Marty Walsh, former Supertramp guitarist: Something Else! Interview
Perhaps best known as a mid-1980s era member of Supertramp, Marty Walsh is a guitarist you’ve heard — even if you don’t think you’ve heard of him.
After all, Walsh has also worked with Eddie Money (yes, that’s him on “Think I’m in Love”), Seals and Crofts, long-time Yes collaborator Billy Sherwood (in the band Key), Yvonne Elliman, John Denver, Freddie Jackson, Kenny Rogers, Eddie Kendricks of Temptations fame and LeAnn Rimes, among others. That’s him on the hits “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton, “Heartlight” by Neil Diamond and “She Works Hard For The Money” by Donna Summer, too. Walsh began working with Supertramp just before the arrival Brother Where You Bound in 1985 — an album that featured the group’s most recent Top 40 hit, “Cannonball” — and appeared on 1987’s Free as a Bird, as well.
Now, Marty Walsh is back with an all-original instrumental project, and he’s brought a few of his famous friends along. Sherwood, in fact, returns to guest on The Total Plan, which also includes Abe Laboriel, James Raymond, John Robinson, Bill Cuomo, Danny Morris and some of Walsh’s students from classes he teaches at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in the ensemble and music production departments.
Marty Walsh stopped by for a Something Else! Sitdown to discuss The Total Plan, the underappreciated art of sideman work and his earliest influences.
PRESTON FRAZIER: How did you become such a much-sought-after session guitarist?
MARTY WALSH: I had been touring in the mid-’70s with Seals and Crofts. We did a live record called Sudan Village, then they used the road band to cut a few of the tracks on their next studio record called Takin It Easy. They had built a beautiful new studio in San Fernando called Dawnbreaker. It was very state-of-the-art, and pretty in demand at the time. I had recorded there and gotten to know the head engineer, Joe Bogan. My brother Dan had written a song called “Love Pains” that was going to be a single for Yvonne Elliman. I had played on the demo of the song for him and the producer Steve Barri put together the session to record Love Pains, and two other songs. The band was Jeff and Mike Porcaro, Michael Omartian on keyboards — who also did the arrangements — and Jay Graydon on guitar. They needed a second guitarist and went down the list of the usual guys, and apparently everyone was busy that day. My brother said to Steve that he liked what I played on the demo, so why not give me a shot to play on this session? At this point, I had done a lot of demos and just the two records with Seals and Crofts. So, I was hired and the studio they used was Dawnbreaker. I just purchased a Roland JC 120 amplifier. This was the first amp that ran a chorus sound in stereo. I asked Joe Bogen to put two mics on it, pan it hard left and right. The sound was great, the session went really well. Love Pains was a hit, topping out at No. 17 on the Billboard charts. The next thing I knew, Michael Omartian’s assistant was calling me, booking me on two weeks of double-scale record dates, and things just took off from there. My name started showing up on album credits and the phone kept on ringing. My favorite track from that session is “Greenlight.”
PRESTON FRAZIER: Then Supertramp came calling?
MARTY WALSH: The drummer in that band, Bob Siebenberg, is originally from Glendale, California — where I am from. We used to play together in high school. Bob moved to London at 18 years old, winds up in the band Supertramp and 10 years later walks into a club I’m in, in Burbank. The band had all moved to Los Angeles, and were working on the mixes of the album Breakfast in America. Bob stopped in that club after one of the mix nights. We connected that night and started to work on some things together. In 1985, Roger Hodgson left the band and they carried on as a four-piece doing the album called Brother Where You Bound. By this time, I’d met all the guys, played with them a lot at Bob’s house — and so, when they needed a guitarist, with the fact that I was doing a lot of studio work, Rick Davies hired me to do that album. Then, of course, there was the touring aspect and they wanted me on board for that as well.
PRESTON FRAZIER: How did you come to work with Billy Sherwood in the Key?
