Grammy winner Larry Klein is happy to discuss his ‘ex life’

THERE’S always the worry, when interviewing someone whose accomplishments seem to last forever, that bringing up a difficult topic from their past could end the conversation... but not with Larry Klein.

The American musician and producer has worked with stars such as Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Don Henley, Lindsey Buckingham, Randy Newman, Herbie Hancock, Tracy Chapman — the list goes on.

But, perhaps, his best-known partnership — both professionally and personally — is with Joni Mitchell.

They fell in love when Larry was working on her Wild Things Run Fast album. Married in 1982, they divorced 12 years later.

And their relationship, since then, has had its fair share of ups and downs. But Larry is happy to discuss the relationship.

The 62-year-old told me from his Los Angeles home: “When I first met Joni, I thought, ‘my God — I have never met a woman that I could sit and talk about anything with for five hours and not be bored’.

“At the same time, I learned a whole lot and we had an incredibly kinetic discourse.”

The winner of four Grammy Awards, including for Joni’s seminal 2000 album Both Sides Now, he worked with his former partner on five of her records.

“We gradually got to know each other through music, so it was episodic,” Larry said.

“We recorded Wild Things in increments — she would write three songs and go into the studio, then she would go away somewhere and write another three songs and we would go back into the studio.

“We became good friends over the years and we came to like each other as musicians.”

Raised in a Jewish home in Monterey Park, California, Larry attended Hebrew school and was barmitzvah in a Conservative synagogue.

But, since his barmitzvah, he has had a sometimes-difficult relationship with Judaism.

“I went running away from it because I felt I had no connection to the way I was taught Judaism and the way I was taught Jewish-thought,” Larry explained.

“It was like, ‘here are the things you have to know and do’, but nobody was explaining the reasons why you had to do them or the feelings behind it. My barmitzvah was a ticket to liberation.”

In the ensuing years, he became more interested in Tibetan Buddhism but has gradually returned to learn more about Judaism.

And, for the last 17 years, he has studied with a rabbi in LA, bringing him full circle back to his faith.

His wife of 12 years, Brazilian-born singer-songwriter Luciana Souza, converted to Judaism, too, and they are bringing up their 10-year-old son, Noah, in the religion.

“Luciana grew up in the Jewish community in Sao Paulo,” Larry said. “She went to a Jewish school, through elementary and high, and her mother’s best friend was Jewish, so she knows all the prayers and songs — probably better than me!

“We have raised Noah with a fusion of Judaism and Buddhism, but primarily Jewish, and he will have a barmitzvah.”

Larry added: “My parents were Richard and Diane Klein. My dad was an aerospace engineer and worked on space probes and satellites and my mom was a homemaker. They both passed away in 2014.”

Larry’s life changed forever when he first heard The Beatles’ 1965 album Rubber Soul.

“I could not believe that people could do this with a song,” Larry said.

“I decided, there and then, that music was what I wanted to do in my life’s work.

“I think my parents were somewhat bewildered and expected that I would grow out of it, but they were intuitive enough to know that going against it would complicate my life in a lot of ways, although there are times I wish they had forced me to do something else!

“On a serious note, it is an incredible privilege to do what you love for a living.”

Larry studied music composition and music theory at The Community School for the Performing Arts and then worked as a touring musician with Freddie Hubbard before landing a residency as the bass player on TV programme, The Merv Griffin Show.

It was his talent which led to him working as a bassist on Wild Things Run Fast.

And, while he continued to work with his then-wife on numerous albums, Larry also teamed up with various other musicians, including work on classic albums Building the Perfect Beast (Henley) and So (Gabriel), as well as playing with Tracy Chapman on her self-titled debut album.

His latest collaboration is with Madeleine Peyroux on her new album, Anthem.

It features two covers, Paul Eluard’s Second World War Poem, Liberté, and the title track, Leonard Cohen’s monumental Anthem.

Liberté came to Madeleine’s attention when a family friend requested she contribute a song to the documentary On the Tips of One’s Toes, which tells the story of her gravely-ill son and the family dealing with his Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

It came up for Madeleine, who is touring the UK in November, and Larry, as they were trying to put music to a sequence in the documentary showing the young boy going on daily outings and activities.

Larry said: “I became aware of Madeleine after her first album. She later came to LA and we began to work together.

“She was, admirably, interested in songwriting, although she hadn’t done much, so we started writing together.”

The album was inspired, in part, by the election of Donald Trump as American president.

“I don’t think I have ever seen a darker time in my life,” Larry said.

“Every day I wake up and wonder what is going to happen next.

“I consider the whole trend of supporting Trump as immoral and de-evolutional. It is a terrible and depressing thing.”

Larry also feels frustrated at the position America’s Jewish community finds itself in when it comes to Trump.

He continued: “I can’t stand him as a figure and a leader, yet he has devised a strategy of supporting Israel.

“I am an avid supporter of Israel, but some friends think his support of Israel is a reason to turn a blind eye to what he is doing to the rest of the world.

“I don’t see much dialogue in the Jewish community about the dilemma he has presented and I feel tremendously troubled by it.”

On a more positive note, Larry is pleased that he is working with someone like Madeleine, who has come through the music business organically and not through some television reality show.

He said: “I consider myself fortunate because all along I have worked with those whose talents really excite me and I have never had much of an interest in listening to or creating disposable music.

“I am privileged enough to work with people who are endeavouring to make something which is going to endure.”

In 2011, Larry, who has produced more than 60 albums, teamed up with Universal Music and Decca to create the imprint label Strange Cargo. The label has released albums by Thomas Dybdahl, Rebecca Pidgeon and Curtis Stigers, among others.

Four years ago, he produced the House of Lies soundtrack and also produced Bobby Bazini’s debut album, Where I Belong.

And, while Larry still loves playing live, he seems more settled behind-the-scenes.

“I started out really wanting to be the best bass player in the jazz world and play with all my heroes and wanting to work in that medium,” Larry explained.

“It reached a certain point where I had been on the road for six years and had started to tire and become unhappy with the jazz world.

“People were sniping at each other all the time.

“I decided to spend time in LA learning about using the studio as an instrument and learn about how to structure a great record and write a good song.

“I have come to see making records as creating something which is going to last and be in the world from that time on.”

Our conversation comes full circle, as we once again begin chatting about Joni.

Now 74, three years ago, she suffered a brain aneurysm, which led to her spending months in hospital and unable to walk or talk properly.

Larry and Joni’s split had been amicable, but just before she suffered the aneurysm, he told her that he could not speak to her any more, such was the impact her dark moods were having on him.

Larry said: “Joni was greatly frustrated with all sorts of things and bitter about how she felt her role in music was being relegated to a second-class kind of level compared to Bob Dylan or those other writers who occupy the same stratum as she does as a writer and artist.

“She couldn’t find her way past that — she was growing angrier and more frustrated and it kind of took over a large part of her waking hours, which were spent ruminating and in some state of fury.

“When Joni became ill, I was presented with a choice: do I act according to the things which had occurred or do the right thing and try to help her through a terrible time? I chose the latter.

“I wasn’t in a position to do a whole lot for her, but what I could do was go over to where she was and hold her hand and be a good presence in her life.

“We now see each other once every couple of months, as I will go over and bring her some dinner or we will have a meal together somewhere.

“Joni is still in a state where she is working hard to regain as much capacity as she can, whether it is walking or doing physical things.

“I have a great deal of love for her, despite our difficulties. I guess it is a familial love.”

© 2018 Jewish Telegraph