VINYL JUNKIES – Jon Dalton, 7 songs that shaped his world

Jon Now

The love for vinyl has always been there and many stories are attached to it. There is whispers in some quarters that vinyl is back, and they are getting louder. Not in the same numbers that it was in the pre-cd day’s of the 70’s and 80’s, but the records are up on display shelves of record shop’s. There is hundred’s of reasons why we like a certain song. Vinyl Junkies is looking for the stories behind them.

Jon Dalton has lived in the USA for 20 years as a professional musician. In his early days in England he played in heavy rock band Gold, who were formed in 1979 in Bristol….  ‘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. For the last several decades I’ve been mostly known as a jazz musician, but that wasn’t always the case. I didn’t start really listening to and consequently end up playing jazz until my late twenties but I was involved in music for many years before that’.

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‘Because this piece is about vinyl, I’ve chosen to focus on the period in my life when almost everything we heard was on that medium. For me that would be around 1976 to about 1983. After that I was on tour a lot so I tended to buy cassettes or, later, CDs. They were much more portable and by then I was buying a lot of music to learn it for work so that previous period was, perhaps, the period I enjoyed actually listening to music the most. Here’s a list of my seven favourite albums from that time’.

1, Steve Hillage: “Fish Rising” (1975)

Starting in the late 1970s, every year the City of Bristol, UK would put on a music festival at an old stately park near the Centre known as the Ashton Court Festival. It was a hugely popular event eventually drawing tens of thousands. It was also a strictly daytime affair with no overnight camping allowed unless you were a vendor or part of the stage crew. Of course, being me, I completely ignored all that. I generally crashed under the stage in my sleeping bag. I probably knew a lot of the sound guys so I doubt they cared either. Anyhow one year, maybe 77 or 79, I was at Ashton Court on a Friday the day before the festival was due to start. That night I went out in a daze looking for a party to crash in the vendor’s section. It was probably around midnight. All of a sudden, I heard this strangely hypnotic music which stopped me in my tracks. The more I listened the more I reasoned this was likely one of the most cosmic things I’d ever witness and when you’re 17 under a black starlit sky next to a crazy caravan, that’s a moment. I knocked on the door and a glorious hippy lady invited me in for a drink and a chat. We sat in the candlelight and she told me I was listening to Steve Hillage’s “Fish Rising”. A Rubicon night.

I was already a big Hillage fan but more his later works like “L” and “Motivation Radio”. This was something else though: more raw, more psychedelic. Brilliant guitar riffs, swirling synth solos, tight grooves, wide soundscapes. My all time favorite track is “Aftaglid” a meandering sprawl in space. The mid section (they’ve all got names but I’m not that good at remembering) has an echoey acoustic guitar part with Miquette Giraudy’s pointy space whispers followed by a tabla grooved delve into the beyond. That’s what I heard outside the caravan.

Don’t buy or even listen to the “extended” version. The original Fish Rising ends on exactly the right note.

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2, Yes: “Relayer” (1974)

I first heard Yes when I was 10 or 11 years old. I loved the way that none of it made any sense and yet somehow it all made sense. There was a tone and color in their music and yet there was also a strange sense of angularity; listen to “Long Distance Runaround” from “Fragile” and you’ll know what a mean. This album brought the “weird” side of Yes to a whole new level. A lot of Yes fans hate this album but I think it’s one of the best things they ever did. The music is often loud, angry and aggressive. Maybe they were trying to dump some of the bloat of “Topographic Oceans” but this cuts through like a knife. Yes pulled in Patrick Moraz on keyboards on this one and while they were some fine musicians, he was obviously giving them a run for their money. “Sound Chaser” is my favorite track. Steve Howe’s Fender Telecaster grinds and spits and yearns. Patrick Moraz’s jazz-synth playout burns on fire.

I saw Yes on this tour. It was the first “big” gig I ever went to. I went with my Auntie because nobody else would go with me. We both loved it!

“And to know that tempo will continue…….”

Yes Mr. Anderson.

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3, Gong: “You” (1974)

I mentioned Steve Hillage before but you can’t really discuss this era Hillage without telling of the Mothership, the immaculate “Gong”. Well, as a young lad, I was a tribal member and I’m not exactly sure if I’ve grown out of it, even since.

Gong, brainchild of Australian space anarchist Daevid Allen (R.I.P.) combined jazz, space, rock and eyebrow raising mirth into a potent package. It probably wasn’t their plan but Gong the anarchists ended up having, pretty much, their own virtual kingdom on the 1970s UK free festival circuit.

