“The bass, no matter what kind of music you’re playing, it just enhances the sound and makes everything sound more beautiful and full. When the base stops, the bottom kind of drops out of everything.”….Charlie Haden
“Guitar is for the head, drums are for the chest, but bass gets you in the groin”…..Suzi Quatro
With his long, silky, fluorescent white beard, making him look like a holy figure or an ultimately thin Santa, Leland Sklar, one of the planet’s most iconic bass phenomenas, sat prepared to shed some sunshine, effervescence and humor on his legendary career and his highly anticipated coffee table book. Like fireworks plunging into the night sky and shattering the darkness, Sklar defied music and defined it at the same time. His career was orchestrated with a sophisticated anarchy while celebrating the threat of imagination.
Ever since the early 70’s Leland Sklar has been a discriminatory symbol amongst the Hollywood session Bass players and the L.A. rock music community having done over 2600 records. His signature bass style has been heard on hits by James Taylor, Phil Collins, Linda Ronstadt, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Willie Nelson, Jackson Browne, Hall & Oates, and many more. Not at all limited to music Sklar, has played on film soundtracks including Forrest Gump, Ghost, My Best Friends Wedding and television shows such as Hill Street Blues and Knight Rider. The name Leland Sklar appears on many album cover backs along with drummer Russ Kunkel, guitarist Dan Kortchmar, and keyboardist Craig Doerge, who would come to be known as the legendary band the “Section.”
Currently Leland is playing with his band, “The Immediate Family” and awaiting the unveiling of his book which is an artistic collection of profound images that he’s photographed throughout the years of celebrities and other people flipping him the bird….so while every inch of heaven (California) was engulfed with smoke Sklar proceeded with our conversation….
My first inquiry is how does someone start a YouTube page and the within 24 hours get over 100 thousand subscribers?
The people that do that are the people that go on YouTube and do a video of like eating boogers.
Well in this case I was talking about you.
When you really look at those kind of numbers, the ones who are getting five hundred thousand views are the ones with those weird jackass movies and things like that. As far as mine goes, I’’m totally blown away by the whole thing. I never thought I was doing a channel. I just thought I was putting up a couple of videos. The next thing I knew people were writing to me about how they loved my channel. I said, “what are you talking about?” Then suddenly there wasn’t a day I didn’t post something because I felt too guilty….It’s one of these things that when people are writing to you and telling you that you’re their oasis, and all of this madness…. all of a sudden I find myself sitting there and feeling a sense of obligation.
When did you decide during your life that it was your destiny to become an icon?
I never thought about any of it. I’ve always been very happy to be a working musician. That’s all I’ve ever cared about. I had real jobs before I met James Taylor. I had things that I did back in college, stuff to pay rent and things like that….
I’m wondering what kinds of rent paying jobs did you have?
I ran an off-set printing press at a place that made porno magazines. It was 2 blocks from the college and the guy told me he’d pay me $5 dollars an hour. I worked at a pool place that made pool filters… all kinds of shit that paid bills. I had no expectation that music would ever be a career. I was playing in bands and we were playing in bars. It was one of these things that happened so fast. It was like driving a dragster, you went from 0 to 300 in five seconds. It was two- fold….it was because of James Taylor, because he was the perfect storm at that time for a new movement and music, and Peter Asher. He insisted that when we recorded with James that our names appear on the album.
That was smart.
It certainly was for us, because back in the Wrecking Crew and all of those people….people were listening to Sinatra, The Mamas and Papas , The Association and The Beach Boys without a clue that it was the same musicians on everything. So for us, it was really a godsend that Peter told us to put our names on it so that people like Jackson Browne and people that would be following in the wake that James Taylor created would know who we were. They would look at James’s album and they would see me and Russ Kunkel on the album and say, ” look what they did for James’ album…..and the next thing you know they’d be calling us. I had been in the studio without ever being in the studio before to do demos. Suddenly were like the A-list guys and having to figure out how it all works right on the job.
Can you recall a single moment in time that changed the trajectory of your life?
I really thank it was the first thing we did with James at the Troubadour, because we really didn’t know what to expect. We felt we were doing one gig and really I’m still on that gig 50 years later. It was a real pivotal moment for the whole band, Russ Kunkel, Danny Kortchmar and Carole King. Carole was our piano player then. We just kept trying to encourage her to step out and do some of her songs at the beginning of the show, And the next thing you know she goes into the studio and cuts “Tapestry.” All of a sudden we have a side person in the band that has the biggest record in the world. So, she had to move on at that point. We spent like a year and a half with Carol and then “Tapestry.” I was doing and album with Tom Jens and Mimi Farińa who was Joan Baez’s younger sister. The keyboard player was this guy Craig Doerge and I called Peter Asher and I told him that I found a replacement for Carol. He came in and out of that “The Section“ formed. It’s kind of like knowing Kevin Bacon. There is six degrees out of all of this.
Do you remember the first time anyone ever asked you for your autograph?
Not really. You know the hard part of the career to me is in the beginning you don’t see where it’s going. So, you’re not really paying attention. You’re just happy to have that day. The one thing I regret is that I didn’t have a camera from the first day on, taking pictures of the artists, the producers, the studios and the musicians. Even if it was just an Instamatic. But I was just happy to have a gig for a day and the idea of it documented a half century later. Even if I was the only one who saw it to kind of relive, because the studios are gone, the people are gone. That’s my only real regret. So even things like autographs, it never even registered on me that somebody would come up. I remember one of the first reviews of James Taylor, they referred to me as Lewis Sonoma. On James’ English album, his very first album the bass player was named Louis Sonoma, so the people just assumed that I was the guy on that record because they didn’t know who I was. So, for a while everyone just kept on calling me Louis.
Have you had your ultimate stage fantasy?
Wow. One of the coolest things I remember was when Phil Collins was doing the music for “Tarzan.” We went back to New York to do the premier of “Tarzan.” One of the main songs on it was sung by Tina Turner. She flew in from Switzerland to do the show with us. I’ll tell you it was one of those things where…I had seen Ike and Tina back in the day but to actually see her come bopping on the stage, and how she took over the stage was incredible. It was just one of those things that because of the soundtrack we ended up with about 14 or 15 background singers, because it was a choir thing. She walked in immediately and organized all of the background singers around a couple of mics. I looked back at Phil and all he had to do that day was play drums. It was so beautiful because I looked over at him and he was a pig in shit that day because that’s all he ever really wants to do is play drums. Everything else that came to him was lower on his priority. If you bumped into him on the street not knowing who he was, and he started a conversation and asked him so what do you do, he would say “I’m a drummer.“ For him that’s what it is all about. So, I looked back on that and he was so thrilled, he didn’t even have to be out in front, and he just played drums. That was one of those moments. It isn’t so much that I had fantasies, but there has been some remarkable moments on stage. I feel fortunate that most of them I’m cognizant of and able to frame in my mind and I just don’t have to tell people what happened because they don’t remember. Not drinking and not doing drugs helped me stay cognizant of my life. There’s no virtue in it, it’s just for me what worked. I was around some pretty fucked up people at really young age and I saw how bad it could be. So for me I just knew from the get-go that I’m too much of a Type A personality to give up any control. I’ve been the designated driver since I was like 14.
Let’s talk about your coffee table book. Did the idea for the book or did the picture come first?
It’s about 300 pages and 6,000 photographs. There is some text in it. We are creating a website, and everything will be directed to the site. I’m also going to offer my artwork on it because I’m also an illustrator. It’s one of those things had it not been for the pandemic this would not have happened. Everybody’s searching for things to do.
I feel like all people can do is watch, read, listen and be creative now.
Yeah…It’s an interesting space that we’re in. There’s a grotesque monster side of it all that’s playing on the detriment of so many elements in society. Especially that it’s going on month after month, you can just fall into a depression, a deep funk over it. Suddenly I look at it as a year of war completely vanished and I thought “what the fuck am I going to do?” People have been bugging me for this book for years. I started taking these pictures back in 2004. It’s just been hovering. I go to the NAMM show and people run over to me and flip me off and ask, “is that what I’m supposed to do?” It’s become an urban myth. So now fuck it, it’s time to commit and let’s just really do it. It’s turned out unbelievable. The hard part now is I’m going to take delivery of 10,000 books and I’m going to be doing it as of now by myself. I’m also going to have a different level of books that are signed so I would have to have X amount of books anyhow. There were no book signings anywhere because people just can’t get together. Also, my income stopped so this could be a nice payday. This is uncharted territory for me being an entrepreneur, I’m a fucking bass player. I’ve never had a website, I’ve never needed one. I’m one of those people that had enough work to satisfy what I needed to do. If I pay all my bills and I put a little dough in the bank I’m content. I’m not driving Ferraris or anything like that. All of a sudden I find myself in a funny place. Between the Youtube channel and the book I sometimes just look in the mirror and think to myself “what the fuck is going on?”
When is the last time you shaved?
The last time I saw myself absolutely clean shaven was when they handed me my high school diploma in 1965. I’ve been with Maureen, this is our 50th anniversary in December and she’s never seen my upper lip. When I was in high school it was incredibly restrictive. I looked hippie but I was never a hippie, in fact Ozzie Nelson was freakier than me. My sister was taking acid and everybody was worried about me because I was the one that looked like a freak and she was the one that looked like Gidget. But it was an extremely restrictive time in high school where we had grooming guards, and where girls couldn’t wear patent leather shoes because they thought that maybe boys could see reflections under their skirts. So, the minute they handed me that diploma I was just “fuck you I’m out here.”
I’m excited for the release of your book!
The thing is I have between 11 and 12 thousand photos and we used 6,000. So, if this goes really good, I’ll do a volume 2. The thing that’s fun about the book is that there are all these different characters. There is Joe Average person in the street and all the people like Gwyneth Paltrow or Jack Nicholson. I’ve got Jay Leno and Matthew McConaughey, Paula Deen. I would just go to people and say “flip me off” and they would agree. The thing is there’s like a half a million ways of doing this, but to me the thing I find the most intriguing is the faces. When people are giving you the finger their expressions are infinite. To me that’s the thing that I am intrigued by in the book. If you go through all these pictures every face is a different emotion. I mean there are many ways of giving the finger, but boy the faces are so fabulous. The pages of the book are really high quality too. The cover is padded so when you pick it up it feels really good to hold. It’s about 320 pages, so it’s a substantial heavy book. It’s a really high quality art book and it isn’t expensive. I have a product and I just need a physical one to show and that will be in November. I will have them for Christmas. I’ve got a Santa suit and I’ll do a video…. I just want it to be fun. I just want people to have joy and to have a good time. I got on a flight once and Mary Wilson was sitting there reading this book the whole time. Then I saw what she was reading, and it was her autobiography. But the funniest one was…Dolly Parton has been a friend of mine forever. We’ve been really close friends. I got on a flight and there she was sitting there. I sat next to her and I looked over and she was reading Stephen Hawkins “A Brief History of Time.” I looked at her and said, “ that’s pretty good.” Then she opened the book and it was “Harry Potter.” She had put Stephen Hawkins as a cover just to fuck with people…..
What’s the name of your band?
The “Immediate Family” and it all came together because of Danny Korchmar. The thing is Danny, myself, Russ and Waddy have been together for 50 years and Steve Postell who I’ve known for 15 years ended up joining us. Danny had a record deal with a Japanese company called Vivid Records and had to fulfill an obligation and he called all of us to see if we wanted to do it and we said “absolutely.” He ended up calling the album “Danny Korchmar and The Immediate Family.” Then after that, everything just became the “Immediate Family” and we signed with a label called Quarto Valley Records. The American release will be with them, but that won’t be out until early next year, and Denny Tedesco from The Wrecking Crew is doing a documentary about us. Everything was going great until the pandemic. It’s still really deep here and it’s adversarial. People are looking at this like it’s fucking gun rights. Even if you don’t believe in wearing a mask for yourself do it for the people you’re around so that they feel more comfortable. I remember there was a quote on Facebook, “ Fuck you, you don’t wanna wear a mask, try wearing a bra in August.”
Follow Leland Sklar and subscribe to his Youtube Channel here: