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Michael Landau interview: the return of the master musician

Michael Landau
(Image credit: The Players Club)

Since the 70s, the consummate LA session man Michael Landau’s fluid guitar licks have fairy-dusted the music of Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, Michael Jackson and more. 

And while the audiences are inevitably smaller for the 62-year-old’s solo work, Landau’s new live album Liquid Quartet Live, recorded at LA’s favourite hole-in-the-wall jazz club, The Baked Potato, sees him let off the leash and he goes from virtuosic fusion to wild heavy blues.

Liquid Quartet Live is out now (opens in new tab).

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You must be pleased with the album? 

Yeah. It’s got a little grit to it. Have you ever been to The Baked Potato? It’s just a little neighbourhood bar, only holds a hundred and twenty people, but it’s got a crazy sound and people are right on top of you. I first played there aged nineteen, when we had to drink our beers in the kitchen between sets. They do sell potatoes. That’s all they have. They have about twenty-five potato fillings. And they’re massive. 

Most of the set is jazz, but then Bad Friend is savage garage-blues

Yeah [laughs]. We don’t beat people up the whole night, but I’ve always been a little on the punk-rock side of jazz – ‘punk-jazz’, or whatever. I was a big fan of Nirvana and all that Seattle stuff. 

Does it matter that Kurt Cobain wasn’t exactly a virtuoso? 

No, not at all, because I just loved his songs and voice. Nirvana’s songs were a twisted thing, and that was refreshing to me, because I was done with all the big hair-metal bands at that point. At the end of the eighties it was really silly. 

Y’know, after the cocaine had taken over. It was hard to get a gig, because you had to have this make-up on, the whole deal. Sunset Boulevard was crazy back then, everyone running around completely blitzed out of their minds.

What is your favourite live album? 

Band Of Gypsys would have to be up there. In a way, that period [of Hendrix] is kinda underrated. I mean, it was quick and brief, very close to the end. But I think Hendrix was definitely stretching out, and that first side is just magical. It’s not jazz, but they were definitely improvising. 

You’ve worked with all the greats. Which sessions stand out? 

One that’s always stuck with me was being called for that Pink Floyd record A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. Because there was a delay part on One Slip that I guess David Gilmour just didn’t want to do. 

In the mid-eighties Rod Stewart was just a rock’n’roll star. He’d do a couple of takes, then he’d say: “Okay, lads, off to the pub.” Some days we didn’t get a lot done. 

BB King would come in to hear the track, tell a bunch of stories about the old days, then he got in his limo and off he went. 

You and Steve Lukather came up together as sessioners. Any memories? 

I met him when I was twelve and he was thirteen. We’d get into trouble together. He was the first guy where we’d get someone to buy us beers and go crazy together. He’s hilarious. His sense of humour and his foul mouth, everyone knows about. 

He was exactly the same as a teenager. At fourteen years old, he’d come over to my house, and my mother would be having a dinner party with a bunch of grown-ups, and he’d just burst in, telling all these foul jokes. 

Liquid Quartet Live is out now (opens in new tab).

Henry Yates
Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.