Jonathan Wilson: Wilson's World

For years, Jonathan Wilson hosted Laurel Canyon’s best jam sessions. Now, he’s made an album that epitomizes their vibe.

Tuneage // Cristina Black // 12/05/11
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By Hilary Walsh

Jonathan Wilson

The first song on the album Gentle Spirit, “Valley of the Silver Moon,” is a ten-minute-long slow-burn jam, the kind that gets right inside your soul. Given its length and ‘70s-ish title, it’s obvious right away that Jonathan Wilson’s new album, a long time coming, sprung from the mind of a man set on preserving the musical magic his neighborhood is known for. Wilson lives in Laurel Canyon, where characters like Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills & Nash, Jackson Browne and Carole King once tucked away together to create some of the greatest music of the rock era.

By all accounts, Wilson is succeeding. The host and catalyst for a series of Wednesday night jam sessions he began with the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson in 2006, he’s credited with reviving the Canyon spirit for a new era.

“We're talking Griffin Goldsmith from Dawes on Drums, all the way to Barry Goldberg from Electric Flag on organ, maybe Andy Cabic from Vetiver on another guitar, everyone having a blissed out exploration, only for the music's sake,” Wilson recalls. “I loved seeing people out of their element, off their own stage, playing and making music just as they were when they first started.”

That included members of Pearl Jam, Wilco, Oasis, Maroon 5, the Cars and Steve Miller Band, among hundreds of other major and minor personalities.

But you couldn’t just show up and play your regular stuff with your band. Wilson made sure the sessions were about an exchange of energy, joyful noise parties that often stretched until six or seven in the morning. “Sometimes, the ladies of the canyon would break out all my tambourines,” Wilson says, “and suddenly we would have a tambo chorus dancing and jangling through the night.”

Wilson pulled the plug on the jams last year to focus on his own recordings, but not before the sessions inspired albums like Acid Tongue by Jenny Lewis, known as the songbird of the Canyon, Elvis Costello’s Momofuku and, of course, his own Gentle Spirit, which is a must-have for anyone interested in essentially “L.A.” music. It’s a massively intricate album of insanely gorgeous songs that meander freely through various textures of organs, cool drum beats and curlicue guitar filigree, Wilson’s soft, sensitive voice at the center of it all. The title, of course, acknowledges a return to quiet genius, the kind the Canyon is known for historically.

“In today's musical landscape, there is enough aggression, tempo, and bravado to last many lifetimes,” says Wilson. “Breadth, space, and reverence, I think we could use a few more helpings of....” Like his music, Wilson just trails off when it seems natural.

Originally published in December 2011-January 2012

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