Grateful Web Interview with Leland Sklar

Article Contributed by L. Paul Mann | Published on Monday, October 18, 2021

You may not know the name Leland Sklar but you almost certainly have heard his bass lines if you listened to rock radio in the last five decades. The prolific musician has contributed to more than 2000 albums, including hit albums by Jackson BrowneCarole KingPhil CollinsLinda RonstadtJames Taylor and many more. He has also toured with numerous well known musicians including James Taylor, Toto, Phil Collins and other well-known rock and pop stars. When he is not busy working with other projects, he works on recording many soundtracks to films and television shows and even has his own podcast. Leland took a short break from his busy schedule to chat with Grateful Web recently.

GW: You grew up in Wisconsin. How did you get your start as a musician? How did you gravitate towards the bass guitar at the beginning?

Leland: My musical journey began when I was about five years old watching the Liberace TV Show. I became enamored with the piano and began taking lessons and took to it very quickly. By the time I was about nine years old, I had won awards from the Hollywood Bowl Assoc. When I entered junior high school at 12 years old, I assumed that I would be the pianist, but, as fate would have it, there were many kids that played piano, and the teacher said they needed a string bass player. So, I tried it and immediately fell in love with it, and that moment changed my life.

GW: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?

Leland Sklar

Leland: I grew up in a very eclectic house, and my parents had an extensive record collection, so I was exposed to lots of music in many different styles. So I was influenced by everything I heard during my formative years.

GW: You have recorded and played live with more pop music celebrities than most anyone alive. What are some of your favorite memories on the road or in the studio?

Leland: Such a difficult question, for there are wonderful experiences around every corner when working. I love all the years I spent with James Taylor, who was really the beginning of my professional career. Still, there have been so many from Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Carol King, Billy Cobham, Phil Collins, Lyle Lovett, TOTO, and on and on ....I feel so fortunate every day that I have had the opportunities that I have had to work with the most creative and remarkable people in the world of music.

Leland Sklar

GW: Let's talk about bass guitars. You designed many of your own over the years. Could you give us a quick layman's summary of how the instruments you have built have evolved over the years?

Leland: I actually have only done one bass from the ground up. It is the one I call Frankenstein, for it was lots of pieces that we, Myself and John Carruthers, built from scratch. I have used that bass on almost everything I have recorded since 1974. My other basses, Dingwall and Warwick, I had a part in the development of my signature models. I am not a collector and try to have only what I use.

GW: What kept you busy during the pandemic? Do you miss playing live music?

Leland: I cannot tell you how much I have missed playing live. It is my lifeblood. I love the studio, but my heart will always be with live performances. When the pandemic hit, all my work, like everyone else, went away in an instant. I am not one to sit around, so I thought, what can I do.

Leland Sklar

Well, I did a book called "Everybody Loves Me" which contains about 6,000 photographs that I have taken of everyone imaginable give me THE FINGER. It is a ton of fun. Now I will be releasing NFTs of the photographs from the book with a little help from my friends at Cosmic Wire. The Cosmic Cards will be the first of many NFTs from my memorabilia.

I started recording at home for the first time, doing bass parts remotely for people from all over the world. I started a YouTube channel that, as of today, has 717 videos up. I have done at least one video every day since March of last year. I talk about artists and songs I have recorded, show the bass parts, and talk about the other musicians and studios and stories in general. I am also in a band called The Immediate Family with Russ Kunkel, Danny' Kootch' Kortchmar, Waddy Wachtel, and Steve Postell. We have been releasing EP's and videos throughout the pandemic. Our new album just came out, and we are working on a documentary film with Denny Tedesco, who made the Wrecking Crew movie about the great players of the LA studio scene in the 60's primarily. It will be out next year: just lots and lots of stuff every day. The way I like it. The band hits the road in November, and I can't wait.

Leland Sklar

GW: Have you heard of Cadillac Zack and his southern California concerts? Not really a question, but Cadillac Zack helps keep blues music alive in Southern California. He produces four gigs a week in small venues. Jimmy Vivino shows up regularly with a whole host of special guests. John Mayall played just last month. Joe Bonamassa played a few weeks ago with Jimmy. Many of the players with whom you have recorded have performed.

Leland: I have heard of Cadillac Zack but have never yet been involved in any of the gigs. It would be a ball. And it is essential to keep the blues alive. I spent a number of years working with George "Harmonica" Smith, Big Mama Thornton, Jimmy Reed, Albert Collins, Magic Sam, and others. I Did BB King's 80th birthday album.

GW: Is there anyone left in the pop music world that you haven't collaborated with that is on your bucket list?

Leland Sklar

Leland: There are many who I love and would be thrilled to play with, but I am not greedy. So, we'll see what the future holds. They are my secret.

GW: Can you tell us about your podcasts/YouTube channel?

Leland: I spoke of it earlier, but it started by accident. We had finished Phil Collins Not Dead Yet tour, and I heard from a few bassists that they saw the show. Still, I could not hear all the detail of the bass parts since we were playing stadiums and huge arenas, so I got a board mix of one of our shows, put it in my laptop, plugged in a Bose speaker, and had a small bass rig next to me and played a song a day from the show recording it on my iPhone11 and mixed it, so the bass was a bit louder than the track. I did a song every day, and by the 3rd day, people were writing to me saying how much they loved my YouTube channel. I had no idea what they were talking about. I did not realize that by doing what I was doing, I created a channel. Well, I finished Phil's show and then thought WHAT NOW???? Well, I started going through my catalog and have been presenting songs I played on every day. There are about 165,000 people on my channel, I formed a clubhouse that people can join, and I do a 2-21/2 hour live stream twice a month and one on one day on Skype or Facetime. It has been such a fun time during a most challenging time.

Leland Sklar

GW: So, are you planning any tours with "The Section" or other live music acts?

Leland: The Section no longer exists, but The Immediate Family will be touring in November and next year. I have several other things going on, and I can't wait to, as Willie Nelson says, BE ON THE ROAD AGAIN.

Leland Sklar:


The Immediate Family

The Immediate Family will be appearing at the historic Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara on November 6th.