The music world is mourning Larry Coryell. The jazz guitarist with a rock sensibility, died Sunday in New York. He was 73.
He’s also a former Westporter. Coryell lived for several years on Watch Hill, off North Compo across from the Town Farm tennis courts.
His career was intertwined with another Westport musician, Brian Keane. The Staples High School Class of 1971 grad has composed the music for hundreds of films and television shows, produced over 100 albums, and won Grammys, Emmys and Peabodys.
Brian recalls his friend, fellow collaborator, and enormous influence:
Larry Coryell was a legendary guitarist who pioneered the fusion of jazz and rock. There will be lots of tributes to his career. He played with everybody in jazz.
Besides his own 11th House band, he recorded with John McLoughlin, Gary Burton, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock.
He also made some recordings with me.
Larry was an amazing musician. Many people don’t realize it, but he was among the best rhythm guitar players (certainly that I ever played with). He was incredibly supportive as a rhythm player. I didn’t even realize that until years later, when I listened to old tapes of some concerts that someone recorded of us together in Europe. He could play very fast as well of course, and he could play a wide variety of styles.
I was 24 years old when I met Larry in 1977. I had managed to get some gigs with Eddie Gomez, Jeremy Steig, and a few other notable musicians. I heard Larry lived in the area, and arranged to take a guitar lesson from him (in order to meet him).
It worked. We became friend, and partners in crime, partying and sharing music. We were both wild men back then, living the life, in the height of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. I could tell you so many crazy stories it would take pages. But I will save those mostly depraved and highly entertaining tales for those who lived through that era with us.
I gave Larry’s kids guitar lessons when they were young. I was good friends with his departed wife Julie, and Larry and I had many good friends in common.
After a while, Larry and I did some festivals together, and started doing duo gigs (lots more stories I could tell). Larry provided a young idiot savant stoner guitarist (me) a chance to do concerts around the world. We went everywhere together for a while: all 50 states, more than 50 countries, in about a 5-year span. We made 4 records together. I thought it was the biggest thing for my career at the time (and it probably was then).
However, Larry and I did something even bigger for each other than just about anything else that happened, and it had a tremendous impact on both of our lives.
We got sober together. And we did it largely on the road.
I have to give Larry’s wife Julie some of the credit for making him go to get help, and forcing me to be clean in order to tour and record with him. But Larry took it seriously, and kept me in line (at the age of 28 when I definitely didn’t want to be). That said, I got better at it eventually, and helped him more than a time or two as well.
This was an era when nobody in the music business was going straight. As much as Larry showed me some great guitar riffs or chord changes, as much as I got to see the world as a young man playing with him, I owe Larry my greatest debt of gratitude for being that person I leaned on to stay sober while out on the road — and I was that for him as well. Later, we influenced many other prominent musicians in that same regard.
Larry and I stayed in touch over the years, though our career paths went in different directions. I have stayed in touch with his incredibly talented kids Murali and Julian as well. Larry was very sick last year, but I thought he was on the mend.
His death leaves a huge hole in my life, in the lives of so many of our mutual friends who were there during those years, and in the music world. But my heart especially goes out to his wife Tracey and the Coryell family at this difficult time.
R.I.P., my fellow road warrior. We certainly did up some great times together.
The video below is a very rare recording of “Bolero” by Larry Coryell and Brian Keane. It was recorded live in concert in Italy, in 1983.