‘Introducing’ is one hell of a term to use when talking about Jack Waterson, whose career has been musical since co-founding (initially Tucson, Arizona, then) Los Angeles based rockers Green On Red. That was 1979.
40 years later and he’s released an eponymous solo album (not his debut), and it’s another ‘Adrian Younge Presents…‘ sure shot. The pair’s pathways have been intertwined since a 19-year old Younge walked into Waterson’s then newly-opened, and now highly revered, instrument store on York Boulevard in LA – Future Music – thus defining the producer’s sound as Jack became mentor in the ways of recording using analogue equipment. Jack’s played on every release Adrian’s recorded, and is joining him as we speak as part of The Midnight Hour tour with a full band, led by Adrian and Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
“The shop turns 20 years old in July. Time is a funny thing, it depends how you perceive it. You look at little minutes, it’s excruciating and long. You look at big picture shit, it’s not that long.”
Why the transition from a band to a store? “Green On Red did very well, we did very well in the UK. It sort of ran its course, I became rather disinterested because of the nature of the music – it changed so much, it became predictable to me. I did a solo record with Rough Trade in ’88, I did another record for a German label called Doggybag in ’91 or ’92. Then, you know, some other shit.
I told [Adrian]: I have two unrealised dreams. One is to be a honky that’s killed in a blaxploitation flick, another is to write biker fiction.
“I was producing Mexican rock en Español bands in the early nineties – I had a recording studio so I got hooked up with a label out of Mexico City. Through that, I was fixing thrash metal records, hard rock records, and working with different bands, working on my Spanish and all that shit. I would go to shows and they reminded me of the punk rock shows that I would go to. These were DIY shows in a rented ballroom in East LA that would get 1500 people. It’d be this crazy free for all, but wonderful. I kept myself super busy musically.
“I met Adrian in ’99, ’98, when I first opened my store. He was an interesting, intelligent young man. He was 19, 18 years old. We’d talk about music, recording, equipment, so we just became friends through that. We got really tight.”
When it came to Adrian’s first album release, the band he assembled became known as the Black Dynamite Sound Orchestra in ode to the film they were soundtracking. They would later became Venice Dawn.
Jack on the drums for the Black Dynamite Sound Orchestra, back in the day.
“When he was doing Black Dynamite, he showed me the trailer they did for it and I told him: I have two unrealised dreams. One is to be a honky that’s killed in a blaxploitation flick, another is to write biker fiction. So, I haven’t done either of those yet but I played on the Black Dynamite score, then when he put a band together for that I was initially the drummer. I was taking lessons from Dave Henderson (of The Midnight Hour), the guitar player left and I called Adrian and said, ‘Why don’t we get Dave and I’ll play guitar?’ and that’s how it worked out.”
Jack’s role has been pivotal for many people. “He’s being very modest about his shop.” Andrew Lojero is here, long time orchestrator of LA creative happenings company Artdontsleep, and also Jazz Is Dead who are behind The Midnight Hour tour. “Danger Mouse, before he did Gnarls Barkley, got all of his equipment from there. Air got a ton of their equipment from Jack. Madlib got all of his equipment when he made Yesterday’s New Quintet, with Peanut Butter Wolf. J Dilla got equipment from there before he made Donuts.
A lot of really important, seminal Los Angeles music figures – and obviously Air is from France – got their equipment from Jack. Today, Jack still serves No I.D. and a ton of really fucking special people when it comes to Future Music.”
We were legendary for moving our gear to a club in grocery carts. We’d come walking down the streets and people would cheer when they saw us coming.
“All true,” shrugs Jack humbly before recounting how the shop got started. “I was a kid with no money, a shit head kid in New York. We were shoplifting and doing all sorts of crazy shit. There was a music store, they were always cool to us.
“One day, some kids stole drumsticks, and me and my friends went and got them back. I put them on the counter, in front of the owner. I said, ‘These kids stole these drumsticks, you’re always cool with us, here they are.’ He said, ‘You can hang out here every day.’
“That was about 1972. That was my introduction to the culture of it, so I learned about music, I learned about the instruments, my mind grew with the information I got from all the different dudes that worked there. I literally hung out there every day, so I’d sweep up the floor, they’d have me play a mini Moog or something, so I just got into it but I don’t come from money, so everything was a hard won battle.
Jack performing with The Midnight Hour in Manchester, May 2019. Picture: Akse
“When I started playing professionally, everything was still a hard won battle. We’d pool our money and buy a guitar, and shit like this. We’d have no car, we were legendary for moving our gear to a club in grocery carts. We’d come walking down the streets and people would cheer when they saw us coming, we’d leave them outside and at the end of the night we’d put the shit back in the grocery carts and walk back.
“I had a friend who owned a music store, he asked me to work a couple of days. I was signed to Phonogram here, I was getting money every month, so I did it. I’ve always been a good salesman, so that’s how I started doing it. That was 1988. I got a ringside seat to the hair metal scene on Sunset Strip, I knew every one of those motherfuckers, I was friends with all those bands.
‘In the early nineties I dealt a lot with Nirvana, I got to know all them and be friends with Kurt. The video for Come As You Are – look at the fucking guitar. It’s strung upside down, because I sold him that guitar and said, ‘Don’t change the strings man, they’re original…’ I was fucking with him. They shot that video and you can see it in the fucking video!”
ADRIAN YOUNGE PRESENTS… JACK WATERSON
Having being Adrian’s right arm for so long and now releasing this album together, is there old material involved or is it all recent? “It’s a combination of things. Some things were things I’ve written recently, the oldest of anything is the song Smile, an instrumental I’d written in a hotel room in Germany. I had originally named it after a strip club there, then I had this thing sitting around and never did a recording of it…
“I’ve worked with Adrian so long, we don’t really talk that much. We don’t discuss shit, just (clicks fingers rapidly) do it… I give him something, he has such a magnificent musical mind, that we did one song where…” he pauses to contextualise. “We work incredibly early in the morning, he gets up early and I get up early, so it’s not uncommon for to be recording at 7.30 in the morning. By the time the afternoon rolled around, he came to my store and he said, ‘The melody changed a lot.’
“I went to the studio that evening and listened to it, and he blew my fucking mind what he added to it. He has such a great knowledge of composition and music. His sensibilities, what his barometer is for good, bad and indifferent. I’m just willing to go along with it, and that’s what the record comes from. Some of them were his compositions, some of them are things we wrote together, it’s a little bit of a mix.
Playing a priest in Rise Of The Ghostface Killah, from the giallo-influenced Twelve Reasons To Die album on Linear Labs.
As was evident from tonight’s show and the album The Midnight Hour Live At Linear Labs, the live incarnation of the band is a much fiercer beast.
“Very much so. The goal always is, we deconstruct the record and go to perform it, and outdo the record it comes from. And then there’s an energy in the live band, the diversity of players, you’ve got people of radically different backgrounds, different takes on music, you mix it all up together and it’s one of the things that makes The Midnight Hour so special. Nobody does a show like that, it goes all over the place. From beautiful jazz, to we’re gonna punch you in the throat kind of rock’n’roll. You get everything and I don’t know of anybody who has anything like that at all, so it’s great fun.”
REFLECTIONS ON THE ALBUM
“I’m really proud of it, but there’s a number of sides to it. I tried to be very honest in it lyrically. If you know me personally, there’s a lot of very personal things in that record. I tried to write from a very, very truthful, naked, vulnerable perspective.
A lot of the fun in this whole gig is the mix of us racially, and the record in and of itself is an examination of black and white music and that makes it very interesting.
“Adrian’s never done drugs in his life. I have. I’m the acid he never took. I’ve been fucking around for decades. I’ve got all this experience – there is a song called Flashback on the record. It is about taking acid. I do a spoken word thing at the end of it. I can very honest and vulnerable about the whole subject, and put something in this that’s outside of his world. He has an appreciation of the music but he doesn’t understand the culture around it, because that’s a different story altogether.”
As the blurb that accompanies the album says, Adrian and Jack have also set out to ‘subvert the designation of what is black versus white music’ with its combination of hip hop breaks and acid rock. “A lot of the fun in this whole gig is the mix of us racially, and the record in and of itself is an examination of black and white music and that makes it very interesting. There are those breaks in there that somebody sampling would look for, and those are sentiments in there that are stereotypically white too. It’s a brilliant combination of those two things.
“Honestly, before it came out, I didn’t know what people would think about it, but the reaction has been very positive. I’m very grateful for that. I think it is important to show people that there is a bigger subject here than just notes and time, there’s a much larger message to what we do in general.”
Picture: Linear Labs
Jack and fellow Midnight Hour member Loren Oden have been opening up on every night of the tour before the rest of the band take to the stage. Their performance is one of beautiful contrasts, kicking off with a wave of distorted psych narrative from Jack, diving into the sweetest, softest heartbreaking soul from Loren. Jack’s well aware that his initial brute force may not be what Midnight Hour goers might expect to start the show.
“I wanted to do that song first because it’s a real punch in the eye to start people off with – The Legend Of Shorty George, which is a mythical person I made up, who’s kinda me. He jumps over a fire. What happens is, he’s an incredible dancer. He’s born that way. People are just stunned at how great a dancer he is – I stole it from a Fred Astaire movie. I gave an edge to it, because I deal a lot with death on the record. The finality of an artist, the last great move, what your mission is. I chose to put him in a situation where he dies as a hero.
Picture: Linear Labs
“The building came down / And you knew by the sound / Shorty had got his heavenly crown. It’s to make a hero out of him, so that way he becomes a complete story, his life, his experience, his death, then how people remember him. We worked on the arrangement on it, then Adrian came up with one verse which I do completely acapella to the audience, which is jarring – that’s a lot to put on an audience. But, if they understand the story, they get it, it’s just a weird way to put people off balance at the beginning of the set. Then it gets mellower and I hand it off to Loren, and Loren’s music is so moving, I’ve been moved to tears playing that first song with him it’s so heavy.
L-R: Jack, Loren Oden, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Stephanie Yu, Shai Golen and Karoline Menezes live in Manchester as The Midnight Hour. Picture: Akse
“Loren has also written a record that is extremely vulnerable, in the examination of what is a soul singer? What does that actually mean? We had a discussion one night about what a soul singer actually is, and there’s something about the vulnerability of character, and then the giving of yourself with such great passion.
“He’s such a fucking phenomenal artist, it’s a joy to work with him and he’s a wonderful human being. His record is other-worldly. It’s modern day Marvin Gaye man, for lack of a different way to put that. When that record comes out, I think it’s really gonna fuck a lot of people up. It’s a very deep piece of work, and like all these gentleman I’m profoundly grateful to have the opportunity to work with them, and to still get the call!”
Many will already have been along for a little of Jack’s ride and not realised it – it’s about time his name was front and centre.
Adrian Younge Presents Jack Waterson is out now on Linear Labs