CALIFORNIA DREAMING – Jon Dalton on his journey from Glastonbury to L.A.

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A call came in from Los Angeles ‘Hello Gary, it’s Jon here how you doing, I received a message that you have been asking about Gold. Well here is the story’.
Before we go any further let me give you some background. Gold were formed in 1979 in Bristol, UK by guitarists Jon Dalton and Pete Willey. Like many of their contemporaries, Gold had grown up listening to first generation rock and metal bands Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Free and later Thin Lizzy and Queen. Gold’s music was a combination of space and glam mixed with heavy rock. Jon has lived in USA for 20 years as a professional musician. ‘I moved out to the US in 1999, I have Native American roots so it was like coming home. I also wanted to move my jazz career along. It seems that was a good call. I got signed to Innervision Records in 2003 and they released my first CD with them The Gift, and it did very well. The title track reached number 1 on New York’s CIM jazz chart. I spent some time over 2006-2007 back in the UK touring and recording with a jazz organ trio with my friend John-Paul Gard on Hammond organ. I released the resulting album in the US in 2009 and it’s been very well received among people who like that kind of jazz. I still come back to the UK from time to time for mini-tours with John-Paul and I love doing that. Gives me a chance to catch up with my UK friends and my family’s mostly over here these days’.

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‘I keep myself busy playing live with a residency in Los Angeles. I also have a YouTube channel dedicated to jazz guitar with performance videos, instrument reviews and playing tutorials, that kind of thing. I just got done completing the first track of my next CD with producer Richard E. Richard has done a wonderful job on that and a performance video cut will be up on YouTube soon. If things go according to plan, that CD will release on Innervision in 2018’.

When did you pick up a guitar and who were your influences ? ‘We had an 8 track player in the house and I’d listen to the Stones, Bowie, The Doors anything I could get my hands on, I was really into my music. I was already playing a bit of rock guitar but I was mostly into progressive rock like Yes. Then around 1975 I met Pete Willey and we hit it off straight away. Pete and I formed a school band called Grafitti we did a few school gigs and played in some pubs in Bristol. One memorable gig was in The Naval Volunteer. My chemistry teacher came into the pub and saw me playing. Next day at school he said you were quite good last night, maybe that’s why you never do your homework haha.
That band split up after the summer holidays and I started hanging out on the free festival circuit in the west country. I used to like Steve Hillage and the band Gong and they were heavily involved in these festivals. I think it was 7th day of the 7th month in ’77 when I first went to a festival, yes very mystical ! And there was Tim Blake’s Crystal Machine ’79 Glastonbury with a laser light show I’d never seen anything like it – blew my mind. I was a complete dyed in the wool Gong fan I couldn’t think of a better thing to do than sit in a damp field and watch them play at a free festival ! I may be wrong on the dates but I think it was 1979 when they started charging, it was a fiver to get in but Tim Blake’s Crystal Machine, Steve Hillage and Mother Gong were on the bill so I think it was probably the best fiver I spent’.

Gold Mk1

Did you form a band again and what venues did you play ? ’I met up with Pete Willey again, he was more of a straight ahead rocker. He liked bands like Thin Lizzy, Queen but in common we liked songs from Free and Bad Company. Pete also had good knowledge of what was in the charts at the time. He liked a bit pop music, I was a bit more of a rock snob really. We brought this sound together and that formed the early version of Gold.
We started getting a few gigs one was at The Granary where all the top rock bands played. There was Tiffanys, The Locarno, we did have a good following for our spacey rock. This was at the end of the hippy rock era just before the tables turned and in came punk’.

What were your first experiences of recording ? ‘We recorded a 3 track demo Mountain Queen part one – I think the idea behind this song was a trilogy, but I can’t remember a bloody note of parts 2 and 3 haha. Other tracks were Change for the Better and Is My Love in Vain that was a really popular song a sort of love ballad with a guitar solo in the middle. We then changed our bass player, the first was Andy Scott who was more of a new waver he played on that demo but he really wanted to do more new wave stuff. We got another guy in Paul Summerill he was more of a rocker listening to bands like Rush and played a Rickenbacker bass. We had a guy called Steve Dawson on drums. There was a guy called Al Read who used to run a rock show on Radio Bristol and he played our stuff a lot and get us on for a few live chats’.

Andy and Pete 2

‘But that line up of Gold split up and I started playing in a jazz funk band Climax. I still liked my rock though. I went to see AC/DC on one of their first tours in the UK and I remember the guy on the radio saying they were like a rock band but quite punky. I couldn’t see how the two would work together and I went more out of curiosity really and wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it. But by the end of the concert I was dancing and jumping around, they were great. The name of the band at the time was quite daring plus they were breaking all the rules with this punk thing. Walking outside I thought that’s the future of rock. The sound was edgier, harder and I could see that society was going that way, politics were changing, Thatcher got in power 1979 the whole landscape was changing and not in a good way. Bristol had around 250,000 people and in the whole city there were a handfull of homeless people. Then suddenly there was a big rise in people living on the streets, it became a different world. There was a sense that everything had hardened and that transfered over to music with the start of NWOBHM with Iron Maiden and Saxon’.

