Larry Knechtel, Bassist

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by Lonnie Knechtel, Jan 22, 2022.


  1. Lonnie Knechtel

    Lonnie Knechtel

    Jan 19, 2022
    There was interest expressed in hearing from me about my father, Larry Knechtel, in his role as a session bassist with The Wrecking Crew.

    So, here we go, from my own perspective as a child and as a bassist...

    Dad was primarily known for his work on piano/keyboards, which was his primary instrument. However, he seemed rather adept at being able quickly assimilate whatever instruments he had available. He was first-chair clarinet in high school... he recorded an entire album playing harmonica ( "Larry Nelson -- The 'In' Harmonica... the label thought his last name was too weird to sell ), and he's known for playing the guitar solo on Bread's 'Guitar Man'. He once rented a tenor sax and within a couple weeks was noodling around on the thing, though his tone was reportedly terrible. My Mom couldn't handle hearing it, she made him return the thing after a month.

    Dad played piano in an 'inner city band' in his early teens which featured talented kids from the schools around Los Angeles. There he met Jim Horn and Mike Deasy, the three of them started jamming on rock and roll and before long found themselves playing in club bands and getting noticed. All three of them are now considered 'Wrecking Crew' members. Dad wrote and recorded 'Pigeon Toed' when he was 16, it became a local hit on the R&B stations and he got a royalty check for over $600. Both Dad and Jim got recruited into Duane Eddy's band in the late 50's and spent a while living in Tuscon, AZ where they played in various club bands and took jobs as extras in low-budget western films ('Thunder of Drums' being the most notable). Dad returned to L.A. when he met my Mom but still recorded with Duane into the early 60's.

    Sometime shortly after I was born (1962?), Dad was working days at my grandfather's grocery store and 6 nights a week in clubs to make ends meet... but at some point there was a dry spell where nobody seemed to need a pianist. My Mom confronted Dad and told him he had to get work somehow. So Dad borrowed a Fender bass from Duane Eddy and immediately started taking gigs as a bassist. I don't know if he had any prior exposure at all... but it saved the day and he was sought after.

    Dad was touring with Kip Tyler and the Flips when he got a call from Steve Douglas asking if he could do a recording session on piano. Dad understood the opportunity, quit the band, and promptly showed up for the session. It was the beginning of his session career. Through the early 60s there were more sessions and Dad realized he didn't have the formal training he needed to deal with them, so he hired the best piano teacher he could find (not sure who she was but she cost $25/hr) and woodshedded intensely for several years. He continued to play club gigs as a bassist, often backing Johnny Rivers at the Whisky-A-Go-Go. He also did start getting some session work as a bassist.

    The pivotal moment for Dad the bassist was the TV show 'Shindig'. The first-call guy for the job was Lyle Ritz... but the producers of the show didn't think Lyle was photogenic enough and passed on him. Lyle was a Wrecking Crew member and a gracious guy... He recommended Dad for the bass seat and even gave Dad a few lessons. Dad must've paid attention... link below is a clip of him playing upright behind Aretha Franklin... I had no idea he could do this. Another clip -- in this one he's dancing around behind Howlin' Wolf with the Rolling Stones soaking it up. I can't remember what time the show aired but Mom let me stay up late those nights to watch Dad on TV, I was like 5-6 at the time.

    Aretha Franklin

    Howlin' Wolf

    The visibility of Shindig opened up new doors for session work, I think Dad was getting more calls for bass than keyboards for several years. Some might have considered him a competitor to Carol Kaye and Joe Osborn... but in truth there was plenty of work to go around and Dad played mostly fingerstyle with a funky R&B vibe which was different from Carol or Joe's approach. Towards the end of the 60's, the Wrecking Crew was firmly entrenched and the majority of Dad's calls had shifted back to keyboards for the most lucrative sessions. But there was still plenty of 'show biz' work -- Hanna-Barbera, The Partridge Family, The Monkees, etc, where any given day Dad might be supplying sounds for Danny Bonnaducci's bass or Susan Dey's keyboards, just depended on who got the call and on what. Dad had an answering service booking his sessions, he was doing 3 sessions a day most days, with the last one generally reserved for those projects which had no firm arrangements and relied on the players to invent parts, etc. They would often last well into the AM... I rarely saw my Dad during the week in those years, he'd still be in bed when I went off to school.

    The trio of Hal Blaine, Joe Osborn, and Dad became the primary backbone of many pop records in the 1969-1972 period. They accompanied Simon and Garfunkel for 2 nights at Carnegie Hall, I got to go along for that. Joe had a recording studio in his garage, he had his own label, 'Magic Lamp' records. Dad spent a good amount of time there and there were some oddball 45's that emerged featuring various songs they'd written. Joe had met Karen Carpenter somehow and started using her as a drummer and background vocalist. I was sometimes killing time in Joe's back yard while all this was going on, playing with Joe's daughter who was my age (sorry, her first name escapes me now).

