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Spotlight on: Luke O’Malley, Session Guitarist.

Posted by Nicola
26th June 2017

Session Guitarist Focus

Recently we were contacted by Luke O’Malley, a session guitar player based in New York. Luke is a guitarist, composer, singer and producer known for his contributions to New York City-based jazz, funk, improv and rock. We thought it might be nice to focus on him to show what a successful session musician gets up to, and how to get into that world.

Playing With "The Roots"

Luke made his introduction in 1998 after a post-collegiate leap from computer science to music. He became a founding member of Antibalas, writing and recording on all of the group’s albums and spent years touring with them worldwide. Luke told us:

“In 2009 I got to play a Red Bull Battle Of The Bands with my band at the time; Antibalas. The group we would be battling was The Roots. During rehearsals for the show, Questlove told me that he liked my guitar playing. A few months later they asked me to join them at their annual festival in Philadelphia, “The Roots Picnic”. At the festival, we were performing Public Enemy's “It Takes a Nation Of Millions" album live in its entirety with no samples, while backing up Chuck D and Flavor Flav. That is a definite highlight of my career.” In 2009, Luke made his first guest appearance on the “Late Night” show with Jimmy Fallon, playing guitar for The Roots.

"How To Survive A Plague"

Luke went on to say:

“In 2011 Stuart Bogie, my writing partner, was asked to compose the soundtrack for “How to Survive a Plague”. He brought me on board to assist him. The film got an Oscar nomination and we were able to perform the soundtrack live at Lincoln Center with the Kronos Quartet.”

Over the years, The Roots have hired Luke to play on American TV shows, the Late Show and then the Tonight show. During one of those appearances, actor Ralph Finnes (aka Lord Voldemort) did a skit where he played Luke’s guitar. Luke says, “it wasn’t much of an accomplishment [for me] I admit, but still a highlight.”

Playing With Nile Rodgers

Shortly After David Bowie's death Luke got to back up David Byrne and Kimbra performing “Bowie's Fame” at the 2016 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony. However, all of this doesn’t compare to Luke’s current work, and the highlight of his career that gets the coveted title of My Biggest Highlight; this goes to Pharrell Williams and Glastonbury darling, Nile Rodgers.  

He explains:

“In October 2016, The Roots hired me to play guitar for one of my guitar heroes, Nile Rodgers. I finally got to see exactly how some of his most elusive parts were played and I soundchecked his guitar for him!” (I had to edit out the amount of exclamation marks used here for space purposes!)

Live With Pharrell

Most recently Luke backed up Pharrell, who he describes as “my favourite producer/songwriter”. Luke said: “We played two hours of straight hits and I got to play some of my favourite guitar parts that have ever been written. Did I mention that it was two hours of nothing but hits?!”

Luke’s technical proficiency paired with an avant-garde spirit of his own making has led to copious studio work with musicians including Mary J. Blige  (Growing Pains—Billboard #1 album), Mark Ronson, Daniel Merriweather, Aloe Blacc, Spank Rock, Nneka, TV On The Radio, GRiZ, Sinkane, Kronos Quartet, Baloji, and Dead Prez. In addition, Luke has shared the stage with Rick Ross, The Budos Band, Idina Menzel (Frozen), The Lonely Island and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. 

On top of all this, Rockstar Games has hired Luke to bring his distinct guitar style to the soundtracks for Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto 5. Luke continues to keep close tabs on his nearby music community and has worked with up-and-comers Diane Birch (The Velveteen Age and Speak A Little louder), and Superhuman Happiness, which he helped form in 2011. Last year, the SH released its first full-length, Hands. Luke has recently joined the BKP artist family, and we're excited to see what he gets up to next!

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