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Larry Knechtel 8/2009

famous session musician larry knechtelAugust 20, 2009 – Lawrence William Larry Knechtel (Bread, The Wrecking Crew) was born on August 4, 1940 in Bell, California. Larry took piano lessons in his pre-teen years. Naturally gifted with perfect pitch, Larry moved beyond sheet music and started playing by ear. An interest in radio and electronics prompted him to build his own crystal radio, which introduced him to the blues and early rock-n-roll which was being aired by local R&B stations. Excited by what he heard, Larry purchased 45’s of black R&B artists and studied them intently. He also joined an inner-city youth band which included players from several local schools in the central Los Angeles area. This proved to be a fertile experience which introduced him to other good players, some of whom later became noted session musicians, among them saxophonist Jim Horn and guitarist Mike Deasey.

Caught up in the soulful feel of R & B and Rock & Roll, Larry and his friends were jamming, performing, and recording — Larry recorded his first original single at age 16, an instrumental titled ‘Pigeon-Toed’, which became a local hit and paid some modest royalties. In 1957 Larry became a member of Kip Tyler and the Flips, and frequently played on ‘demo’ sessions for other local artists, which were actually recordings produced for local airplay.

Upon completing high school, Larry enrolled in a local college to study electronic engineering, but his heart wasn’t in it. When Duane Eddy offered him a job touring with The Rebels in 1959, he quit school and hit the road. After touring the US, Europe, and Australia, Larry spent time in Arizona as did other members of the band. When they weren’t playing local gigs, they worked as extras in cowboy western movies which were being filmed locally, the most notable of these is Thunder of Drums, which features Duane Eddy and members of The Rebels in several scenes. During this time, Larry borrowed an electric bass guitar from Duane and soon was playing gigs on this instrument. Duane subsequently cut the band lineup from 5 players to 4 and Larry became the bassist. Unlike some artists, Duane used his road musicians on the albums he recorded. Following further tours with The Rebels, Larry returned to L.A. to start a family and broaden his horizons. Initially, he worked in club bands in which Larry was often the only white member of the otherwise all-black lineup. Then he got a break which launched him into the Hollywood recording scene.

Saxophonist and former band-mate Steve Douglas was the musical contractor for Phil Spector, and called Larry to play on the ‘Ronnettes’ Christmas album. Larry then served as a keyboardist on many of Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ sessions, and soon was working with other producers as Hollywood’s pop recording industry began to bloom. In 1964, Larry was recruited as the bassist in the house band for the TV music show Shindig!. For a time, he was doing more sessions playing bass than he was playing keyboards. He also became known as a harmonica player. Some sessions saw him playing all three instruments. As the L.A. pop music industry matured, Larry was a first-call session player alongside other first-call musicians, among them his high-school friends Jim Horn and Mike Deasey, guitarist Glen Campbell, pianist Leon Russell, drummer Hal Blaine, bassists Joe Osbourne and Carol Kaye, and other members of what was later dubbed The Wrecking Crew.

In particular, Larry, Hal, and Joe formed a tight rhythm section which was the basis for many hit records for artists such as Fifth Dimension, The Mammas and The Papas, and Simon and Garfunkel, to name but a few. The Crew also were the sound behind TV inventions The Monkees and The Partridge Family, and various TV show themes such as Batman and The Munsters. The late sixties saw Larry and his Wrecking Crew colleagues constantly in the studio, often doing three sessions in a single day. This period saw some of Larry’s most notable achievements. He appeared with 4 different artists at the Monterey Pop Festival, played bass for Elvis Presley’s ‘Comeback’ TV special, played Hammond B-3 organ on the Beach Boys’ landmark Pet Sounds album, played bass on debut albums for The Byrds and The Doors, and arranged and performed Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water, for which he earned a Grammy award.

