Southern California singer-songwriter and producer Jonathan Wilson’s new recording is “Rare Birds.” (Courtesy Andrea Nakhla)

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.comDawesJackson BrowneJonathan WilsonLaurel CanyonPop MusicRare Birds

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The admissions process at the academically competitive Lowell High School is set to change this year due to coronavirus restritions. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Lowell’s selective admissions process put on hold this year — and more changes may be in the works

School board votes unanimously to use normal student assignment lottery for competitive school

Diners sit outside Caffe Greco in North Beach on Monday, June 15, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF becomes first Bay Area County to move to least restrictive COVID-19 category

Change to ‘yellow’ will allow more indoor dining and fitness, reopening non-essential offices

City officials want to install more red light cameras but the process is costly and time consuming. (Shutterstock)
Transit officials push for more red light cameras

SFMTA says ‘capital crunch’ and dragging timelines make expanding the program cumbersome

Police release an image a cracked windshield on a Prius that Cesar Vargas allegedly tried to carjack. Vargas, who was shot by police a short time later, can be seen in videos jumping on the windshield and pushing a Muni passenger who disembarked from a bus. (Courtesy SFPD
SFPD releases videos of deadly police shooting

Cesar Vargas killed after reports of carjacking with knife

Organizers of the San Francisco International Arts Festival had planned to use parts of Fort Mason including the Parade Ground, Eucalyptus Grove and Black Point Battery to host performances by about a dozen Bay Area arts groups. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Arts festival sues city over permit denial

Organizer says outdoor performances should be treated like demonstrations, religious gatherings

Most Read