    As far as recording credits go, I leave all that to others to sort out. All I know is what I witnessed and things Dad told me later. Union contracts often settle debates as to who did what, but they only reflect who got paid for the session. Carol Kaye later laid claim to 'Mr Tambourine Man' by the Byrds... when challenged by others who said Dad did the session, Carol's response was something to the effect of '...well, Larry didn't play with a pick...'. I think Roger McGuinne finally emailed her a copy of the session contract showing Dad as the bassist and the subject was dropped. On the other end, Dad told me that Brian Wilson had him stay late after a session and asked Dad to track bass on 'Help Me Rhonda'. I don't know if they recorded over Carol's part (it's not like they had 24 tracks back then)... or which part ultimately made it on the record, but Dad was confident it's his. But the contract would likely show Carol. A similar instance was 'Mrs Robinson' by Simon and Garfunkel, Dad said he was the bassist on that one though Joe was on the other tracks on that album. Dad told me it was he who suggested to Paul the climbing guitar lick during the vamp, I think Dad showed it to him on bass.

    Dad's main bass was a '57 sunburst Fender Precision up until 1968, when it was stolen along with Dad's car one night during a session, Dad had left it locked in the trunk. He replaced it with a '58 sunburst which (since refinished) is what is now on display at the MHOF museum in Nashville (I'll post a separate thread about Dad's equipment). Dad played mostly fingerstyle, but would play with a pick if the producer asked him to. There were felt bass picks lying around the house when I was a kid. When I studied at North Texas State in the early 80's I landed a job as sound man for the jazz department, mostly working with the One O'Clock band. The guy who hired me was the assistant director of the department, Bobby Knight, who had played bass trombone on many Wrecking Crew sessions. He told me his most vivid memory of Dad was him sitting a the piano with a bass pick stuck to his forehead during a Nancy Sinatra session.

    Around 1972, Dad joined the group 'Bread'... which is credited with basically inventing 'Soft Rock', though that was more characteristic of David Gate's songs than the band as a whole. It was a lucrative opportunity but had its demands and Dad was less available for session work going forward. Dad did serve as Bread's main bassist, particularly in live shows, but other members would take the bass seat at times, which permitted Dad to play keyboards some.

    The early 70's saw the influx of new blood into the L.A. recording scene. The future members of Toto were sometimes hanging with Dad in his studio behind our house or sitting in control rooms during sessions, learning everything they could about the business. Other very capable players were making inroads... Dad had zero formal training on bass and could see the writing on the wall. In his words, 'When Lee Sklar showed up, I felt like I had to put the bass down...'. Which he didn't exactly do, but Dad and Lee were good friends and Dad mostly focused on keyboards after that. Dad still got some sessions though, and he played bass on the projects he produced, most notably 'Chevy Van' by Sammy Johns.

    By this time we had moved from L.A. to raise cattle in a wild corner of western Washington under the shadow of Mt Baker, Dad had figured his recording career had run its course and following a personal battle with cancer had decided he wanted to chase other dreams. He remained a member of Bread and still got a few session calls and production projects.

    By the late 70's, Bread had hit the skids with the two principal members locked in an acrimonious lawsuit which dragged on for years and resulted in the breakup of the band and an injunction being issued against all royalty payments. There was no more touring. Dad's bass sat in our studio, I would goof around on it jamming with my friends. David Gates ended up borrowing the bass for a while. When I was in Texas I was studying saxophone, but I had an old Univox bass (Hoffner copy) that Dad had given me in my grade school days and I found myself getting tapped for bass gigs by drummers I knew in school. Then I joined a cover rock band doing the roadhouse circuit down there and begged Dad to send me his bass, the Univox wasn't cutting it. Dad had David Gates ship it down to me, the bass was pretty much mine for the next 12 years until Dad finally made me give it back and go buy my own bass.

    Apart from a couple corporate gigs backing David Gates, Dad didn't do any more work on bass. Dad and I spent about 20 years playing together in bands and doing sessions for local projects, I was generally the bassist in those lineups.

    A high point for me occurred during a album session ('Heavy Wood') for a friend, Nolan Murray, who is a fiddle/mandolin player. Nolan had spent some time in Branson as Loretta Lynn's musical director, was roommates there with Bob Babbitt, and was good friends with John Cowan (Newgrass Revival/Doobie Bros). Nolan was also a member of a popular Canadian folk group, "The Tiller's Folly". So Nolan had all his friends in on the session... In all, there were 5 of us bassists in there, though John only provided vocals and Dad only played keys. Bob Babbitt, myself, and Laurence Knight (from Tiller's) provided bass tracks. To top it all off, the notable Philly producer Thom Bell dropped in on the session as he'd recently moved to the area. It was amazing we got anything done, the stories just kept flowing. Fortunately the studio had extended Nolan a generously low hourly rate.

    Dad's career got a reboot around 2005... Rick Rubin was doing retreads on artists such as Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond... Rick's preferred keyboardist was Benmont Tench ( Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers )... Benmont couldn't do the Neil Diamond session for 'Kentucky Woman' because he was already booked, so he said 'Call Larry Knechtel, he played on the original...'. Dad did the session, which led to him working with the Dixie Chix on their last album and subsequent tour. Dad and I had a recording project in work when he passed away in 2009, the tunes on the two memorial videos on YouTube are tracks from those sessions. The project remains incomplete, I may just post the basic tracks someday.