Being an intricate part of the Hollywood session musician scene, working with the likes of The Beach Boys, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, Randy Newman, Simon and Garfunkel, The 5th Dimension, Dolly Parton, Steppenwolf, The Doors, The Byrds, The Mammas and Pappas, Harry Nilsson, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams Jr., David Gates, Neil Diamond, Dave Mason, Poco, Johnny Rivers, Tim Weisberg, gave him further exposure to the greats.

Like many session musicians, Larry plays other instruments, notably the harmonica and the electric bass guitar, which can be heard on The Byrds “Mr. Tambourine Man” and on tracks by The Doors who did not have their own bass guitarist.

The early 70’s saw further growth in the L.A. music industry, and more session players. Larry continued to work sessions, but realized that many artists and bands he was backing were succeeding better financially. When asked to join the group Bread 1971, Larry agreed. He performed keyboards and bass on Bread’s next two albums Baby I’m A Want You and Guitar Man, also playing the distinctive guitar solos on the title track of the latter. Bread toured extensively, with Larry acting primarily as a bassist during live shows. Bread’s success allowed him to move away from urban L.A. to a rural lifestyle in Washington state. Shortly thereafter, Bread broke up as a result of an acrimonious falling-out between its two founding members, David Gates and James Griffin. While the two sued each other, royalties were tied up in the courts, forcing Larry and drummer Mike Botts to return to session work. Bread did reunite briefly for another album and tour in 1976 only to meet with marginal success and another breakup. Knechtel and Botts recorded and toured with David Gates on solo efforts released during Bread’s lapses.

Concurrently, Larry began collaborating with engineer Jay Senter, and they co-produced several albums for rising artists, the most notable being Sammy Johns’ 1975 debut album, featuring the hit single ‘Chevy Van’. Larry built a well-equipped recording studio at his home in Washington, but due its remote location saw only limited commercial use.

Returning briefly to Los Angeles in the early 80’s, Knechtel found the landscape much changed and opportunity limited. The industry was increasingly focused on promoting raw-sounding bands which did not require extensive production, studio musicians, or investment. The days of the Wrecking Crew were long since over. For a time Larry did regular sessions for Mike Post on various television soundtracks, and formed a band with ex-Bread songwriter Rob Royer which showed promise but failed to attract major label backing. Given the prospects, Larry returned home to Washington.

By the late 80’s, many session musicians had migrated away from the barren prospects of L.A. to other cities such as Nashville and Miami which had healthy growth in pop recording. Encouraged by news from colleagues, Larry moved to Nashville in 1988, spending the next 7 years there. A significant development was his being signed to Universal as a solo artist, recording his jazz-influenced original material on Mountain Moods, which had modest sales and positive reviews. The label’s marketing direction differed from Knechtel’s musical tastes however, and after recording the follow-up Urban Gypsy he and the record company parted ways.

Another significant development, unrelated to Nashville, came when Elvis Costello recruited Larry to record on the album Mighty Like a Rose. This led to a world tour and a collaboration with Costello on another album recorded in Barbados. After finding indifferent success in Nashville, Larry retired to his home in Washington in 1995. His retirement was short-lived, as Bread members decided to reunite for a successful world tour the following year.

After this period, Larry sold his ranch in NW Washington and moved to the Yakima area. Not to remain quiet indefinitely, Larry was recommended to producer Rick Rubin as keyboardist for a track on Neil Diamond’s 12 Songs in 2005. This was followed by another more extensive involvement in another Rick Ruben project, the Dixie Chicks’ Taking The Long Way, which won 5 Grammy awards. Larry toured and played media performances with the Chicks throughout 2006, culminating in their performance at the Grammy Awards in Feb, 2007.

In November 2007, Larry was inducted into the Musician’s Hall of Fame, along with other members of the Wrecking Crew. In addition to his work with the Dixie Chicks, Larry continued to perform and record with a variety of local and major-label artists. In between Larry lived in semi-retirement on his large farm property in Maple Falls, Washington

On Thursday, August 20th 2009, Larry Knechtel passed away from an undiagnosed heart condition at the age of 69.

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