The early 70s are often said to be some of Gong’s best years. They recorded the essential “Trilogy” of albums: “Flying Teapot”, “Angel’s Egg” and “You”. I’ve always thought of them as one but I know I have to keep the list short so I’m going with: “You”. The band were playing really tight on this one. “Master Builder” is in some ways the musical peak in the trilogy. Based on a simple descending run which tweaks the blues scale to make it sound more space-bound and mystical, it keeps tripping over the beat in a way that makes you feel you are constantly falling forward. Toward the end it reaches for a sense of community and gets it in the form of Daevid Allen’s deep chants wrapped in Steve Hillage’s twistily psychotic guitar. Hillage later released a version of this tune under the title: “Activation / Glorious Om Riff” on his 1978 release “Green”.

I’ve mentioned Gong related things quite a lot but you have to realize that they weren’t just some some silly hippy band from the 1970s (well, they were). Their influence permeates widely. The free festival circuit morphed over the 1980s into the 1990s into rave culture. This in turn begat Electronic Dance Music. When I listen to a lot of EDM, including Steve Hillage’s own “System 7” and particularly the trancey end of that spectrum, I can often hear Gong’s echoes in the sequenced synth lines and eastern flavored melodies. The major difference being that the music is served over a heavy, electronic, 4/4 dance beat rather than a grooving, real life, bass and drums. There’s another sphere of meditational Electronica where, once again, you hear those Gong sounds but this time the beats are completely removed and we’re left with just the floaty, spatial stuff.

They even made a dent in the pop world. Listen to producer William Orbit’s treatment of Madonna’s 1998 single “Ray Of Light”. You could have knocked me sideways when I first heard that one. For a minute I thought she’d hired the old crew as her backing band. I’m thinking Mr. Orbit probably has a few of the Pot Head Pixies’ finest releases stuffed away somewhere in his listening locker.

Famous lines from “You” include: “Cops at the door………..no cops at the door!”

4, AC/DC: “Highway To Hell” (1979)

So, late on a Friday or Saturday night you’d all come back from the pub or club. The venue kept changing but the purpose was always the same. Some metal lovers just can’t help themselves.  Wherever we ended up, I used to like to sit on the kitchen counter next to the fridge and it was always bright fluorescent lights or no lights and a toaster. As soon as the AC/DC came on, everybody was cool. All the barriers went down. There’s a lot of betrayal and anger in this music but the ultimate lesson is that it can always be cured or, at least: suffered, by the sweet sound of a blues guitar. AC/DC made you feel like a criminal but; that, that was somehow normal.

Bon Scott’s voice hits like a finely tuned weapon. His beautiful primal screaming sounds like he’s getting ready to eat you while, brother cooks, Angus and Malcolm (R.I.P.) Young slice you right up with their guitars.

And none of this is rocket science. AC/DC themselves never claimed to be anything more than a “rock ‘n’ roll” band!

Highlights include the beginning and end of the record and everything else in between.

“It was one of those nights when you turn down the lights”.

Now, what on Earth is he talking about?

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5, Ozzie Osbourne: “Bark At The Moon” (1983)

I first heard Black Sabbath when I was about 12. I remember lying on a chilly bed in my Nan’s prefab, must have been 1974, listening to their first, self-named, album. War Pigs and Iron Man were my usual songs from the crypt before breakfast.

Fast forward to the early 80s and somebody recommended I listen to this gem. This is a concept album. The concept is to make a record that sounds like a bad horror movie. This really holds water.

Ozzie Osbourne as a poignant intellectual “I’m just a rock and roll rebel….” probably isn’t what you or he expected but he can’t hide it, he’s thought about this from every angle.

“I’ll make you wish that you had never been born”. When Ozzie says that, for a chilling moment you realize that he might actually mean it. How do these people keep going? The energy resources are beyond human.

Massive kudos has to go to guitarist Randy Rhodes (once again RIP). He wasn’t just an amazing player in his own right but a dedicated worker who obviously sweated how to make his boss’s dreams come alive, or should that be become un-dead? He utilized flattened or “diminished” notes to dark and cinematic effect. Sure, Death-Metal players have honed that down to a fine art now but RR was the first, at least as far as I’m aware. I
was always looking forward to where he’d go next. Then he got killed in a plane crash. I was beside myself.

