From Tina Turner to Toto, Williamston musician jams with the legends

Jul 27, 2015

C.J. Vanston's music career has taken him from Williamston to Chicago and Los Angeles, where he has worked with stars like Barbra Streisand and Joe Cocker. Current State host Mark Bashore talks with Vanston about his time at the keyboards in the studio and on tour.

What do Barbra Streisand and Tina Turner have in common with rock music acts like Toto, Joe Cocker and Spinal Tap? C.J. Vanston, a keyboard player who hails from Williamston, has played with them all.

The highly regarded session musician was recently back in Lansing and he stopped by the Current State studios to talk about his career and share some stories from a couple of decades of touring and recording with some of our biggest music stars.

Current State's Mark Bashore talks with Vanston about his progression from a Lansing music studio to working with some of the music industry's top stars.


Music aside, who’s the most memorable person you ever worked with?

Dolly Parton. She’s smart as hell and we really hit it off the second we met. She didn’t take any crap from the label. She didn’t take any crap from anybody so that freed up the whole thing. And (she’s a)…very, very funny woman.

On his most recent project, working on “Toto XIV.”

It’s interesting because I’m back here in Lansing to play with all my brothers here. Lansing has some of the best musicians on planet Earth by the way – I’m going to do my little Lansing spiel. Detroit’s soul town, Chicago’s blues town. Lansing is right in between, it’s got the funk factor. So I came back to do a benefit with all these guys and we use to play Toto all the time…as I worked my way up to the ranks as a studio musician. These guys are the top studio musicians in the world, period. So I got to know them and eventually worked my way into writing with Steve Lukather and I produced two of his records. The band heard what I did, they loved it, asked me go to on the road and record their live DVD “Live in Poland” which I did and then they asked me to produce this new record Toto XIV and honest to God, it’s like being on one knee and getting the sword.

As a session player, have you ever wished you got more recognition?

You know, I never did, and then the last few years I’ve started to get more recognition because of…’Keyboard’ magazine…and I’ve seen how much easier that’s made my career because the quality projects. I’ve always gotten work by word of mouth but the stuff that’s happened from getting the recognition…now I look back, yes I would’ve liked more recognition.