Larry Carlton

Larry Carlton performs at Blue Note Napa Feb. 22 and 23.

For five decades, Larry Carlton has been one of the most prolific guitar players on the American music scene. The four-time Grammy winner, known for his versatility across multiple genres – from jazz to blues to pop to rock — will perform with his quintet this Friday and Saturday at Blue Note Napa.

After picking up his first guitar at age 6, Carlton’s development as a player was precocious. On the phone last week, he described his early growth as a musician. “I started taking guitar lessons in Torrance, California from a local guitar teacher named Slim Edwards,” he said. “I took one lesson a week from Slim for about eight years. The great thing was that he recognized my aptitude.”

“By the time I could jam a little bit, maybe by age 8 or so, we would spend the first 10 minutes of my guitar lesson just jamming, which made it fun for me as a child. I studied with him, but I was also obviously listening to pop radio. That would’ve been 1957 through 1960. I was hearing Elvis Presley, all the early doo-wop records. I was attracted to all the guitars on those, so I would spend a lot of time copying by ear, but also doing my lessons.”

In junior high, Carlton was already performing regularly. “I was playing Friday nights, Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons at supper clubs in Southern California with older musicians,” he said. “I remember spending my 15th birthday at the club, and them bring bringing out a cake for this young kid who was playing with these older guys, guys who were 20, 21 years old. Yep, I was gigging in junior high school three nights a week.”

In 1968, at age 20, Carlton recorded his first album, “With a Little Help from my Friends,” which got a positive industry response and launched what would become an abundant career as both a solo artist and a coveted accompanist.

Over the decades, he has played on thousands of studio recording sessions, including performances on more than 100 gold records. He was a member of The Crusaders (14 albums), Fourplay (eight albums), and was a regular sideman with Joni Mitchell (seven albums) and Steely Dan (four albums). He played the iconic guitar solo on Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne.”

As a solo artist, he has recorded 25 albums. His most recent is 2018’s “The Jazz King: The Musical Compositions of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej.”

Carlton still enjoys live performance, though he tours less than in the past. “ I still do 75, 80 dates a year,” he said. “A lot of that’s in Europe and Asia because they still like to hear musicians play. They don’t care whether you’ve had a hit record in the last 5 years or 10 years. They want to hear the artistry, and I so appreciate that. I went to Japan twice last year, Europe three times.”

At Blue Note, Carlton will perform with Ruslin Sirota on keyboards, his son Travis Carlton on bass, Gene Coye on drums and Don Aliquo on saxophone.

Friday, Feb. 22 and Saturday Feb. 23, both nights 7 p.m. (doors open 5:30 p.m.) and 9 p.m. (doors open 8:30 p.m.). $45-$75. Blue Note Napa, 10 30 Main St., Napa. 707-880-2300. BlueNoteNapa.com.

Heads Up

BottleRock announces 2019 previews and aftershows

BottleRock Presents has announced its 2019 festival previews and aftershows, 14 performances in multiple Bay Area venues. The three Napa aftershows, each at JaM Cellars Ballroom at the Napa Valley Opera House, are Gary Clark, Jr. on Friday May 24, Big Boi on Saturday, May 25 and Chevy Metal on Sunday, May 26.

Tickets are available beginning Thursday, Feb. 21 at 10 a.m. See BottleRockNapaValley.com for details.

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David Kerns is a Napa-based novelist and freelance journalist. You can view more of his work at DavidKerns.com.