Guitarist Larry Coryell was born Protestant and his actress-writer wife Julie was Jewish; they’ve compromised on astrology. Larry admits to indulging in groupies, and Julie is monogamously inclined; they’ve settled for liberally defined fidelity. Both Coryells grew up fulfilling the drug-and sex-experimentation criteria for membership in the ’60s counterculture. Now they’ve been married 10 years and have a house in Connecticut, a Mercury, a Chevy and two children Larry takes bowling.
In jazz-rock, where Larry, 35, is an acclaimed master, this sort of eclectic approach is called “fusion.” Says Larry, “Julie and I have done just about everything we could to each other that would cause a breakup. But we knew how to brace ourselves. We’re home free now.”
Their career successes help. Larry has released four albums this year, and two of them, Two for the Road (with Steve Khan) and Splendid (with Philip Catherine), have so far been strong sellers on the jazz LP charts. A fifth album will follow soon.
Julie, 31, who became her husband’s manager in 1975 and literally got his act together, recently wrote her first book, Jazz-Rock Fusion, a Who’s Who including you-know-who.
She started as an actress. Her father was vice-president of a New York appliance firm; her mother was Carol Bruce, a Broadway actress who made such ’40s films as Behind the Eight Ball and Abbott and Costello’s Keep ‘Em Flying. Julie went to the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan, where classmates included Carol Lynley and Marvin Hamlisch. Then, after a year at the New School, she won a part on Broadway in Royal Hunt of the Sun (it starred David Carradine, whom Julie dated and remembers as “beautifully eccentric”). From there, she took turns as a waitress, lyricist and vagabond.
She was living in California in 1967 when friends played her an early Coryell album with his picture on the jacket. “I got this sort of cosmic flash,” Julie says. The next time Larry performed in Los Angeles, he found an unsigned note backstage saying, “For a unique experience in cosmic consciousness, please come to 2418 Laurel Pass.” Larry took the bait and says, “I fell in love immediately. I wanted to go to bed with her right then.” Julie had other ideas—”We talked all night about God and the universe,” she recalls. Three weeks later he phoned from New York and said, “You’ve got to come live with me.”
Larry was born in Galveston, Texas, where all he knows of his real father was that “he was a musician who chased a lot of women.” His stepfather, chemical engineer Gene Coryell (“He’s beautiful,” Larry says), and his mother, Cora, moved to Richland, Wash., where Larry’s musical debut occurred. He sang O Holy Night solo at the Central United Presbyterian Church. At 14 he got his first guitar and began to imitate Les Paul, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.
When he was 16 he ran off to join a rock band. The self-labeled “black sheep of the family,” he also “knocked up” his girlfriend. “It was traumatic to me.” Her parents sent the girl away, and she married someone else after giving birth to a daughter. (“I’ve never seen the kid,” Larry says. “She’d be 17 now.”) To cope with his emotions, Coryell plunged into practice sessions, copying a record (Wes Montgomery or Barney Kessel—he’s not sure) until he knew every difficult lick by heart. He still regards that bit of discipline as a “minor catalyst” in his career.
When he entered the University of Washington, he signed up for journalism but kept playing guitar for pocket money. After three years he dropped out and headed for New York.
Once in Manhattan, he sought out saxophonist Charles Lloyd, whom he had met in Seattle. On the basis of a song Lloyd had written, One Sheridan Square, Coryell went to that address. “I knocked and a woman answered,” he recalls. ” ‘You must be Joan,’ I said, because Charles also wrote a song called One for Joan.” It was. Soon Lloyd had introduced Larry around, and he landed a job with Chi-co Hamilton’s group.
Coryell soon attracted critical praise (making the cover of Downbeat at 24). Later he played with Miles Davis, Herbie Mann and vibraphonist Gary Burton, then with his own pioneering band, Eleventh House, in 1973. But financially Larry was a flop. The problem, he says, was “getting screwed by my own naiveté, and overpaying band members.” Julie’s management has helped bring in an annual income “easily in six figures.”
It took them a while to work out other kinks in their life too. “In our 20s we went through an orgy stage,” Larry says. “We got involved, separately and together. We experienced things that were supposedly hip, but thank God that period is over.”
The groupies remain. “They’re out there for a function,” Larry, who is on the road most of the year, says. “Like lunch. Occasionally I have ‘lunch’ on the road. It comes when it’s needed, and then you get on the plane next day and it’s gone.”
Julie adds, “My relationship with Larry has nothing to do with these superficial encounters, though sometimes they’re not so superficial, I know. Whatever they are, they haven’t changed our relationship.” (Larry says Julie is free to adopt his sexual philosophy too. Her response: “If it happened to me, it would have to be something meaningful.”)
In any case, Larry is rethinking the situation: “I’m 35, and I’ve got two wonderful children who need guidance. I just don’t have time to jump in bed with any old thing and catch the clap.”
He’s already overcome other problems with heroin, acid, cocaine and alcohol. (Larry recalls wryly that “the only time I ever shot up in front of Julie, she fainted.”) “I didn’t want to keep throwing money away on that crap,” he says. “I’ve never played as well stoned as when I’m straight anyway.” Julie says of drugs, “I do them moderately, but overall I wish I would stop.”
The Coryells have tried a brief separation (two months early this year), a series of analysts and miscellaneous spiritual advisers. They followed New York mystic Sri Chinmoy but left, Julie says, because “in organizations there’s a race to see who’s going to raise their consciousness fastest.” They are now students of the zodiac. She’s a Leo and he’s Aries; that, Larry explains, means “I have something she hasn’t got—energy, power, force—and she’s got something I need—the controlling element. Without that I might be in the gutter.”
Instead, they’re in a three-story home in Westport, Conn. Miles Davis or the Brubecks may visit, but otherwise the Coryells are quiet suburbanites. “We’re just like anybody in our age bracket,” Larry says. “We paid a lot of dues. But you get out here with the good people and the good life, it’s not necessary to screw yourself up.”