market an individual. Also, jazz is a label that's easily hung on a black musician." Resisting this pigeonholing, Klugh has nonetheless managed to create a distinct space for himself in the music world, one that has attracted a large and appreciative audience despite its lack of a name.

The year 1993 found many jazz guitarists recording albums of standards. Klugh's response was Sounds and Visions, Vol. II. Showcasing what Downbeat called "his trademark classical guitar sound," the record reprised songs from such films as Goldfinger, Tequila Sunrise, The Thomas Crown Affair, and Calamity Jane—all enhanced by the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Downbeat deemed the record, a vehicle for the Earl Klugh Trio—Klugh, Gene Dunlap on drums, and Ralphe Armstrong on bass—"big, lush, and hummable." Klugh remarked of the album, "The project was good to do because so many guys are having standards albums. I wanted to find things that nobody does, with the exception of a couple of things that I could find my own way to do."

Of his own approach to standards, Klugh told Downbeat that the renewed emphasis on old tunes "suits my own taste: I lean towards the melodic stuff, no matter what era it's from."

As reviews of Klugh's music indicated, his listeners were attracted to these melodies, but while this aspect of his playing garnered a large following, it did not always inspire critical praise. This lack of critical approval, Klugh admitted in Guitar Player, was due primarily to his conscious decision to sell records rather than just showcase his playing ability. It reflected his business savvy and the skills he had acquired working with established artists. He maintained in Guitar Player that learning what sells and what doesn't has allowed him to continue to play. And despite his concerns with the market, Klugh has insisted on playing the kind of music he likes.

Klugh followed in 1994 with Move on Warner, a low-key effort with an eclectic selection of material. Sudden Burst of Energy in 1995 covered similar ground, but was unique for featuring material written exclusively by Klugh. In 1998 Warner released The Best of Earl Klugh, a 15-track compilation that covered his work from the late 1980s and 1990s. The guitarist switched to the Windham Hill label for Peculiar Situation in 1999, an album that highlighted a vocal track (the first on a Klugh album) by singer Roberta Flack.

After recording Peculiar Situation, Klugh took an extended hiatus from studio work. "I was basically doing an album a year for 25 years," he told Gary C.W. Chun in the Honolulu Star Bulletin. "When my mom passed away at the beginning of the hiatus, even though I continued to tour and travel, my heart wasn't into recording."

For the Record …

Born on September 16, 1953, in Detroit, MI.

Began playing piano c. 1956, guitar c. 1963; was "discovered" c. 1969 while giving lessons at a Detroit music store; collaborated with Yusef Lateef, George Benson, and Chick Corea's group Return to Forever; signed with Blue Note Records, released Earl Klugh, 1976; collaborated with Bob James; signed to Warner Bros., mid-1980s; formed Earl Klugh Trio, early 1990s; toured throughout the U.S., Europe, and Japan; performed on soundtrack to film Marvin & Tige (1983); issued Move, 1994, and Sudden Burst of Energy, 1995; signed with Windham Hill, released Peculiar Situation, 1999; released Naked Guitar, 2005.

Awards: (With Bob James) Grammy Award for One on One, 1979.

Addresses: Record company—KOCH Records, 22 Harbor Park Dr., Port Washington, NY 11050, website: http://www.kochentertainment.com/. Website—Earl Klugh Official Website: http://www.earlklugh.com.

Klugh returned in 2005 with Naked Guitar. "Overall, this is a welcome return from a true master of his instrument," wrote Jonathan Widran in All Music Guide. The album, recorded in Klugh's home studio, re-introduced the 52 year-old guitarist to older fans while reaching out to a new generation of smooth jazz listeners. The recording also received a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2006. As always, his expansive style embraced many traditions, and he refused to be pigeonholed as a jazz guitarist. "I think of myself as a 'contemporary musician,'" Klugh told the Ann Arbor News. "I've arrived at a point where I've listened to and enjoyed so many kinds of music that there's more to it than just jazz." Klugh planned to release a new album in April of 2007.