Were you aware then and now, the impact of the music scene – heavy rock/metal/nwobhm ? ‘Well, I can say that, at the time, music was incredibly important to a lot of young people. What you listened to defined who you were, where you hung out and who your friends were likely to be. Right down to every little sub-set of every kind of music you can think of. Back then, if you bought an album, that could be the central talking point of your life for months. People would come to your house and listen to and discuss it. How it sounded in itself, how it compared to previous releases, where the act might be going. I can’t stress how important that kind of thing was to us. It was our lifeblood.

I think today, with the Internet and access to a gazillion tunes at your finger tips rather than having to go out and buy it, people are more eclectic in their tastes. That means that they tend to be less tribal but it also results in a sense of a greater loss of community. People are much more individual and isolated today than they were back in the day. Many of my friends from Gold days, are still in touch now and we still have the same core interests that we used to have back then. I’m still a Heavy Metal hippie/biker underneath despite the fact that these days, I’m more likely to do a gig in a dinner jacket than a cut-off t shirt and spandex pants’.

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‘I would add that, here in the States young people still really revere the classic rock acts of the 70’s. Led Zep, The Who, Pink Floyd. They’re still seen as the classics, rather than that stuff your Dad used to listen too. That may just have something to do with the sheer size of the place. New ideas take longer to roll out here to the extent it affects the culture. For instance dance music and electronica never really took off in the US at all beyond a small cult following. I can remember in the UK that you had to be really on top of things or people would laugh at you for being dated or old hat. That never bothered me because I couldn’t care less about trends and fashions. Americans don’t seem to care so much about that. If something’s good, it’s good regardless of when and where it was made or who made it. I guess you need both angles to make the world work’.

Jon and Pete 2

How did Gold get back together ? ’I bumped into Pete we had always been good mates, and he said come and have a jam well I thought ok. I’ve seen AC/DC lets have a harder, rockier sound. There was Phil Williams on drums who had a great laid back powerful sound and thats what we needed to move forward, it’s what we were looking for. We went out with this new version of Gold and the crowds we were playing to then were headbangers in their late teen’s. We bought a pa system and rented it out to other bands to make a bit of money because we were broke. It was all coming together, we got a van and toured around the country. We got all over, up to Reading, Southend, Doncaster we were out a lot and picking up some interest. I heard we were watched by scouts for the management team from Motorhead and Girlschool, they were looking for a support band for the tours. But one night we got back home at 4am after playing and for once we decided not to unpack our van. It got pinched. All our cabs, pa, the lot. We didn’t have the money to replace the gear, we had no idea who had done it or where it had gone. Sadly, that was the end of Gold. That’s the story in a nutshell really’.

Jon

‘We really had a blast but listening back to recordings just before that happened I got the feeling I had enough, and it was time to move on. Although that loss of equipment was a trajedy I didn’t want to be stuck being a rock musician. I admired great guitar players like Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads. They were brilliant guitarists but some became these crazy virtuosos, and hair metal bored the pants of me. A band was at it’s best when you had team players, cammerdarie of playing in a group is what I like’.

Compared to the GOLD days what is the feeling you get today going on stage to perform? ’Well I’m a lot less nervous now than I used to be. I’ve always been a bit shy about performing which is odd because I get on well with people and I’m not exactly an introvert. But my hands used to shake like jelly and I could barely hold a guitar pick for the first few songs. I did do about 8 years on what we used to call the Cabaret circuit, that would be playing covers around the world in bars and hotels and on military bases. After sometimes, playing five, forty-five minute sets per night every week and six on Saturdays that kind of work tends to knock that out of you.
I still get the heebee geebees a little today but nowhere near as much because I’ve kind of trained that out of me. I also realize that it’s only a gig. There will be another one tomorrow or maybe their won’t. As for the upside, that’s never changed. Every now and again you get a stonking gig. You can never tell or anticipate when that’s going to happen, it just does. Your playing kicks up a notch. The audience senses that something’s going on and focuses more clearly on what you’re doing and something transformational happens. It’s moments like that, that keeps us musicians chasing the dragon in terms of live music. There’s nothing like that sensation and I’m as much a sucker for it now as I was 40 years ago’.

Jon Now

What has music given you ? ’Music is my life. It has been since as long as I can remember. It’s defined me as a person. Taken me around the world, paid my bills, introduced me to my greatest friends and provided me with years of beauty, solace and wonder. My greatest inspiration has always been watching my grandmother Ada Dalton who would get up, every year, on her annual church bash on the stage of the Methodist Central Hall in Bristol and sing When I Grow Too Old To Dream in memory  of her husband John-Francis who died between the wars from complications of being a soldier. She passed on in 1974 at the age of 88. She never had much, but her love and passion expressed through music, kept her going. I learned a big lesson from that. Mostly that you should never give up, whatever the cost. Some things in life are just too important to let slip away. To be honest, I’m still chasing that level of heart and conviction in my work. I know I’ll never come close but it gives me a reason to get up in the morning. That’s what music’s given me. Thanks for taking the time to investigate Gold. I’ve really enjoyed sharing these experiences’.

For more information contact the official website jondaltonjazz.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2017.