I can’t remember where I was, or exactly when it was, but I think it was Chicago and I’m pretty sure it was the tail end of 2015. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I was flipping through the dollar-LP bin at a record store and I came across an album by Larry Coryell, 1976’s The Lion and the Ram.
If the cover looks intriguing to me, I’m always happy to shell out a dollar for a record, and this one fit the bill. Judging by the imagery, I figured this was a soft-rock or folk-inspired record, with love songs dedicated to the woman with whom he shares the cover. Flipping the record over, I realized this was most likely not the deal.
The LP was released on a major label (Arista), but the back cover had the scribbly look and feel of something much less corporate, and the song titles followed suit: “Improvisation On Bach Lute Prelude” and “Bicentennial Head Fest” didn’t strike me as very run-of-the-mill. When I got the record home and finally listened to it, I still wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. What greeted me was acoustic guitar played in beautiful, abstract ripples that occasionally teased conventional chord changes and song structures, but ultimately shied away from those tropes in favor of left-field, challenging compositions that belie that sharp-dressed, dare-I-say somewhat square guy on the front cover. I thought it was great.
The Lion and the Ram was placed with my other records that I listen to while I’m puttering around my house, and I’d often grab it on a Sunday morning and listen to it front-to-back while doing dishes and drinking coffee. The album was never released on CD, but you can listen to a vinyl-ripped playlist of it on YouTube.
Late last year, somewhere (I go record shopping a lot; it all runs together), I was again flipping through records and came across one simply called Coryell.
I wouldn’t have recognized Larry’s face, but I knew his name! The copy I found was a bit tattered, but the vinyl was playable and I grabbed it. It ended up in my “to file” bin in my record room, where it sat for a few months. This past Saturday I grabbed it, remembering I’d never given it a proper spin. Released in 1969, Coryell was put out by the Vanguard Apostolic label and is one of Larry’s more well-known releases, along with Spaces, which came out the next year.
Coryell was released about seven years before The Lion and the Ram, and is vastly different. (Larry released about 10 albums between those two, so it stands to reason he didn’t stand still much.) It’s rawer, rock-ier, and contains more vocals, but it’s equally charming and intriguing in its approach.
I spent this past Saturday listening to Coryell, leading me to research Larry a little further while I was sitting in front of my computer. People compare him to Hendrix. People say he invented jazz-rock. People say he’s one of the greatest guitar players who ever lived. In the music community, Larry Coryell gets respect. Reading this while listening to his 1969 LP, it wasn’t hard to understand why. He was clearly ahead of his time, clearly playing by different rules.
Larry Coryell died on February 19, 2017. I didn’t find out until Monday, when I went to find a stream of Coryell I could listen to while getting through my work day. His Wikipedia page popped up and the day of his death was listed, which was strangely shocking to me, because it certainly hadn’t been there on Saturday.
Someone uploaded the full Coryell album to YouTube Monday morning, and I listened to it that day at work. It’s a great, weird, bold album.
Larry Coryell was a CD Baby artist, but our Coryell releases only begin to scratch the surface. He put out over 100 albums in his lifetime, playing with Miles Davis, Hendrix, and many other legendary musicians. Maybe you’ve never heard of him. I have to admit I hadn’t before a few years ago, but I’m so glad I got my introduction. I’m only two records deep and I feel like I have so much more to explore. For this reason, I don’t feel qualified to speak on the span of Coryell’s career, but I do feel qualified to say that his music reached out to me when I least expected it, and the timing of it all is not lost on me.
Thank you to Larry Coryell for never compromising, never stopping, and showing us what a true artist can be.
Are you a fan of Larry Coryell? Tell us your stories in the comments and share links to your favorite tracks.