Sprague meshes rock, jazz and Latin touches in latest album

Acclaimed guitarist Peter Sprague grew up on The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Cream. Later in life, he played and worshipped all things jazz.

The new album, “Dream Walkin’,” combines those influences, tinged with a Latin flavor. Sprague, who lives in Encinitas, recorded the album with longtime collaborator Leonard Patton.

“It’s something we’ve been toying with for a while — playing the music we grew up with, but with a very jazz influence,” Sprague said of the album, which has nine covers and two original songs. “It was decided we should document this direction in the studio.”

Sprague, 59, has played with an array of jazz greats, from Al Jarreau to Sergio Mendes. He’s also racked up a number of awards, including the San Diego Music Awards naming him Best Jazz Artist in 2004 and 2007.

He met Patton at one of his shows in 1991, and they played in a larger band together. Eventually, they went ahead as a duo, allowing for more improvisation.

“Now that it’s me and him, you don’t have to tell a whole band if you want to improvise on a section and move to a new place,” Sprague said. During live shows, Sprague plays a guitar equipped with a synth and looper, while Patton sings and plays cajon, a percussion instrument.

Besides performing on his own albums, Sprague has played on numerous other records. But two decades ago, he feared he would have to put down the guitar altogether.

His hands hurt after playing long stretches. It turned out to be arthritis.

“For a while, it was looking like, in my own mind, I wouldn’t be able to play for that much longer,” Sprague said.

Thankfully, he found an arthritis medication that makes the disease manageable. Still, he has to be careful not to overdo it.

He always had an interest in recording, producing and composing, and the arthritis scare prompted him to assemble his own recording studio called Spragueland, a nod to Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland Studios.

“It’s been really cool to do my own stuff and help people with their projects,” said Sprague, who has produced many albums at his studio.

And he’s currently composing orchestra music, which he said demands carefully mapping out each part of the music. By comparison, he added, jazz and rock ’n’ roll are much more freewheeling.

“There are multiple movements — you have to sketch out what’s next,” Sprague said of orchestra music. “And you have to really be able to see over the hill to know where you’re going.”

Before he hits the studio, his mornings typically begin with a surf session. Indeed, before this interview began, he pedaled up to his house on a bike outfitted with a surfboard rack, fresh from surfing a strong southwest swell at Beacon’s Beach.

Sprague grew up in Del Mar, surrounded by music and surfing. When he was a young teenager, The Beatles’ album “Revolver” was the soundtrack for a wave-filled summer at La Jolla Shores. Hendrix blasted while he shaped surfboards.

But a musical sea change was in the air.

His dad was always listening to Miles Davis and Benny Carter. Initially, he found his parents’ record collection too tame, but jazz later struck him. Hard. He learned jazz theory and structure. And in the early 1970s, he formed a band called The Minor Jazz Quintet at San Dieguito High School (now San Dieguito Academy) with fellow aficionados.

Sprague said some musicians “come out of the gate” with an original sound. For him, realizing an original style was a longer path.

“A huge part of the ride for me was being an apprentice, and then slowly doing my own thing,” he said. Sprague added he doesn’t feel as though he’s settled into a sound — he’s still evolving.

Music runs in the family. For instance, he has memories of his mom playing a mean version of “St. Louis Blues,” a jazz and blues staple, on piano. Other times, his dad would jam out on the bongos while listening to Miles Davis.

Sprague is fluent in a variety of music styles. Yet, he added, emotion and substance always come before technical prowess.

“I have a lot of technique, but still paramount and at the forefront for me, it’s not to be showy and not to play fast just to play fast,” he said.

To buy “Dream Walkin’” and learn more about Sprague, visit www.petersprague.com.

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