Selected discography

Earl Klugh, Blue Note, 1976.
Living Inside Your Love, Capitol, 1976; re-released Blue Note, 1996.
Finger Paintings, Mobile Fidelity, 1978; reissued, Blue Note, 1995.
Magic in Your Eyes, United Artists, 1978; re-released Blue Note, 1996.
Heart String, United Artists, 1979; re-released Blue Note, 2000.
(With Bob James) One on One, Columbia, 1979.
Dream Come True, Liberty/United Artists, 1980.
Late Night Guitar, Warner Bros., 1980, re-released, Blue Note, 1999.
Crazy for You, EMI, 1981; re-released, Blue Note, 1996.
Low Rider, Capitol, 1983.
(With James) Two of a Kind, Capitol, 1983.
Wishful Thinking, Capitol, 1984.
Night Stories, Capitol, 1984.
Soda Fountain Shuffle, Warner Bros., 1984.
In Square Circle, 1985.
Life Stories, Warner Bros., 1986.
(With George Benson) Collaboration, Warner Bros., 1988.
Midnight in San Juan, Warner Bros, 1989.
Whispers and Promises, Warner Bros., 1989.
Solo Guitar, Warner Bros., 1989.
Oasis, 1989.
Best of Earl Klugh, Volume I, Blue Note, 1991.
Earl Klugh Trio, Volume I, Warner Bros., 1991.
(With James) Cool, Warner Bros., 1992.
Best of Earl Klugh, Volume II, Capitol, 1992.
The Earl Klugh Trio: Sounds and Visions, Vol. II, Warner Bros., 1993.
Move, Warner Bros., 1994.
Sudden Burst of Energy, Warner Bros., 1995.
Peculiar Situation, Windham Hill, 1999.
Naked Guitar, Koch Records, 2005.

Sources

Periodicals

Audio, May 1989.

Down Beat, October 1983; February 1986; January 1992; May 1993; July 1993.

Guitar Player, October 1981; August 1985; November 1986; October 1987; December 1989.

Los Angeles Magazine, January 1990.

Musician, June 1990.

Stereo Review, June 1990.

USA Today, January 10, 1992.

Online

"Earl Klugh," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusicguide.com/ (June 9, 2006).

"Earl Klugh Shies From 'Jazz Musician' Label to Embrace All Manner of Music," Ann Arbor News, http://www.mlive.com/ (June 9, 2006).

"Renewal," Star Bulletin, http://www.starbulletin.com/ (June 9, 2006).

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"Klugh, Earl." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Klugh, Earl." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/klugh-earl-1

"Klugh, Earl." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/klugh-earl-1

Klugh, Earl

Earl Klugh

Guitarist

Discovered Chet Atkins

Launched Solo Career

Trios Twist on Standards Trend

Selected discography

Sources

Earl can wail with the best jazz players, but he ??? prefers to touch people emotionally, asserted legendary guitarist Chet Atkins in Guitar Player. He reaches your heart with that romantic special something, and he does it with taste and class. You cant say that about many guitarists. Appropriately, it was Atkins who inspired Klugh in his early teens to approach the guitar in a manner that continues to distinguish him from other players. Klugh explained this approach in Down Beat as addressing the guitar in a chordal way, more like a piano player instead of just one note at a time. In fact, Klugh began his musical career on the piano.

Born in Detroit on September 16, 1953, Klugh commenced formal training on the piano at the age of three. After playing that instrument for seven years, Klugh switched to the guitar. By the time he was 13, Klugh disclosed to Down Beat, he had made up his mind that playing the guitar was what he wanted to do. Klughs enthusiasm for the guitar was encouraged by the increased attention given to folk music in the 1960s. The young player was particularly inspired by the popular trio Peter, Paul, and Mary, as well as by folk troubadour Bob Dylan. In addition to his interests in these performers, Klugh listened to a great deal of Spanish guitar music. As writer Bill Milkowski explained in Down Beat, Klughs appreciation for folk playing and Spanish guitar led him to experiment with a method of fingerpicking that he applied to the popular songs of that time, especially those by Beatles.

