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SYMBOLIC GESTURE

Leland Sklar’s photo book provides smiles during dark times

In responding to a photo request by flashing a middle finger, a guy nicknamed Chinner gave renowned bassist Leland Sklar a helping hand in what became Everybody Loves Me, Sklar’s hefty new book compiling images of famous and regular folks flashing digits in his direction.

The origin of the book can be traced to 2004, when Sklar was on tour with Phil Collins, and Steve “Chinner” Winstead was hired to be Sklar’s bass tech.

“There was talk at the end of the tour that Phil was going to retire,” Sklar recalls. “Between the band and the crew, there were probably 100 people out there on the road. And I thought, a lot of these people I may never see again because they were from Europe and the U.K. and other parts of the U.S. So I decided to make myself a little photo album with everybody on the tour and tuck it away for my memory banks.”

The first person he approached for a photo was Winstead.

“He’s sitting there on his laptop,” Sklar says. “And I said, ‘Chinner, come on, give me a smile’ — and he gives me the finger instead. And I looked at [the photo] and thought, ‘Hmm, this is actually kind of cool.’ ”

After that, Sklar immediately went to Collins and the others involved with the tour to get finger-flashing photos. A few years later, while on tour with Toto, Sklar revived the photographic theme.

“At that point, things just started going,” he says. “I would find myself in the weirdest places, meeting all these people. I’d say, ‘Flip me off.’ I’d give them the finger, and they’d give it right back to me. It took on a life of its own without me making a concerted effort for it.”

He’d been asked through the years whether he would ever do a book with his finger photos, but Sklar didn’t consider it because his long-running career as a go-to session and touring musician kept him busy — until the pandemic hit. So Sklar sifted through his roughly 12,000 photos and settled on 6,000 for the new hardcover book, which is available through his website.

“We’re in such a dark and insidious time right now,” he says. “I just wanted to have something that would put a smile on people’s faces.”

‘The immediacy of the moment’

The youngest person in Everybody Loves Me is a newborn, while the oldest is 104, Sklar points out. Photos of musicians such as Keith Richards and Billy Gibbons are mixed in with images of non-entertainers such as a nun and police officers. (Not everyone is flashing the middle finger; some opted to extend a different finger or a combination of fingers.)

“I don’t look at this in any way as confrontational or negative,” Sklar explains. “Most of the people in the book are grinning from ear to ear.”

He adds, “My fascination with it is there’s like a half-dozen ways of giving the finger, but faces are infinite. When you really start looking at the faces of people who have been empowered to do something like this, it runs the whole gamut of the human experience.”

Almost all of the photos in Everybody Loves Me were captured on Sklar’s phone — and that was by design.

“For what I was doing, I wanted the immediacy of the moment,” he says. “I didn’t want to be sitting with any gear where I would be technically having to set it up.”

To illustrate his point, he tells a story about crossing paths with a musician couple from Russia while at Los Angeles International Airport. They recognized the bearded bassist and started a conversation, which concluded with them asking to take a picture with him. Sklar obliged, then asked to shoot one of them giving him the finger.

“If I didn’t have my phone and I was digging for a camera, I might not have caught such a charming moment because suddenly it becomes a photographic moment as compared to a moment in time,” he says.

Also included in the book are photos of drummer Russ Kunkel and guitarists Danny Kortchmar, Waddy Wachtel and Steve Postell, Sklar’s bandmates in The Immediate Family. Since about 2018, the five musicians have selected choice material from their collective session experience and songwriting catalogs to make new studio recordings and hit the road for short tours.

The Immediate Family, left to right: Russ Kunkel, Waddy Wachtel, Danny Kortchmar,
Leland Sklar and Steve Postell. (Photo by Rob Shanahan)

Being hired to back the likes of James Taylor, Carole King and Jackson Browne is one thing, but what’s the power structure like when these longtime sidemen are all working together as The Immediate Family, without a star calling the shots?

“If somebody wanted to do a study of democracy, this band would be it,” Sklar says. “Everybody really carries the same weight within it. The thing that’s wonderful about the band is the mutual respect and admiration we have for each other. Everybody is free to make comments, positive and negative, about songs, and nobody gets pissed off. … There is nobody in charge of the band. The band is in charge of everything.”

The Immediate Family’s Slippin’ and Slidin’ EP arrived in October on Quarto Valley Records, and a full-length featuring new material is ready for release.

“The new album is so good,” Sklar says. “We had hoped to have it out in November, but the pandemic [slowed everything down] from the hare to the tortoise. We kept moving forward in terms of releasing videos and EPs, but none of the stuff has addressed the new album, though. I’m so proud of the writing and the playing and the singing. We’re hoping it will be out in the latter part of the first third of [2021].”

He is also looking forward to an in-progress film about The Immediate Family spearheaded by Denny Tedesco, the director behind the documentary The Wrecking Crew.

Sklar says Tedesco made it clear that the documentary on The Immediate Family would be different from his film about The Wrecking Crew. (Tedesco’s father, Tommy, was a guitarist within that large pool of prime L.A. session players.) That’s due to Sklar’s history with Kortchmar and the others covering many more years — plus, they also toured and wrote with the stars they backed in the studio.

“They have a ton of stuff in the can,” Sklar says, citing interviews with Taylor, King and Browne, among others, plus footage from an October 2019 Immediate Family show at the Iridium in New York.

“I haven’t seen anything,” Sklar admits. “I’m so excited about the idea of it. It caught us totally off guard because when you’re living in your own skin, you don’t see your place in history, so the idea that somebody wanted to do this documentary, we all found so profoundly flattering. And in Denny’s hands, I’m confident it will be great.”

— By Chris M. Junior

1 Comment on SYMBOLIC GESTURE

  1. I was lucky enough to meet most of you during my time at Yaamaha I ran the guitar and drum division meeting Lee and Russ and spending time with Russ at Shrimp Boat studio in Key West and flying to New York one day with Waddy sitting across from me and Danny and I talking about our repective Teles we both owned

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