MARTY WALSH: I met Billy at the end of the Supertramp tour in 1986. He was playing in the band Lodgic with his brother Mike. They opened up for Supertramp on some dates in California, and I was blown away by Billy. I mentioned to him that I would really be interested in working with him in some capacity. We started a band with drummer John Robinson, wrote some songs and not much happened with it. Billy subsequently went on to put together the band World Trade. He called me one day and asked me if I wanted to continue writing some songs with him. We started writing some things at the end of the ’80s and then, into the early ’90s, we got really serious about it and worked up more material. Billy had an opportunity to do a second World Trade record, which he did, but included a song that we had written called “Euphoria.” By now, it’s 1996 and there was a fellow in Sweden named Jorgen Johansson that contacted me and asked me if I was the Marty Walsh that wrote “Euphoria” with Billy. I told him I was and he asked me if there were any other songs we had written together. I told him we had an album’s worth of material in the can, and he hooked us up with a German record label, MTM records, who put out the Key album called The World is Watching.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Discuss the concept for The Total Plan.
MARTY WALSH: Back in the early ’90s, I was approached by producer Jeff Weber to submit some songs for a potential instrumental guitar record. I put together four pieces for him, but the album project never saw the light of day. When I started teaching at Berklee, I thought it might be a good time to resurrect this project, so in 2003 I went back and found those original tapes. Two of the four songs I decided to use, and I had various other pieces of music that were in various stages of completion. I thought doing an album with many of the people that I had worked with over the years would be a great idea. I contacted people from Los Angeles to Nashville to New York and in Boston as well and asked them if they would cut one track for me. I had to figure out which personnel I wanted on which songs. Ninety percent of the album was done by sending music over the Internet to people that have home studios where they would record their parts for me and send them back.
PRESTON FRAZIER: How did that work?
MARTY WALSH: For example, I had a song that I had written with drummer John Robinson that was a vocal piece. John had put together some mock up electronic drums and synths on this, and I had done the rhythm guitar work. I came up with a new guitar melody for it, then sent it to John for him to put real drums on it. Next, I thought the perfect keyboard player for this would be Michael Ruff. I sent it off to Michael who lives on the island of Kauai. He put some absolutely brilliant keyboard parts on it and sent it back. Next I wanted to replace John’s synth bass, so I sent it to John Pena in LA who cut a bass track for me, sent that back and then I did my guitar solo over it. Most of the songs were done in this fashion, where I was handpicking certain musicians that I wanted on certain tracks and sending files over the Internet and waiting to get parts back from them. It was an arduous process, starting in 2003 and finishing in 2014. What I really wanted to do with this record also was make an instrumental album that the common man would enjoy. It’s more of a pop record than the typical instrumental jazz record. I also wanted to feature many of the people that I had worked with over the years, so every song has other featured soloists. In all, 27 people worked on the album and every song has a different rhythm section.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Tell us more about the guitars you used.
MARTY WALSH: The album cover has five guitars on it. The one in front is my Valley Arts Strat that I have had since the early ’80s. Next to that is my 59 Fender Esquire, a ’79 Gibson Les Paul, an early ’70s SG set up for slide, and a Fender Strat from the ’80s. These are the main guitars on the record along with my acoustics, a Taylor Grand auditorium which was number 271 out of 300 that were the first ones Bob Taylor manufactured, a late ’70s Alvarez Yari nylon string, and an old Silvertone that I use for slide guitar. All of the electric solos were done on the Valley Arts, with the exception of the song “Inside The Rain” — which was played on the Fender.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Let’s go further back, to your musical upbringing.
MARTY WALSH: My father was a guitarist/vocalist who moved to Los Angeles from Chicago in his late 20s. He had toured with a few big bands, but decided that Los Angeles was where he wanted to settle down. He did a lot of society gigs as the Gene Walsh trio, also playing weddings, etc. I have two older brothers — John, who had a record contract with Warner Records when he was 19 years old, and my other brother Dan, who had a publishing deal straight out of high school. Dan was very successful songwriter in the ’70s. I started playing drums when I was 12. At 15 years old, I had been banging around on my father’s old Martin when my brother Dan said to me: “You’re a Walsh; you are a guitar player. You should sell your drums and play guitar.” He had a friend who had a 1961 Les Paul that I bought for 80 bucks! I wish I still had that guitar today.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Who were your musical influences?