Discovered Chet Atkins

It was at this point, in his middle teenage years, that Klugh discovered Chet Atkins. As Klugh stated in Down Beat, I saw him on television, and he changed my whole concept of playing. He was the only person I ever heard up to that point who played the instrument like I wanted to hear it played, playing chords and melody simultaneously with a finger-style technique. In the next eighteen months after seeing him on TV, I bought forty of his albums and listened to them until I was able to copy from them.

While teaching guitar and working at a Detroit music store at the age of 16, Klugh was discovered by jazz great Yusef Lateef. Lateef invited Klugh to participate in a jam session at the world-famous Detroit jazz club Bakers Keyboard Lounge. Impressed by the teenagers playing, Lateef asked him to appear on his album Suite 16. Despite this dramatic development, Klugh chose to finish high school before embarking on a full-fledged professional career in music.

For the Record

Born September 16, 1953, in Detroit, MI.

Began playing piano c. 1956, guitar c. 1963; discovered c. 1969 while giving lessons at a Detroit music store; collaborated with Yusef Lateef, George Benson, and Chick Coreas Return to Forever; signed with Blue Note Records, and released Earl Klugh, 1976; collaborated with Bob James; signed to Warner Bros., mid-1980s; formed Earl Klugh Trio, early 1990s; has toured throughout the U.S., Europe, and Japan. Performed soundtrack to film Marvin & Tige.

Awards: (With Bob James) Grammy Award, 1979, for One on One; seven Grammy Award nominations; gold record for Crazy for You.

Addresses: Record company Warner Bros., 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019-9608.

After graduation, Klugh was introduced to jazz guitarist George Benson at Bakers. The two quickly became friends and when Benson came to town thereafter he would invite Klugh to sit in with him. After a year of working intermittently with Benson, Klugh was formally invited to join the group. This professional relationship resulted in two albums, Body Talk and White Rabbit Speaking of his days with Benson, Klugh related in Guitar Player, That was the best musical experience of my life. George taught me a lot about playing, and I also learned the potential of an acoustic guitar in an electric setting.

Launched Solo Career

After his tenure with Bensons ensemble, Klugh accepted an invitation to join Chick Coreas Return to Forever. Although he only played with that group for two months, the experience made a lasting impression on him. As he recalled in Guitar Player, Playing with Chick was great. It made me realize that writing my own music and developing my own style and identity was the way to go. His musical apprenticeship behind him, Klugh broke out on his own and was quickly signed to a contract with Blue Note Records. 1976 saw the release of his first solo album, Earl Klugh. In his few years with Blue Note, Klugh produced several albums, including Finger Paintings, Living Inside Your Love, and his first gold record, Crazy for You.

Capitol Records acquired Blue Note in 1979, shortly after which Klugh cut Late Night Guitar, Low Rider, Wishful Thinking, and Night Stories. While at Capitol, Klugh first collaborated with pianist-composer Bob James, ultimately producing two albums, the Grammy Award-winning One on One and Two of A Kind. Klugh remained with Capitol until the mid-1980s, at which time he moved to Warner Bros. where he continued his prolific recorded output. He joined forces again with George Benson to produce Collaboration in 1988. He also released Life Stories, Whispers and Promises, Solo Guitar, and Midnight in San Juan while at Warners.