    I will say that even as a keyboardist, Dad was one hell of a bass player... he could jam all night playing walking left-hand bass on a MiniMoog or whatever, it was like there was a separate guy living in his left arm. It took some adjustment for he and I to work together with me as a bassist, it was hard for us to stay out of each other's way at times. Dad told me apologetically, 'Sorry, I just like my bass lines'. I liked his bass lines too, there's still much I could learn from them.

    Lonnie

    Memorial #1
    Memorial #2
    Larry Knechtel - Grammy award winner and legendary member of The Wrecking Crew and Bread
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 27, 2022
  2. BunchyMutt

    BunchyMutt Supporting Member

    Jul 3, 2014
    I’ll spend spend more time with this tomorrow but I just wanted to drop by quickly to give my deep appreciation and gratitude that you took the time to write all this and share it with us. I’m a relatively young guy on here and while I know many of the names and places you referenced, this is going to be a fascinating journey, learning session, and inspiration to read the details of a session musician from their son’s perspective. Thanks for inviting us into a slice of your dad’s and your world.
     
  3. This is the best thing I've read on the internet so far this year. Thanks for sharing.:thumbsup:
     
  4. b/o 402

    b/o 402

    Jul 14, 2015
    DC & MD
    Thank you for all the wonderful history about your dad! I knew some of the story but certainly not nearly all of it. What a life! I was fortunate enough to see him in Bread in late ‘71 at DAR Constitution Hall in DC. They sounded absolutely amazing live!
     
  5. Thank you for sharing. Much appreciated. I very much enjoyed the short history of you and your father.
     
  6. TomB

    TomB Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2007
    Vermont
    Thank you Lonnie and welcome to the forum! Do you know David Osborn, Joe’s son? He’s on here somewhere @david osborn.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2022
  7. Lowendchamp

    Lowendchamp Supporting Member

    Jun 27, 2021
    Shelton WA
    Awesome! Thanks man it's nice to hear a child's perspective. (Even though I'm younger than you but you know what I mean) Again thanks for your time and the read! Your Dad had a tough but truly blessed life.
     
  8. Michedelic

    Michedelic MId-Century Modern

    Thank you for doing this; like I mentioned in that other thread, he has been under the radar for far too long, and he’s practically invisible in the Wrecking Crew documentary. The fact that it’s him with Howlin’ Wolf(and the Stones)on Shindig is so cool. I guess that’s Billy Preston on piano? I love all those behind the scenes stories. Keep ‘em coming, they will be appreciated.
     
  9. Michael4bass

    Michael4bass

    Aug 20, 2011
    Florence, MS
    Lonnie, thanks so much for this! When I was living in Nashville, I'm thinking it was the summer of '96, I got to play a blues gig with your dad, he was on B3. What a true gentleman he was, lots of stories from sessions, etc. He was such a pleasure to hang out with on the breaks. I remember him saying that he was planning to move back to the farm, which he did a year or so later. That was a sad day when I heard of his passing. Looking forward to more stories and info about your dad.

    Bassically, Michael
     
  10. Michedelic

    Michedelic MId-Century Modern

    Just a few days ago there was some discussion on the “60’s Bassists” thread about his work on the first Doors album. Also, let us know what you’ve been doing. Thanks.
     
  11. ElectroVibe

    ElectroVibe

    Mar 2, 2013
    I've always liked this Bread video.

     
  12. CryingBass

    CryingBass Ours' is the only Reality of Consequence Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 8, 2016
    Excellent and very cool life story. Thanks for sharing!
     
  13. Great stuff! Thanks for sharing.
     
  14. Thanks awfully much for this, Lonnie. I’m glad to read that your dad and Leland Sklar wound up as friends. Lee speaks very warmly of Larry on his youtube channel whenever his name comes up. And that’s quite often given the amount of work they shared.
     
  15. bmusic

    bmusic

    Oct 22, 2017
    Los Angeles
    Thanks so much for sharing your story.
     
    Dr. Cheese, TN WOODMAN and TyBo like this.
  16. What an awesome read, many thanks.
     
  17. TyBo

    TyBo

    Dec 12, 2014
    Thanks for sharing this! For me, the fadeout keyboard part on Simon and Garfunkel's "America" is just a magical piece of playing from Larry Knechtel. The keyboard helps set the tone all through it, and the wistful repeated keyboard figure at the end just puts a perfect tag on the tune. What a player!
     
  18. DeepHz

    DeepHz Supporting Member

    Jul 4, 2017
    Clifton Park NY
    Wow! Thanks for sharing this story of your Dad!
     
  19. Roxbororob

    Roxbororob Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2015
    Montreal
    That post made my day! Thanks for sharing those memories with us Lonnie.
     
  20. @Lonnie Knechtel thanks so much for taking your time to post this detailed account
     
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