It’s not a flawless offering, there’s a couple of duffers which I think arise from trying too hard to make this a “production” record but when the group are genuinely reaching, such as in the preposterous “Centre of Eternity” you get the feeling that the abyss is, at least, intrigued.

6, Rush: “Hemispheres” (1978)

I didn’t start as a huge Rush fan. I’d heard them at friend’s houses but I couldn’t figure out exactly where to place them. Their Rickenbacker bass sounds and strange Moog synthesizer twirlings reminded me a little of Yes but they were much more of a straight-ahead heavy rock band in other areas.

That all changed when bassist Paul Summerill joined our band “Gold” in 1980 or so. Paul was a strong Rush fan and he also played a Rickenbacker bass just like Geddy Lee and the late, great Chris Squire. Paul introduced me to the catalog and once I’d gotten a chance to appreciate their development through albums like “Fly By Night” and the classic “2112” I really got a taste for who they were in their own right. Theirs was a clever, thought provoking metal that started to appeal to the prog nerd in me.

I’m actually listening to “Hemispheres” for the first time in about 35 years as I write this. It’s all there. Geddy Lee’s piercing vocals, Alex Lifeson’s chorusy guitar and Neil Peart’s precise drumming.

I remember, as an 18 year old kid, learning the guitar parts for the entire side one of this record (which is all one track). I can’t think for the life of me why I did this. I’ve never played it live even once. Probably one of those “I’ve started so I’ll finish” ventures. Still I’m sure I picked up some useful tips which crept into my own playing later on.

Favorite tracks are the aforementioned “Hemispheres”, a mini fantasy novel set to music, and also “The Trees” from side two, a simple song form that rocks around just nicely.

Of all the bands I went to see live, I probably saw Rush more than any of the others. They toured a lot, the tickets were pretty reasonable, and each of their albums was sufficiently different to make you want go back for more.

This was a very cleanly produced album, just made for late night headphone listening. If I remember rightly, my copy of “Hemispheres” was on red vinyl. I don’t know what happened to it. I probably gave it away.

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7, Nova: “Wings of Love” (1977)

While I was mostly known as a rock guitarist back when all this vinyl listening was going on, I did lead a secret double life as a jazz/rock musician even playing for a while in the band “Climax”. This was a decade or so before I started on the path to being, or at least trying to be, a full-on jazz musician.

Jazz fusion was a pretty big phenomenon in the late 1970s. The two biggest forces were probably Return to Forever and The Mahavishnu Orchestra. I tended to tip towards Mahavishnu, probably because it was guitar led? I don’t know for sure on that one but I can say that “Apocalypse” by them is probably my all time favorite fusion album but….I had it on 8 track cartridge so strictly speaking I can’t feature it here.

Now this album: “Wings of Love” I did have on vinyl and it got played a lot. It’s actually much more approachable than a lot of fusion records. Some of the tunes have danceable, almost “Disco” like grooves. That’s not to say that guitarist Corrado Rustici isn’t overlaying them with ridiculously amazing guitar solos, just that you can shake your booty while he does it. Check out “You Are Light” for a taster.

As an interesting aside, Mr. Rustici often played a fretless guitar; listen to “Marshall Dillon”. Killer bass-line too. I was amazed when I first heard about this. Fretless basses were starting to make inroads into fusion due to the tremendous influence of Jaco Pastorius but I’d never heard of anyone playing fretless guitar. I was sufficiently moved to take an old guitar and pull all the frets out with pliers, filling in the slots with plastic wood and sanding the whole thing flat. The conversion itself worked out brilliantly but whenever I played it, it sounded like a drunken person snapping elastic bands. Oh! Well.

This is largely a superb record, populated with world class and sincerely spiritual musicians reaching for the stars. If it has a fault, it can get a bit “drippy” devotional in places. A lot of jazz fusion players of the era were deeply into eastern philosophy and Guru Sri Chinmoy was a leader in that movement. That said, when you listen to “Beauty Dream Beauty Flame” with its evocative Italian mandolin backdrops and stunning guitar, flute and piano interludes, you have to conclude that, maybe, they did open a window into another dimension of the sublime.

Recommended:

Jon Dalton, California Dreaming, 18th October 2017.

VINYL JUNKIES:

Will Binks July 7th 2017

Martin Popoff July 12th 2017

John Heston August 3rd 2017

Neil Armstrong August 11th 2017

Colin Smoult August 29th 2017

Neil Newton September 12th 2017

Tony Higgins October 11th 2017

Vince High December 11th 2017.

Intro by Gary Alikivi.