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Larry Carlton (born 2 March 1948) is an American jazz fusion, pop, and rock guitarist and a singer, dividing his recording time between solo recordings and session appearances with various well-known bands. Over his career, Carlton has won three Grammys for his performances and compositions, including the theme music for the hit television series, "Hill Street Blues" (1981).
Carlton started learning to play guitar when he was six years old, studying under Slim Edwards near his Torrance, CA, home. Taking an interest in jazz while at high school, his playing style was most influenced by guitarists Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel, and B. B. King. Saxophonist John Coltrane has also made a notable impression on Carlton, and Carlton's live albums have featured cuts from Miles Davis's hallmark Kind of Blue.
His solo career took a twist in 1985 when he signed with MCA Master Series for an acoustic jazz album. The result was Alone/But Never Alone, which featured sparse but emotive arrangements, including a rendition of The Lord's Prayer. From 1985 to 1990 Carlton did various solo projects, the 1986 live Last Nite being one of his best recordings and winning another Grammy for his cover of the McDonald/Abrams song "Minute by Minute" from the successful LP Discovery.
In 1988, while working on his electric guitar LP On Solid Ground, which was released in 1989, Carlton was the victim of random gun violence, shot in the throat outside Room 335, his private studio in Southern California. The bullet shattered his vocal cord and caused significant nerve trauma. Amazingly, Carlton managed to recover quickly and completed On Solid Ground by the end of the year. He continued his work with the electric guitar in 1991 when he started to record a blues album, but decided to delay the project to meet demand for a more commercially-oriented jazz offering, which resulted in Kid Gloves. The rawer, southern-blues infused Renegade Gentleman was finally released in 1993, featuring Nashville harmonica legend Terry McMillan on several tracks.
From 1994 to 1997 Carlton participated in various tours (notably with Toto guitar supremo Steve Lukather) and released an album with similar Los Angeles-based guitarist Lee Ritenour, which featured Remembering J. P., a tribute to the recently deceased Joe Pass. Shortly thereafter, in 1997, he took Ritenour's place in the successful smooth jazz quartet, Fourplay, even adopting a softer, Wes Montgomery-flavored style similar to Ritenour's work.
In 2000, Carlton furthered his solo career with the polished Fingerprints, which at its strongest points demonstrated his continued growth as a composer and also downplayed his blues-roots in favor of jazz-chordal playing and octaves. His career received another considerable boost the following year when his live performance with Toto lead guitarist Steve Lukather, No Substitutions: Live At Osaka, garnered his third Grammy.
Carlton's most recent work includes the guest-appearance laden Deep Into It, the aggressive jazz-blues cut Sapphire Blue, and Firewire, his hardest album yet.
At the beginning of 2007 Carlton released two CDs. A live recording together with blues guitarist Robben Ford, Live in Tokyo, and The Jazz King album. The Jazz King record is the result of a composition Carlton wrote for H. M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. The Jazz King project was initiated to celebrate the 60th anniversary of King Bhumibol's accession to the throne as well as his 80th birthday in 2007. Carlton was commissioned to write this composition by the Royal Project Foundation and Rotary Club of Bangkok. These compositions were released on CD only in Thailand, the net proceeds of the CD will be used to support the indigenous hill-tribe children of Thailand. Carlton's compositions for this Jazz King project resulted in a concert. This special performance featured, besides Carlton, other notable jazz musicians. The concert was held on January 28, 2007 at BEC-Tero Hall, Suan Lum Night Bazaar, Bangkok.