Despite Klughs collaborations with various jazz artists and the medias categorization of his work, as a solo artist he does not consider himself a jazz musician. He explained in Guitar Player, There is an element of jazz in my music, but basically its pop. I have trouble with the label jazz. Number one, as a player, Im not comfortable with all forms of jazz. ... Some musicians are purists, but my music derives from whats on the radio. The fact that Im an instrumentalist leaves record companies and radio with only a couple of categories to put me in: rock or jazz. Its a convenient way to market an individual. Also, jazz is a label thats easily hung on a black musician. Resisting this pigeonholing, Klugh has nonetheless managed to create a distinct space for himself in the music world, one that has attracted a large and appreciative audience despite its lack of a name.

Trios Twist on Standards Trend

1993 found many jazz guitarists recording albums of standards. Klughs response was Sounds and Visions, Vol. II. Showcasing what Downbeat called his trademark classical guitar sound, the record reprised songs from such films as Goldfinger, Tequila Sunrise, The Thomas Crown Affair, and Calamity Jane all enhanced by the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Downbeat deemed the record, a vehicle for the Earl Klugh TrioKlugh, Gene Dunlap on drums, and Ralphe Armstrong on bassbig, lush, and hummable. Klugh remarked of Vol. II, The project was good to do because so many guys are having standards albums. I wanted to find things that nobody does, with the exception of a couple of things that I could find my own way to do.

Of the prevailing nostalgic bent among his peers, the guitarist said, When I first started, the whole instrumental market was much smaller. You must have 10 times as many instrumental artists recording now. Everybodys vying for the same dollar and the same radio space. Thats one reason that musicians who have any ability at all will go out and do it ... just to maybe differentiate themselves from the masses. He earlier revealed to Downbeat his own approach to the standards, stating that the renewed emphasis on old tunes suits my own taste: I lean towards the melodic stuff, no matter what era its from.

As reviews of Klughs music indicate, his listeners are attracted to these melodies and the ways in which he makes his guitar sing. While this aspect of his playing has indeed garnered a large following, it has not always inspired critical praise. This lack of critical approval, Klugh admitted in Guitar Player, is due primarily to his conscious decision to sell records rather than just showcase his playing ability. The choice reflects the musicians business savvy and the skills he has acquired working with established artists. As he maintained in Guitar Player, learning what sells and what doesnt has allowed him to continue to play. And despite Klughs concerns with the market, he is insistent on playing the kind of music he likes. Given the enormity of his yield and the success he has achieved, it is clear that a large number of record buyers share his tastes.

Selected discography

Earl Klugh, Blue Note, 1976.

(With Bob James) One on One, Columbia, 1979.

Low Rider, Capitol, 1983.

(With James) Two of a Kind, Capitol, 1983.

Wishful Thinking, Capitol, 1984.

Night Stories, Capitol, 1984.

In Square Circle, 1985.

(With George Benson) Collaboration, Warner Bros., 1988.

Whispers and Promises, Warner Bros., 1989.

Solo Guitar, Warner Bros., 1989.

Oasis, 1989.

Best of Earl Klugh, Volume I, Blue Note, 1991.

Earl Klugh Trio, Volume I, Warner Bros., 1991.

(With James) Cool, Warner Bros, 1992.

Best of Earl Klugh, Volume II, Capitol, 1992.

The Earl Klugh Trio: Sounds and Visions, Vol, II, Warner Bros., 1993.

Finger Paintings, Blue Note.

Living Inside Your Love, Blue Note.

Crazy for You, Blue Note.

Late Night Guitar, Capitol.

Life Stories, Warner Bros.

Midnight in San Juan, Warner Bros.

Dream Come True, Liberty/United Artists.

Magic in Your Eyes, United Artists.

Heartstring, United Artists.

Soda Fountain Shuffle, Warner Bros.

Sources

Audio, May 1989.

Down Beat, October 1983; February 1986; January 1992; May 1993; July 1993.

Guitar Player, October 1981; August 1985; November 1986; October 1987; December 1989.

Los Angeles Magazine, January 1990.

Musician, June 1990.

Stereo Review, June 1990.

USA Today, January 10, 1992.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Warner Bros. Records press materials, 1992, 1993.

Karen Murphy

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