MARTY WALSH: Obviously having two older brothers, they were very influential. My brother John had a lot of jazz records, one in particular I just fell in love with, it was called Contemporary Latin Rhythms by Barney Kessel. Interestingly, I was able to study with Barney when I was in my early 20s. My brother Dan was in a band in high school with Jay Graydon, so meeting Jay was a huge plus for me. I took lessons from him and used to hang out at a house he had in North Hollywood where we would talk music, guitar playing, etc. He gave me lots of great advice, in terms of how to have a career in the music business. In terms of guitar playing, the Clapton record with John Mayall was huge. I learned every note that he played on that record. Then into the ’70s, my focus was to try to become the studio player and so Larry Carlton was extremely influential. So many LA guys. Dean Parks, Jay — also, one of my contemporaries, Michael Landau really changed the sonic landscape back in the early 80s. As a guitarist, you really could not help but be influenced by what Michael was doing, but also other instrumentalists. Michael Omartian, for instance, started to hire me for sessions and working with him really tuned me into arranging/producing skills. Playing with great drummers was also so important in terms of time and groove. At 23 years old, I was hired to play guitar in the Eddie Kendricks band. The drummer was Uriel Jones, out of Detroit. Talk about going to groove school!
PRESTON FRAZIER: How did you become involved with Berklee?
MARTY WALSH: I moved to Massachusetts in 1996 and was continuing to do sessions, flying to LA, but also starting to produce local acts out of my home studio. It became apparent to me that the hub of the Boston music community revolved around the college. It seemed that most great musicians I was meeting had some kind of position there. In 2003, I contacted Ron Savage of the ensemble department to see if there was an opportunity to teach there. It turns out that there were quite a few more students that showed up in the fall semester than they had anticipated. They needed ensemble teachers, and so Ron brought me on board. I teach in the ensemble department and also in the music production department and am an assistant professor.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Let’s talk about your recent projects.
MARTY WALSH: Berklee keeps me pretty busy, aside from the classes that I teach. Recently I produced an album for the ensemble department. Ten songs, five bands. Heavy metal, bluegrass, neo-soul, Middle Eastern and jazz. Last year, Jimmy Page was given an honorary doctorate and I was asked to put together a medley of his signature guitar riffs. I handpicked a student band, including five guitarists and a vocalist, who did “Whole Lotta Love”. I work with George Massenburg once every semester at Berklee. George comes to a class that I have called the LA studio ensemble.
Recently, we worked with a young singer-songwriter by the name of Callie Huber, who I think is the best young songwriter I’ve heard in years. We cut this song called “Drowning.” I am working on a new EP with Callie at the moment. I’m also still doing sessions at my home studio. I recently cut tracks for an old friend Richard Lane who lives in London. We talked via Skype about the project and I did the guitar work and sent him mixes for his approval, until we got it right. I’ve also been doing some work recently for producer/engineer Greg Hunt, who did the LeAnn Rimes records. And I’ve been working on a project for an artist by the name of Tony Brown. Tony did an album that he felt needed another producer’s ear, and so I have been editing, replaying some things, adding new parts, kind of re-producing.
PRESTON FRAZIER: What’s next, in terms of your own music?
MARTY WALSH: The Total Plan was a project that I put so much time and effort into, I’m still working on getting that music heard. So, in terms of my music per se, I don’t have any strict plans at the moment. I’ve been having a great time working on other people’s stuff.
PRESTON FRAZIER: I’d like to close by asking you to name five must-have albums.
MARTY WALSH: This is a real tough question. As a guitarist I suppose I would have to say John Mayall featuring Eric Clapton and Blow by Blow by Jeff Beck. For overall musical content, Plays Live by Peter Gabriel, Aja by Steely Dan and Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen.