Marty Walsh – The Interview

Marty Walsh Interview

Marty Walsh ©  – Used With Permission

Having played a part in sessions for the likes of Dolly Parton, Donna Summer, and Eddie Money, as well as having served as a member of Supertramp in the ’80s, you could say guitarist Marty Walsh has seen more than most.

With a buttery smooth tone and an ability to genre hop as few can, Walsh’s chameleon-like ability has seen home affect numerous sessions, albums, and tours throughout a 40+ year-long career. As one of the premier studio musicians of his era, serving as a proverbial linchpin of a myriad of iconic sessions throughout the early and mid-80s.

Walsh lent his Stratocaster-bred licks to cuts such as Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” Eddie Money’s “Shakin’,” and Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard For The Money,” showing inherent diversity and immense songsmith. And while those exploits proved pivotal, it was Walsh’s tenure with Supertramp on classic records Brother Were You Bound and Free as a Bird before departing in the late ’80s for sessions anew.

In the years since, Walsh has continued his low-key six-string heroics, taking on sessions that serve his passion as he sees fit. Additionally, Walsh is paying it forward, teaching at the Berklee College of Music, teaching young students who harbor a shared passion for music. For Walsh, life might have slowed down, but as he continues forward, one thing is certain, the longtime California resident will have a guitar in hand.

Winds down after a busy 2022, Marty Walsh dialed in with to recount his origins in music, working with Dolly Parton, Eddie Money, and Supertramp, his most memorable sessions, and what’s next for him as he moves ahead.

As a young musician, what was the moment which first sparked your interest in music?

My father was a musician, and my older brothers were both involved in music. My oldest brother John had a record deal with Warner Bros. when he was 19, and my other brother Dan was a songwriter who was good at it and wrote hits, and it just seemed like a natural to follow that path.

Who were some of your earliest influences that first shaped your style?

I suppose the first was Eric Clapton in high school. The John Mayall record that he did just floored everybody and changed the whole approach. My musical mentor Jay Graydon was very helpful as well. Besides Clapton, I would have to say that the main influence was Larry Carlton. Being in L.A., we were all very aware of Larry and really adopted a lot of what he was doing at the time.

How did you come to work with Dolly Parton on her hit “9 to 5?”

I had played on some hits by that time, and I had just become one of the go-to L.A. studio guys. There was a particular contractor named Frank Decaro in L.A. who booked Jay [Graydon] on a lot of stuff, but by this time, Jay was starting to recommend me for sessions that he did not want to take because of his production schedule, and that just landed in my lap. I’m not sure if Jay recommended Frank to call me, but Frank is the one that called me for the session and little did I know it was going to be such a big record.

You also featured on “She Works Hard For the Money” by Donna Summer. Did you find it difficult to switch from one genre to another?

Not really, I had worked with producer Michael Omartian quite a bit by the time we did that record. Michael knew what my style was, and I guess he figured I was the right guy for that record. Again, this is one of the records that Jay Graydon potentially could’ve done because he was on much of that album along with myself. I do recall the fact that prior to Michael calling me, we were in a session together, and I was using a Boss Octave Divider that I had just come out of. When his assistant called me, she mentioned that he wanted me to make sure to bring that particular effect that we used on the chorus lines.

You featured on Eddie Money’s No Control record as well. Was there talk of you permanently joining him?

Yes, that was a big record for him, and he wanted me to go on the road, but I was so busy doing sessions that I really did not want to go out of town. One of the things about being a studio musician is there are a lot of players that can do the gig. If you leave town, you are opening the door for someone else to take your spot so going on the road is something that nobody really wanted to do when you’re doing a lot of sessions.

Take me through your first joining Supertramp. Do you recall the audition and who else you were competing against?

The Supertramp gig was an interesting one. The drummer in that band, Bob Seibenberg, is from my hometown, Glendale, CA. We played together a few times in high school, and once he graduated high school, he moved straight to London and wound up in that band. Years later, he came walking into a club in Toluca Lake that I used to go to to watch a friend of mine’s band play. I couldn’t believe it; he was on his way back home from Hollywood, where he was at the mix session of Breakfast in America.

Apparently, all of the Supertramp guys had relocated to Los Angeles. We rekindled the relationship, and through the years, I met all of the Supertramp guys, minus Roger [Hodgson]. In 1982 Rick Davies asked me if I would come to the studio and jam with those guys because he thought he might want me to play on the album that was eventually titled Famous Last Words.

I was a known commodity as a studio guitar player in L.A., and I guess Rick figured to check me out. I didn’t play on that album, but after that tour that they did, Roger left the band, and I got the call to work on Brother Where You Bound. After that, of course, they wanted me to go on the road, which at that time because they were as big as they were, I thought it might be a good idea.

What are your memories of Brother Were You Bound and Free as a Bird?

Brother Were You Bound was done at Ocean Way in Hollywood with David Kirschenbaum as the producer; it was quite meticulous as Supertramp could be. They had the studio locked out, and we just did quite a few takes of all of the songs that they wanted to do. Lots of quadruple tracking of guitars that David was a fan of, and it was somewhat of a loose vibe that kept the schedule pretty relaxed.

Free as a Bird is a fascinating story. When we went on the road with Brother Were You Bound, the boys had hired a fellow by the name of Mark Hart to sing background vocals and play keyboards. It turned out that Mark was a pretty good guitarist as well, and when they started working on Free As A Bird, they decided to do it as a five-piece with Mark essentially replacing Roger playing keyboards and guitar.

I figured that was the end of my stint with Supertramp, but I got a call from Rick to come into his home studio to do some work on it. I wound up playing on most of the guitars on the record, and because of that, Rick once again asked me to go on tour with them, which of course, I did.

From a songwriting perspective, how did you best affect the music?

The song is obviously the most important piece. Being a session musician, your role is to support what will help the song; it is certainly not about you and your ability to stand out. You find things that work for the track that will benefit the song. With David Kirschenbaum, he was pretty open to my ideas, and there was a bit of a formula to it all, it seemed.

With Free As A Bird, Rick was producing, and he was pretty open to my creativity. I do know at one point; he was a bit mystified as to what to do with the guitar on the title track. He played it to me, and immediately, I thought to grab the 12-string, especially since that is something that Roger featured on his guitar parts over the years. I came up with a part on 12-string that became a pretty big piece of the arrangement, actually. When we went on the road in the tour book Rick had written a really nice description of how important my part was for that song.

What led you to move on from Supertramp?

After the 1988 tour, Rick decided to do a solo album without any of the Supertramp members. I was out. [Laughs]. He got together with guitarist Carl Verheyen who had been on the road with us in 1986, and Carl put together a different group of musicians. They spent quite a few years working on this thing but ultimately brought back some of the original members and put out the next Supertramp album. The Rick Davies solo record wound up becoming that.

As you’ve moved through your career, why have you chosen to remain a session player as opposed to sticking with one band?

I had a few bands that were actually in negotiations with record labels years ago. Twice I got the call from managers that we had struck a deal; the lawyers were working on the details, and both times, the projects went belly up. I guess it wasn’t meant to be, but honestly, my goal musically was to write hit songs, not necessarily to be a guitarist.

The guitar was a means to an end. It provided a good living while I was working with these bands, hoping to make that a livelihood. When it didn’t happen, the sessions were still there, so I kept doing them and, of course, decided that if I wasn’t going to go on the road with my band, then why not go on the road with a band like Supertramp? After all, they were one of the biggest of the big at the time. It all worked out in the end.

What are some of the most significant challenges as a session musician? What do you like most?

Of course, sight reading is the greatest challenge, but in the work that I did on records, there wasn’t a lot of it. If you are doing film dates, you have to be able to read really well, while record dates are more about creativity and supporting songs, as I said. I suppose the other challenge is what I like the most, which is coming up with parts that seem to fit and getting the sound right.

Which guitar to choose and which effects to use can have a big impact on the part you are playing. Finally, the biggest skill set that one can have as a studio musician is your feel. You have all the chops in the world, but if you don’t feel good, you’re not going to get called, so making sure that the feel of the track you’re playing is always as good as it can be is paramount.

Can you recall your most interesting session? How about one where things went completely wrong?

That’s a tough call. I guess I would have to say the most interesting would be the album that I did with Eddie Money called No Control. The fact that Tom Dowd was producing it was such a huge deal to me. I knew Tom’s work because he had done the Eric Clapton records, and I was a bit starstruck, to be honest. Along with Tom was phenomenal engineer Andy Johns and the sound of the record, when they were playing back, was just spectacular. Those sessions were so great to be a part of; I think it might have been Eddie’s biggest record, actually.

Regarding the session where things went wrong, I was working for a producer in L.A. who was known to be really tough. It was the first time I had worked for him, and the initial guitar part I had to do was a nylon acoustic part. That went down swimmingly, and next up was an R&B kind of thing. I came up with a part that he really liked, and he told the engineer and me to lay it down. He left the room, and we did that.

He comes back, listens, and now he doesn’t like it. Uh Oh. He wanted to change the part, and we went through this for an hour or so, constantly changing the part. We would come up with something; he would say he loves it, tells us to record it, leaves the room, comes back in the room, and tells us he doesn’t like it! It was crazy. I guess he eventually settled on something because one of my parts did make the record.

Where do you see yourself in five, ten, or twenty years?

Oh man, if I live that long? [Laughs]. My gig at the moment is teaching college students at Berklee College of Music in Boston which I absolutely love doing. I’m still recording at my home studio. I get the odd call now and then but quite frankly, from here on out, I really just like doing music that means something to me.

I’ve gotten calls from some people to do sessions, and if I don’t like the piece of music, I just turn it down. If I feel like it’s right for me, I take the gig and do it, but the days of being a studio musician and feeling like I have to do sessions to make a living are behind me. Musicians never retire, although having a beach house sounds like something that I would certainly enjoy!

Marty Walsh Interview

Marty Walsh © – Used With Permission

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