Carl Verheyen has won countless music awards and has been labeled as one of the 10 best rock guitarists of all time by multiple music media sources. He is probably best known as the guitar player, on and off for 25 years, with the iconic British rock group Supertramp.
His love affair with the guitar during the past 40 years has inspired an impressive deluge of musical outpourings, including the recording of no less than 12 solo projects. If that weren’t enough to keep him busy, he has had success with his music in a variety of other artistic mediums, including movie and television soundtracks and creating multiple series of multimedia music teaching aides. He also has an immense backlog of published literature related to every aspect of the art of playing the guitar. He even designs his own musical equipment.
The guitar virtuoso is set to bring his touring trio, the Carl Verheyen Band, to the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara at 7:30 p.m. next Friday, May 6. I was able to catch the self-proclaimed “practice-aholic” on a break from his busy schedule just long enough to ask him a few questions about his upcoming concert and his remarkable life as a guitar legend.
Paul Mann: You are touring with the Carl Verheyen Band. Could you talk a little about the group, who is in it, how long you have been playing with them, and what fans can expect to hear at your show?
Carl Verheyen: The CVB has been together in the present configuration for just four years. But the bass player, Dave Marotta, was with me in the beginning, back in 1987. Walfredo Reyes and I have been playing together equally as long, but he was busy with Santana, Traffic, Steve Winwood and countless other projects before I nabbed him for the band. Our music has been described as “post-modern blues rock,” but in the course of a CVB show you’ll hear elements of country, bluegrass, rockabilly, jazz, Latin music and even some interesting world beat music. We are fearless when it comes to letting our influences sneak into the mix.
PM: You have recorded at least 12 solo projects, including the most recent, The Road Divides, an extensive collection of live material. Will you be drawing your set list from any particular period, or will it cover the whole time span of your work?
CV: I try to cover the whole time span of the band’s history. We arrange different songs for the trio format and pick the ones that work best. Even though our recordings have keyboards, background singers and multiple guitar overdubs, I love the freedom of the trio. I’m busy on stage, and there’s never a dull moment.
PM: You have been the guitar player for the iconic rock group Supertramp on and off since 1985. Are you planning any new tours with that band? Do you include any Supertramp material in your solo show? How did you come to be a part of Supertramp?
CV: Funny you should ask, because after an eight-year hiatus, the band reformed last year for a 40th anniversary tour in Europe. The response was amazing; we sold out 10,000- to 18,000-seat venues every night. We have an upcoming arena tour in Canada in June, then we’re off to Europe for a handful of big festivals. Occasionally I’ll play a Supertramp solo guitar piece in our set, but normally I try to keep the two bands’ material separate.
Nobody comes close to Supertramp in re-creating those tunes, and I have a lot of respect for the musical vision of Rick Davies, the leader of the group. As for my joining the band, I auditioned 26 years ago, and I guess I passed!
PM: I have some recollection of Supertramp doing a secret concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl about a decade ago. Do you have any memories of that?
CV: I think that was going to happen and never did. We played Los Angeles back in 1997 and 2002, but nothing in Santa Barbara.
PM: You have been acknowledged as one of the best guitarists in modern rock history. Your signature guitar sounds seem to be omnipresent in pop culture, from records and live shows to movies, TV soundtracks, teaching videos and countless recording sessions with many great musicians. Are you a workaholic? How do you mange to participate in so many diverse projects and stay focused on your music?
CV: I divide my work into two separate careers. On the one side I’m a sideman, and on the other I’m a solo artist. The two seem to complement each other, especially musically. I can draw inspiration and even ideas from the wonderful records and movie soundtracks I play on. I can use those experiences when I do master classes, produce records for myself and other artists, even songwriting. But instead of a workaholic, I think I’m more of a “practice-aholic.” I try to practice every day and never take a day off unless I’m traveling.
PM: What kind of music do you like to listen to in your free time? Who have been some of your favorite influences?
CV: I listen to all types of music. My wife and I have season tickets to Disney Hall for the classical concerts with Gustavo Dudamel. I listen to the rock and country stations driving around in the car. Today I played a greatest hits record from The Band. Old stuff, new stuff — my only criterion is that it has to be good and have artistic integrity. I have no time for what I call “disposable music.”
PM: You have created two extensive series of instructional guitar videos, “Intervallic Rock Guitar” and “Forward Motion,” and a multitude of YouTube clips to help aspiring musicians. Can you describe briefly what these are all about and what drives you to be such a comprehensive teacher?
CV: I believe our responsibility as virtuoso players is to pass it on to the next generation. I would hate to see a generation of “typers” come along, people who make music solely with a computer. My job is to inspire and show you the endless possibilities on my instrument.
PM: You are also a prolific writer, from your books like Improvising Without Scales to your years of columns in Guitar Player magazine. How does writing as an art and education form differ from creating music?
CV: To be honest, I struggle a bit with the writing. I have a monthly column in Guitar Player magazine, and I always write it and put it away until morning. Then I read it and say, “What was I thinking?” But to answer your question, they are probably a lot more similar than I think. There’s a flow that happens with both disciplines, and it feels great to ride it when it comes along. Music is a lot easier for me, though.
PM: You have developed your own specific set of guitar strings. Would you like to talk about your inspiration for that project and the results?
CV: My favorite guitar is the Fender Stratocaster. Back in 1954 when Leo Fender and his gang down in Fullerton designed it, they added some revolutionary hardware consisting of a spring-loaded tremolo bridge. Even though the Fender Strat is the most popular guitar in the world, a lot of people have trouble keeping this bridge in tune. The strings I designed for the Dean Markley company address this issue and help balance the bridge when it’s setup like it was originally intended, which is “floating.” By the way, I’m doing my best to keep it from getting too technical here!
PM: You also designed a guitar. Would you like to talk about that?
CV: It’s going to be the perfect Stratocaster — staying true to the original but adding modern updates only when tone can be improved. I can’t say I designed it, but I did appropriate all the features — neck shape, hardware choices and, most importantly, weight. I believe lighter guitars are much easier to control sonically.
PM: Finally, any message for your fans eagerly awaiting your set at the historic Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara?
CV: I recently produced a Santa Barbara artist named Haddon Cord, and I want to use this opportunity to introduce her to the local music fans in SB. Since I used Dave and Wally on her tracks, we may even back her up on a couple of songs. I’ve been to the beautiful Lobero Theatre, and I can’t wait to play there with the CVB.
If the joy we have playing together could be bottled and sold, we’d solve all the world’s problems.