Larry Klein Breaks Down His Career in 15 Tracks

The Grammy-winning producer and musician shares stories about working with Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Madeleine Peyroux, Peter Gabriel, and more.

February 8, 2019

Ahead of his Signature Series event on February 21, Larry Klein curates the following playlist that surveys his long, Grammy-winning career as a producer, songwriter, and musician. In this sampling of the songs that defined his four-decade career, Klein takes us behind the scenes of each track here, providing unforgettable snapshots that try, as he says, "to show something interesting regarding record production, playing on other people’s albums, and cowriting."

1. "Mercy Street," Peter Gabriel

"I was in England working on producing an album for Ben Orr of The Cars, when Peter Gabriel called me to come in and play on some songs of his that were to become part of his album So. This was an incredible honor for me, as I had been a big fan of his work since his Genesis days. I came into the studio and the first thing that Peter and Daniel Lanois asked me to play on was a song about Anne Sexton, who was one of my favorite poets. The piece just about brought me to tears, and I set to putting together a part composed of two bass parts. The piece still moves me immensely."

2. "You Dream Flat Tires," Joni Mitchell

"In 1981, I got a call to come in and play bass on some sessions for Joni Mitchell that were tracks that ended up being the album Wild Things Run Fast. She had only written three songs to begin with, and this song was one of them. Over the course of the next year, we did more of these tracking jags, and she and I became musical friends. Her correlative intelligence, musicality, artistic commitment, and creative spirit were unlike any person that I had ever met. We went on to make quite a few albums together, fell in love, and were married for 10 years. We ended up working very closely together on this record, and essentially coproduced it."

3. "Darkling Down," Walter Becker

"Walter Becker and I met at the 2001 Grammys after Steely Dan had won the Album Of The Year award for their album Two Against Nature. We immediately became close friends and vowed to do something musical together. In 2007, Walter asked me if I would like to cowrite and produce a solo album of his with him. He didn’t have to twist my arm. Over the next year we got together in N.Y.C. and L.A. for writing periods, and ended up writing about 15 songs together, which we distilled down into what became Circus Money. Writing with him was pure joy. I learned an immense amount about what good songwriting was from this guy who really felt like the older brother that I never had. I love this song that we wrote while consuming a couple of bottles of good wine and laughing our asses off at the short story that we concocted in the form of a song."

4. "Don’t Wait Too Long," Madeleine Peyroux

"In 2004, I met Madeleine Peyroux, and we set out to make an album that was to become Careless Love for Rounder Records. I had rarely met a more intuitive, idiosyncratic, bright, and delightful person. Madeleine really wanted to start on a path of writing her own songs, so we ended up doing a three-way collaboration on this song with the greatly talented songwriter Jesse Harris. It was to become a big signature song for Madi, and we set out a goal that we would have four newly written songs on the next album that we did, and that the next one after that would consist entirely of newly written songs. The next album was entitled Half The Perfect World, and the following one was called Bare Bones. We achieved what we had set out to do, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that continues today. Madeleine will be singing at the concert on February 21."

5. “Never Die Young,” Luciana Souza

"In 2007, my wife Luciana Souza and I set out to make an album for Verve Records adapting what we considered to be undeniably great songs in the bossa nova aesthetic. One of the songs that we both could not get out of our heads when narrowing down our list was James Taylor’s great song, 'Never Die Young.' I had always found this song incredibly moving and intriguing. I had known James for quite a few years, having had the honor of playing in his band briefly for a Prince’s Trust concert in London. Our expectations were exceeded when James graciously agreed to sing on the song with Luciana, making it into a beautiful duet."

6. “The Jungle Line (feat. Leonard Cohen),” Herbie Hancock

"In 2006, Herbie Hancock asked me to make an album of Joni’s songs with him, reimagining a group of her songs and looking at them through the lens of Herbie’s sensibility and immense gifts as a musician, composer, and jazz giant. By that point, Leonard Cohen had also become a very good friend of mine, and a person who became a huge teacher and influence upon me creatively and artistically. Herbie told me at the beginning of the project that he “had never listened to words in songs." So, we set out to explore Joni’s poetry, with me guiding him through what I felt were good contenders for us to look at in regard to which songs we were to reimagine. With 'The Jungle Line,' I was lucky enough to bring three huge influences and teachers together on one track. Quite a thrill. We also were thrilled to win the Grammy for Album Of The Year for this work, it being only the second jazz album in history to win that Grammy prize."

7. “Imagine,” Herbie Hancock

"In 2009, Herbie asked me to watch a documentary called The Path Of Man, and to come back and talk with him about it. We decided that we would try to make an album that traced the path that the Homo sapiens had migrated along during the earliest days of our species. I brought in an album by a great group called Konono N°1 from Congo, said that I had an idea of how to use them to record 'Imagine,' and we agreed that we could record with them in Kinshasa. I then found out that Kinshasa was not a safe place to go, so we decided upon Paris as our junction point, but we were off and running. Eventually we pared down our lofty goal, and went to a more realistic construct for the album. The original idea would probably have taken us 10 years to make!"

