Larry Nass

1953 - 2000

The Legendary, Virtuoso Guitarist, Mr. Larry Nass, is sadly no longer with us. Larry died in the summer of 2000, at the age of 47. Larry had been struggling with liver failure, and in a weakened condition, eventually developed other complications which lead to a fatal stroke.

At an early age, Larry showed promise as a talented guitarist. Taking direction from noted jazz guitarist, Bill Thrasher, Larry honed his knowledge and skills in theory, interpretation, and improvisation with private lessons. Larry continued to experiment and grow musically on his own, and developed his own unique style of guitar technique, becoming one of Southern California's prominent guitar "monsters". More people have copied Larry's virtuoso guitar style, and unique approach to improvisation, than there is room to mention here.

 In spite of the fact that he played with many world-class musicians, such as Flora Purim, Aerto, Kenny Loggins, and Jim Messina to name a few, Nass remained, by and large, one of the music world's best-kept secrets.

I first met Larry when I was 17 years old. He approached me after a spring concert I played with the Ventura College Jazz Band at the Libbey Bowl in Ojai, asking me to join a band he was in. Larry had the longest, reddest hair I had ever seen. It was a distinct look that made Larry easily recognizable in a crowd. Larry and I transcribed horn parts to about 40 songs over the next 2 weeks so I would be able to jump into the band full swing, immediately. I quickly gained a huge amount of respect for him, and soon realized that he would significantly influence my playing. But Larry was more than just a mentor or band-mate to me. He was a beloved friend.

I spent the next five years playing professionally with Larry in several different bands, and bumped into him at many different studio sessions and live performances for another decade to follow. During those first years playing together, I spent many a late night at Larry's having "early breakfast" after a gig. We would stay up until the wee hours of the morning playing Yatzee, (or "Yoi" as we referred to it), and then I would eventually crash on the couch. I would often be rudely awakened by the cold nose of Larry's Irish Setter, Annie, (who was deathly afraid of the saxophone, low Bb in particular, thanks to Larry Hockalter).

I recall waking up to a loud roaring sound one morning at Larry's, and looking out the back window to discover that the back yard was not there. The house sat on the southern bank of the Canada Larga creek, which was raging that year, and had eroded away its banks due to a particularly wet winter. I often still drive by the spot where that old yellow house used to sit before the river expanded and took over the property, remembering good times spent there with old friends, in videotape-like clarity.

One time when we were lacking a place to rehearse, my mom offered the 2-car garage at her house in Ojai for our use. We accepted, and rehearsed there for about 6 months, during which time the neighbors would routinely ask whether or not we would be having practice on a certain night because they were having a party and wanted free entertainment. My mom was very tolerant considering the sheer decibel levels produced by an electrified 8-piece band. We eventually moved things over to Bob Nichols' house in Ventura, where Tom Buckner also lived around back in a rental flat, which had ceilings so low you had to duck in order to walk around in certain rooms.

Back in those days, (late 70's - 80's), we all smoked Marlborough in the box, insuring that we would always be able to borrow a cancer stick from one another should the unthinkable happen. Larry used to warm up for a gig sometimes with a Chevas Regal to go along with the never-ending chain of Marlboroughs. I learned from Larry the unique trick of impaling a cigarette onto any available sharp appendage of my instrument, by following his lead. Larry used a purposely-clipped-long string on one of the tuning pegs of his guitar as his cigarette holder, while I had to be more creative and used a paperclip inserted into the lyre thumbscrew on my sax for my cigarette holder.

Since we were in several bands together, we engaged in the ever-popular game of coming up with a new and creative name for our group. Out of these discussions came such great candidates as "Nasses Asses", "Your Mother's Little Toaster", "Head Cheese" and "Cat Food", none of which were ever used or copyrighted, so anyone is still welcome to use these gems.

Larry proudly told me one time how he was one of the first students selected to attend "Mar Vista", Ventura's first continuation high school. Larry laughed about how Mar Vista was supposed to help straighten out students who were having problems at regular high school, then went on to point out that all the biggest sluts went there, you could show up late to class and legally smoke cigarettes on campus without getting into trouble, and the very finest of illicit substances could be obtained anytime from a number of on-campus teenaged vendors.

Larry was, for as long as I knew him, the master of "quickie" sex or drug refreshments out in the parking lot during band breaks at clubs, and used to impress me with his ability to come back in and still play blinding 100 mph solos with little evidence of distraction or impairment.

Speaking of which, I once did 100+ mph while riding shotgun as Larry's co-pilot in his brother-in-law's station wagon on our way to a gig that we were late for. Flying down the straightaway in front of Petrochem on highway 33, I remember thinking that it wasn't a very good idea. (It occurs to me that Larry probably wasn't the best of influences.)

Among the many memorable things Nass taught me, the one I find myself most often quoting is this: "Sometimes what you don't play is just as important as what you do play." In reference to punctuating your solos with pauses to compliment the phrasing, or just plain laying out and leaving some space for the music to "breathe".  Larry also taught me how to structure improv solos, and which scale substitutions would work over certain chords. Larry was the first player that I ever heard "playing outside of the changes", and to this day, every time I play a modulation which creates a dissonance within the scale of a chord or progression, I hear it the way Nass would've done it. 

I can recall the time we did a gig together in Hollywood, and afterwards cruised Sunset Blvd, then later went to the famed Egyptian Theater for a late showing of the movie, "Alien", which had just opened that weekend.  I'm not sure why we thought it was safe to leave thousands of dollars worth of  musical equipment out in our cars for the duration of the film, but I suppose we thought the experience was worth the risk.

I found out about Larry's passing while trying to hunt him down to see if he wanted to play in my current band. It has bothered me that no one ever contacted me when Larry died. Unfortunately I was not aware of his memorial services, or any of the tribute concerts that have since followed, including the most recent one at Alexander', which I found out about a day too late after seeing a poster somewhere. I have since visited Larry's gravesite several times to pay my respects, and clean it up while I'm there.  I have wondered if Larry ever came to know the Lord.  If anyone out there knows, or would like to contact me, I would appreciate it.

Although I had little contact with Larry during the past decade, he has always remained close to my heart, and is still regularly the topic of many a conversation, as his life impacted mine in such a big way.  Larry influenced my Jazz education in improvisation, arranging, and theory, more than any other player did, (and I'm sure more than he ever knew).  He will forever be greatly missed by this friend, and by all those who were fortunate enough to have known him.


~Joe Horswell~


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