When you think of that certain style of classic jazz guitar that is smooth, soulful, melodic, flowing and immediately likeable, you think of names like Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel, George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Earl Klugh and Larry Carlton. Now Lloyd Gregory has taken his place on that list of illustrious jazz guitarists. On his fourth album, Free Fallin', Gregory tips his hat to those who influenced him while carving out his own distinctive style that also includes hints of his R&B roots.
"Music is comprised of traditions, even when mixed with innovations," Gregory says, "so, of course, every musician is building upon sounds that came before. I admire and respect those jazz guitarists and I learned a lot from them. But my influences also include early soul innovators like Curtis Mayfield, many of the guitarists in the various Motown artist's bands, and Ike Turner. Going even further, I have been inspired by rock'n'rollers from Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley through Hendrix to Eddie Van Halen. And on the other end of the spectrum I have been influenced by acoustic players who bridged between jazz, Latin and classical like Django Reinhardt, Bola Sete, Andres Segovia and Manitas de Plata. Even so, I never sat down and simply learned other guitarists' solos off their albums. Instead, I studied and absorbed their styles in a more general sense."
Lloyd Gregory, a popular entertainer on the San Francisco/Bay Area music scene for several decades, has an instrumental sound that may be the epitomy of smooth, but it also contains subtle elements of classic soul music due to his early career as an R&B performer, especially the years he spent touring extensively while serving as the musical director for The Ballads, Natural Four and Jesse James, and performing on their albums.
Gregory also has recorded with Martha Reeves, MC Smoothe and Freddie Stewart (Sly & The Family Stone); and has performed onstage with Rodney Franklin, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Gerald Albright, Lenny Williams (Tower of Power), Freda Payne, The Dells, and Lowell Fulsom.
Lloyd's albums show his versatility. His debut album Wonderful -- which received heavy airplay nationwide and climbed the jazz charts in the top music industry radio publications Radio & Records and The Gavin Report -- featured contemporary jazz with some R&B and funk elements. Only For You continued in that vein with some tunes featuring his acoustic guitar playing and others showcasing Gregory on a solid-body electric. His third album was a change of pace as the title, Solo Guitar, indicates. The CD features Lloyd alone on acoustic playing standards like "Sophisticated Lady" and "Ain't Misbehavin" for audiences that have come to know that side of him from his solo concerts. But Gregory most often performs live with an ensemble, and many of those musicians make appearances on his new Free Fallin' disc (on the Integy Entertainment label). However, on the album Lloyd primarily plays his Ovation Custom Legend round-back acoustic guitar while at concerts with his band he likes to rock a bit harder and usually he plays a Yamaha electric.
Free Fallin' is available in stores and at www.integyentertainment.com. More information on Lloyd is available at his website (www.lloydgregorymusic.com).
Free Fallin' features a dozen tunes, mostly originals, plus covers of Thelonious Monk's jazz standard "'Round Midnight" and George Gershwin's "I Love You Porgy." The material ranges from the rapid percussive sound of "Kermudgen" (which also includes a flute solo) to the beautiful ballad "Snow Bear." "Steve's House," one of the few tracks with Lloyd playing both acoustic and electric guitar, was written in Stevie Wonder's living room.
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Musicians on the album include bassist Eric Smith (Destiny's Child), bassist Gary Calvin (Jean-Luc Ponty, Jeff Lorber), drummer Billy Johnson (Santana, Frankie Beverly & Maze), drummer Ritchie Aguan (The Whispers), multi-instrumentalist Felton Pilate (MC Hammer, Con Funk Shun), pianist Glenn Pearson (Boys Choir of Harlem), keyboardist Percy Scott (The Whispers), flutist Roger Glenn (Mongo Santamaria) and other top Bay Area players.
Gregory grew up in Cleveland with music a major part of his life -- at home (his mother played piano and Lloyd started at age five), at church (his grandfather was a minister) and at school (Lloyd played trombone, drums and cello -- the latter from elementary school through high school). Gregory began learning guitar at age 10, and through high school played guitar and piano in a R&B band covering James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and The Temptations. Lloyd's senior year he moved to Berkeley, California, and put together a band called The Aztecs (Sly Stone joined them onstage one time). The band won a talent contest where Gregory was spotted by the manager of The Ballads, who got Lloyd in the musician's union and made him the vocal group's musical director for several national tours playing on the same bills with Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight & The Pips and many others.
This early experience taught Gregory how to be a band leader and it led to tours with other R&B acts. At one point he paid the rent by playing in San Francisco strip clubs with former members of Santana. He also did a USO tour of Japan, and toured with Mary McCrary (Edwin Hawkins Singers, New Generation), Maxine Howard, Shirley Jones (Diana Ross) and jazz-poet Oscar Brown, Jr. Over the years Gregory and his band have been joined on-stage by artists such as Bernard Purdie (James Brown, Aretha Franklin, George Benson) and Gaylord Birch (Graham Central Station, Pointer Sisters). As a studio musician in Los Angeles, Gregory worked with producer Richard Perry and played sessions with top musicians such as Klaus Voorman (The Beatles), Arthur Adams (B.B. King, Quincy Jones), Harvey Mason (Herbie Hancock, George Benson) and Joe Sample (The Crusaders). Also as a session player Lloyd played on a Latin-jazz album by The Funky Aztecs.
Gregory has played on several albums by upcoming blues artists including Zakiy a Hooker (John Lee's daughter), Sugarpie Desanto and Maxine Howard. In addition, Gregory studied under Warren Nunes and took Masters Class Seminars from Barney Kessel and Howard Roberts. On Gregory's first two albums he had musical guests that included Felton Pilate, Rodney Franklin, harmonica player Norton Buffalo (Steve Miller) and top session percussionist Ken Nash. When Lloyd tackled his acoustic Solo Guitar album, he found inspiration in the music of Bola Sete, Christopher Parkening and Juan Sereno. Other influences through the years have included Al Dimeola, John McLaughlin, Mel Brown, Oscar Peterson, Lester Young, Chet Atkins and Stanley Clarke.
Gregory has studied and taught martial arts (Tae Kwon Do -- the Korean system of Karate) for more than 20 years. He has studied under master Byong Yu and attained a Second Degree Black Belt. "Through martial arts I learned to first start with the physical training, then the mental training and finally the spiritual training. This led me to an on-going period of spiritual exploration and meditation. At the same time I have studied certain aspects of music including harmonic structure, rhythms, arranging and especially the vibrations of sound, and how all of this is linked to the body and to the spirit."
Most of the arrangements on Free Fallin' were created in the studio as a result of the input and interplay of the musicians on each tune. "I only give the band the basic structure of the piece, just enough of a roadmap to get started, because I want them to each be creative themselves. We take the seed, water it and allow it to grow. We nurture the music with love. Hopefully each listener feels what went into the music and can take some of that away with them."