Louie Shelton Brings Spirit Of Nightlife To Urban Culture

Veteran session guitarist draws from jazz and R&B influences for third album.

Urban Culture, the just-released third CD from legendary guitarist Louie Shelton, captures the essence of nightlife: people having a good time in cozy, smoke-filled clubs tucked away on narrow streets in big cities.

"There was this spirit of the nightlife that was going through a lot of the feeling of this album," Shelton said. "That was always in the forefront of my mind."

Shelton, 59, brings to his projects a vast store of musical experiences, including historic session work on such tracks as the Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville," Seals and Crofts' "Diamond Girl," Boz Scaggs' "We're All Alone" and the Jackson Five's "ABC." He tapped into that memory bank for the Urban Culture project, drawing images, sounds and emotions from his early days of gigging in clubs, playing jazz and blues deep into the wee hours of the morning.

It was all in the service of attempting to convey the similarities of different cities and cultures, Shelton said — a task most successfully carried out by the cut "Uptown" (RealAudio excerpt) and the title track (RealAudio excerpt).

"There is sort of a common ground major cities have," said Shelton, a native of Little Rock, Ark., who has lived in Los Angeles, Australia and now Nashville. "I spent 12 years in Australia and it didn't matter if it was Sydney or Melbourne or Los Angeles or New York City. When you get out and start mixing at night, going to the different clubs, you see that there are similarities."

Sharing Good Times

"I always felt that no matter what problems people are faced with, they could get out in the clubs at night and have a good time and share the music, share the dancing and in that moment enjoy the good things in life," Shelton said. "Music is something that serves that purpose."

Other standouts on the album are "Inner City Blues" (RealAudio excerpt), a track reminiscent of club trios who played groove blues in the late '60s; the sensuous, R&B-flavored "Teardrops"; and the funk-infused "Bugaloo."

"It's the kind of tune that I would have loved to have been sitting there with Herbie Hancock playing the piano with me," Shelton said. "It sort of reminds me of some of his funky stuff."

Arnie Holland, president and CEO of Lightyear Entertainment, which distributes Shelton's Nuance label, describes Urban Culture as Shelton's best solo project yet.

"I think now that he's been back in America for a number of years, he is very in touch with the music that's happening, and his own music has been blossoming as he has spent time in the studio," Holland said.

Holland said Lightyear also is looking forward to other releases by Nuance, including a solo project by Dash Crofts — of the '70s hit-making act Seals and Crofts — that Shelton produced.

Roots Music

Having played guitar on many early Motown hits, Shelton said he sees Urban Culture as a reflection of his musical roots. "R&B and jazz have always been a very strong part of my musical makeup," he said, "and I just sort of had the feeling that the genre of music that I was trying to fit my album into was something that incorporated hip-hop, R&B and jazz — smooth jazz, not the old traditional jazz so much — but music that the average listener would enjoy."

Shelton said the album has a "groove component" that appeals to everyone. "There's a large group of people that enjoy having this kind of music on for all kinds of reasons, whether it's background music at a party or at the office. It sort of sets a nice mood — not too serious, not too light. Just something that you enjoy having there."

A versatile and sought-after session player since the '60s, Shelton said he still enjoys playing for others but prefers recording for himself.

"Usually if I'm writing for someone else I have to be very deliberate with the direction I'm taking, but when I sit down to write for myself I feel a bit more freedom. ... I pretty much have the luxury of going into my studio, blocking everything out, having all of my equipment there and just let the music sort of come through. When the inspiration hits me I can go with it."