Stargazer: Louie Shelton
Louie Shelton was passionate about music as a kid. He learned the guitar on his own, and he would practice for hours. By the age of 12, he was performing live and on radio and TV! Louie was about 25 when he reached a big goal—working as a session guitarist in Los Angeles. For years, he backed top stars such as Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand, and John Lennon.
Louie wanted to help other musicians do their best work, so he started producing albums for bands such as Seals and Crofts, whose recordings sold millions of copies. He also created his own solo albums and opened studios in the U.S. and Australia.
In 2009, Louie was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee. He lives in Queensland, Australia, with his wife Donnie, where he works in a music studio he built himself.
Q: What’s your favorite childhood memory?
We . . . moved . . . into the wilderness of Arkansas. So I was able to be sort of like Huckleberry Finn and run through the woods barefooted and [pick] wild blackberries . . . Also . . . at the age of three, I was already listening to music on the radio and wishing I had a guitar, because I would pretend I was playing a guitar with the broom . . .
Q: What was the most challenging experience for you when you were a kid?
School . . . My mind was always wandering . . . I would sit in the classroom and draw pictures of guitars . . . The funny thing is, school was very easy for me . . . Workshop was my favorite class, because it was more of a physical kind of thing where I learned how to do mechanical drawings and . . . could make something . . .
Q: How did you get started in music?
I got my first guitar when I was nine years old. And I really can’t remember not being able to play it, because it just came to me so naturally. And it sort of taught me that if you can find something that you have a talent for, and it comes easy for you and you love it . . . you’ve got a head start on something that you can use for the rest of your life . . . The fact that I loved what I was doing made me work harder . . .
Q: Do you recommend guitar-playing to kids?
The good thing about the guitar for young people is that you don’t have to be a virtuoso to really enjoy it . . . You only need to know three or four cords almost to play any top song . . . You can learn enough that you can enjoy playing songs at parties or at functions, and you have that for your whole life . . .
Q: What’s a session player, and what is life like for one?
Solo artists . . . usually don’t have a band . . . They usually use the guys that are known for being session musicians . . . I learned all the rock and roll . . . the blues . . . the country. So when I got into the session, it didn’t matter . . . what kind of music they were doing . . . when they wanted a guitar solo . . . I would just start playing . . . I never had any formal training . . . everything I do is by ear.
Q: How’d you become a producer?
[When] I was . . . a session player . . . there would be a producer that was . . . calling the shots. And I was observant. And I thought, I could do that . . . The producer [is] . . . like the director of a movie. You’re helping pick the songs. You’re helping with the arrangement of the songs. You’re responsible for the recording and everything that’s involved.
Q: What’s one of your most memorable experiences as a studio musician?
When I recorded with Barbra Streisand . . . She wanted to sit there and work on the song and be part of the process, rather than just putting her voice on top of other people’s ideas . . . Another . . . is when . . . Diana Ross brought in these . . . guys and introduced them and said, “This is the Jackson Five, and we’re going to make them a star.” And we’d never heard of them . . . But I’ll never forget that day, because she certainly was right . . . Michael [Jackson] was so talented.
Q: How did becoming a Bahá’í affect your life in the music business?
After I became a Bahá’í, there were so many situations throughout my career . . . [when I was] able to make . . . the right decisions . . . Drugs were very rampant in the music industry, and I saw it ruin a lot of people. And thankfully, I never fell into that, and I’m very glad, because I’ve had a very happy and successful life as a family, which has always been very important to me, before anything else. I owe that to . . . the Bahá’í teachings.
Q: If you had one wish for Brilliant Star readers, what would it be?
Find something in life that you love and makes you happy and where you can contribute something to mankind and always be a shining light to others. And always, whenever you’re in a situation where you’re not quite sure how to handle it, just ask yourself, What would ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá do? . . . It’s helped me many times when . . . there was a difficult situation.
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