8. “Who Will Comfort Me,” Melody Gardot

"In 2008, I met with an incredible young artist named Melody Gardot in the Tea Room of the Carlyle Hotel in N.Y.C. I had heard a couple of songs from an album that she had made herself in Philadelphia, and immediately loved her vibe. We had a wonderful meeting and I had my manager start trying to get her set up with a record deal so that we could make an album. After a big bidding war and a lot of work helping her to get the right group of songs written, we got to making an album in L.A. It turned out to be a beautiful album called My One And Only Thrill, and it came out and did extremely well. She is now a big star in Europe, especially in France, but also in Scandinavia, and everywhere other than the U.S. We are now getting ready to make an orchestral album of 'standards.'”

9. “New York Tendaberry,” Billy Childs

"Billy Childs and I met in about 1971 in a music theory/composition class at the Community School at USC in L.A. We were both in middle school and immediately became good friends. We were both obsessed with jazz and were in a class full of other immensely talented students who were more classically oriented. Billy had been turned on to Laura Nyro’s music by his older sister Kirsten, and he, in turn, turned me on to her great body of work. We ended up working together with Freddie Hubbard and many other great jazz heroes of ours, such as Joe Henderson and Bobby Hutcherson. In 2013, Billy approached me about working with him to produce an album of Laura Nyro’s music, and braiding together both of our aesthetics to create a resetting of Nyro’s songs with Billy writing the arrangements and being the central artist. We were fortunate enough to have Wayne Shorter, Yo-Yo Ma, Renee Fleming, Rickie Lee Jones, Dianne Reeves (who we had been in a group together with many years earlier), Esperanza Spalding, Ledisi, and others generously assist us in making an album that I am very proud of. Billy is one of my oldest and dearest friends, and he won a Grammy for his arrangement of 'New York Tendaberry' on this album."

10. “I Wish I Were In Love Again,” Joni Mitchell

"In 1999, Joni and I decided to make an orchestral album that would be a programmatic album, tracing the arc of a relationship, from the inception of flirtation all the way through to the resolution of the relationship turning back into a friendship. It followed the same arc as Joni's and my relationship, and we would laughingly come to refer to the series of songs as 'the stations of the cross.' We enlisted our friends Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Billy Preston, along with the great arranger Vince Mendoza, in helping us in the task of making this 'standards' album, and ended up winning a couple of Grammys for it—and creating an album that we both love to this day."

11. “The Boys Of Summer,” Don Henley

"In 1983, I was called to come in to play on a couple of songs for the great singer and songwriter Don Henley. His work with the Eagles had always been a watermark of great songwriting for me, so I was thrilled to go in and play bass for him and Danny Kortchmar, another hero of mine, who was coproducing the album with Don. Don had written an amazing song to a great track that the great guitar player Mike Campbell [of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers] had written, and I had a great time playing on this beautiful song about a youth looked back upon."

12. “On My Own,” Madeleine Peyroux

"Here is a song from the Anthem album that I just made and that was released this past year. Madeleine and a group of like-minded musician-writers including David Baerwald, Brian Macleod, Patrick Warren, and myself collaborated on writing almost all of the new songs on this topical album that ended up being our darkly humorous look at what is going on in the world these days. Also contributing a beautiful mix on this album is my good friend Tchad Blake."

13. “The Book,” Luciana Souza

"Here is a song that is a setting of a Leonard Cohen poem from his brilliant collection, The Book of Longing, after which we named the album. Together with the great bassist Scott Colley and the great Brazilian guitarist Chico Pinheiro, we made this album last year. For me, it is a gorgeous testament to Luciana’s incredible gifts as a composer and vocalist. It was a joy to make, and I am nominated for Producer of the Year at this year’s Grammys for the work that I did on it, as well as on Madeleine’s Anthem album, and the next selection on this playlist."

14. “All These Things,” Thomas Dybdahl

"Many years ago I was sent one track off of a Norwegian artist’s album by a dear friend of mine who has exceptionally good taste in all things, and very much so in music. I loved the song, and it sat on my computer’s desktop for a few years, until I was offered the job of creating an imprint that would be distributed through Universal Music International. When I was offered this, the first artist that came to mind was Thomas Dybdahl, who was the artist who had written and recorded the song. I got on a plane to Oslo and went to see him live, and was thrilled to see that he was just as good live as I had expected him to be from his recordings. We have made two albums together now—this is from the last one, which we made this past year, and is also one of the projects on which I am nominated for a Producer of the Year Grammy."

15. “Inner City Blues,” Molly Johnson

"Here is another album that I made this last year with a great artist from Canada named Molly Johnson. Molly is a very well-known fixture on the Canadian music scene, and has a voice that immediately made me wanted to make a record with her. It is another part of the body of work this last year for which I am nominated for a Grammy. Additionally, it is nominated for a Juno at the Canadian Music Awards this year in the Best Adult Contemporary Album category."

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