Jonathan Wilson revels in rock ‘n’ roll classicism

North Carolina-bred, Los Angeles-based tunesmith and producer Jonathan Wilson has found his unique artistic vision to be both a blessing and a curse.

On a sacred mission to achieve the perfect sound from 1969, and the perfect fuzz guitar, when he formed Muscadine, his first outfit with Benji Hughes in 1995, he says, “I have definitely done that.” But a decade later, disgusted with shallow show business, he quit.

Yet Wilson, who plays The Independent in San Francisco this weekend to promote his third, latest jangly solo disc “Rare Birds,” has become the go-to purveyor of California’s breezy Laurel Canyon sound.

He’s done classy production work for Dawes, Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Chris Robinson and many others. His studio is nestled inside Laurel Canyon, where he holds regular all-star jam sessions.

In 2005, he says, “I got into building stuff — building pedals, building effects and building many, many guitars. I spent a long time going deep into that.”

But long before he returned to the folkie fold with his 2011 debut “Gentle Spirit,” he found himself customizing instruments for Hollywood’s in-crowd. The work stemmed from a simple prime directive, he says: “I had never wanted to be the guy who didn’t know why my guitar was out of tune, or why it sounded like s—.”

He handcrafted the best equipment money could buy, until, he says, “One day it dawned on me that I was making guitars for people that weren’t really great musicians. The people that could buy these things were these businessmen or attorneys who collected this expensive boutique s— in their spare bedrooms somewhere. So I reluctantly got back in the music business.”

When he moved to the canyon, Wilson, 43, was taken under the wing of legends like Jackson Browne (whom he refers to as “my West Coast dad; he’s the one luminary I’ve spent the most time with”) and Roy Harper (for whom he produced a solo record and assembled a tribute disc, “What You Need Is What You Have: The Songs of Roy Harper”).

Asked whether he has an affinity with a bygone hippie era, or if he feels like he’s lived before, he says maybe: “I don’t know why I was very driven to find and channel sounds from the ‘60s and ‘70s for so long. I’m not some man out of time. I just seem to follow a type of rock and roll classicism that’s pretty much on the wane. By the f—— hour.”

IF YOU GO
Jonathan Wilson
Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Sept. 21-22
Tickets: $20 to $25
Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.ticketfly.com

Tom Lanham
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Tom Lanham

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