Singer/guitarist Carl Verheyen probably hasn't ever needed to file for unemployment with the musicians union. After a couple of decades as a sought-after studio axeman, he launched a solo career more than ten albums deep, teaches music at the university level, and has authored instructional books and DVDs.
Oh, and he also has been a permanent member of Supertramp ("The Logical Song," "Goodbye Stranger," "Give a Little Bit") since 1996. But for his most recent effort, last year's Mustang Run (Cranktone), he offered up an almost all-instrumental guitar record, which attracts a much different audience than a standard rock one with vocals.
"I believe that the state of the art of the so-called guitar record is not about shredding and blazing down the fingerboard," he offers while on a studio break from producing (yet another gig of his). "It's more about texture and sonic tapestries that you put together with different sounds. That's where I was coming from with this. I didn't want a 'chops' record. I wanted a melodic record."
To prep for writing the tunes, Verheyen says he pulled out the Top 10 instrumental guitar-based records in his own collection. Everything from Pat Martino and Pat Metheny to the Dixie Dregs. What he found consistent with those records is that, while the artist may have been neatly placed in a category, the music ran a wide gamut of styles.
Verheyen took note, and Mustang Run includes tunes with grounding in rock, jazz, blues, melodic, funk, balladry, and even classical. He also credits his years as a gun for hire -- which might find him playing slow jazz one day and heavy metal the next -- with teaching him about versatility.
"I wanted the guitar to be the vocal for a change," he adds. "But I love to sing and love vocal music, so my next record will probably be about that."
Well, Mustang Run includes one vocal track out of the 11, a remake of the Supertramp hit "Bloody Well Right." Verheyen says that he was playing around with the riff one day, and an altered version made it into his band's live set, which led to audience requests for him to put it out properly.
Not surprisingly, his all-instrumental work has found more appreciative audiences in Europe than the U.S., as audiences over there are more used to the absence of a vocalist. However, his Houston show will consist of about half instrumentals and half songs with vocals. Verheyen says that fans think nothing of catching multiple gigs across different countries, and one married couple he's gotten to know has been to more than 70 shows.
"European audiences really appreciate that blues and jazz element to rock music," he says. "When you play in Rome, there are a lot of great musicians there, but they don't come from the blues. They also really respect improvisation over there."
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Astute credit readers will notice that listed as Executive Producer on Mustang Run is one Carl Verheyen....Sr. But this is a record mogul we've never heard of before.
"Ha! We put that in there as a joke," Verheyen Jr. notes, after explaining that Dad provided some of the seed money to make the record -- which he notes has been paid back -- and he asked for the nod. It turns out that Verheyen Sr. actually founded a company in the early '60s called Astro Pak, which was an industrial cleaning and packaging company that did a lot of work for NASA and all the Apollo moon shots.
"We never missed a launch in our family," Verheyen remembers. "We'd be woken up at four and five in the morning and watch every launch from Cape Canaveral."
Great guitar improvisers over the years, of course, have come from both the self-taught side and the music-schooling side. As a solid member of the latter group, Verheyen has some admitted bias.
"If you really want a career in music today, because it's so competitive, you need to deal with music on the written page," he offers. "I mean, Stevie Ray Vaughan probably never learned to read a note in his life and didn't know a B-flat 13-flat 9 chord from a C chord, but he's one in a million, with that raw talent."
As for the status of Supertramp, Verheyen says he and the band, who has not toured since 2011, recently had a jam session to which they invited promoters. He's confident that the group will tour (if not record new material) next year. Before joining the reconstituted group in 1996, Verheyen also did guitar duties for the band's 1985/86 tour, which brought him to Houston.
"I remember that that time, Houston looked like that scene in The Wizard of Oz where the city buildings ended and the fields began," he recalls. "I'm sure it will look much different this time."
Given that he'll be playing a bustling music venue in the northern reaches of Conroe, in an area far more populated and built-up since 1985 -- he might just get to see the rising skyscrapers of Houston in the distance like the Emerald City. With some strong binoculars.
Verheyen performs Saturday night at Conroe's Dosey Doe Music Café, 463 F.M. 1488. Doors open at 8:30 p.m.
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