David Hillyard Makes A Love Letter To California

David HIllyardI am a huge fan of the David Hillyard and The Rocksteady 7 stuff. More so than most of The Slackers material. I just love the approach to the songs, the deconstruction of old jazz and reggae material an his take on modern music making. So much so that I talked him into letting me release a 45 for my label Moondust Records.

Well when his latest California was being promoted and up for sale I missed it. I had a lot of things going on at the time. I’ve finally gotten around to getting a copy of it and as I figured it’s another collection of outstanding musical workouts this time surrounded by a plethora (been wanting to use that word for so long and it certainly fits here!) of outstanding talent. He usually has a core group of cats that perform on every album and mixes in a bunch of his other friends from his decades long performing history but the group he has assembled for this collection is way over anything he has ever done before.

He’s got musicians from Hepcat, The Slackers, The Aggrolites, The Phenomenauts, The Expanders, Los Hot Boxers, Mr. T-Bone, Whisky Evengers, Kings Go Forth and more including his regular partner Larry McDonald of course which is always awesome to hear. It’s not just ska and reggae beats this time out though even with all those heavyweights of the genre. The music on the release bounces from the Jazz Reggae he so loves to slow soul oldies to the rocksteady style you would assume.

Big Wheel Magazine posted a review that I think sums up the listening experience pretty well.

This album must be listened to in its entirety to grasp the scope of its perfection and representation of what some of the best from the west coast to the east have offered for years. Please do yourself a favor and purchase this masterpiece and count tracks like “Fortunate One” featuring Devin Morrison and Chiquis Lazoya (The Expanders) and the haunting yet beautiful tune “Baby Smile” amongst your personal prized collection, featuring Sean Wheeler and Regina Sadowski.

The replay value of “California” is off the charts, and any serious music lover with an ear for quality musicianship can clearly see this is more than a collection of amazing artists, it’s a culmination of years of passion and dedication masterfully conceived and executed to the highest degree.

I could not have said it better myself. I fully agree and recommend picking up this collection for any serious music lover. This is what David had to say about the making of the album and what it means to him:

David Hillyard California AlbumCalifornia is an album that I have been dreaming about making for a couple years. A bunch of milestones came up, I had passed my 25th anniversary of my first gig, and then I’m heading for my 22nd anniversary in New York. This coming year, I will have lived in New York more than I have lived in California, so that got me thinking. I have been writing little story like songs about different events in my past for a long time now.

I decided to gather a bunch of them dealing with my time in California that I haven’t released and work out the arrangements of them. There are songs about my Grandfather, my Dad, various and sundry friends and enemies….of course songs I wrote about ex-girlfriends pop up….and sometimes the music is just supposed to remind of the sun, the breeze….my youth. I made little demos with me singing and got Justin Rothberg to accompany me on guitar.

I sent these out to my buddies on the west coast and the germs of a recording session were born. Of the covers on the album. There are 3. Green Dolphin Street and Tenderly are instrumentals that I had been playing or meaning to play with Hepcat when I lived there. Wont Back Down is a Tom Petty song that got into my head while I was working on the arrangements. I was first using it for inspiration but then I started hearing the reggae in it and the soft spoken but stubborn attitude reminded me of myself. So it became a theme song of sorts.

I dropped Brian Dixon a line because I have really respected his playing, mixing, and production on the Aggrolites records. I needed someone to guide the music of this project and I knew he would be able to get things to sound correct. For the rhythm sections I reached to 2 different groups, the 1st was my Rocksteady 7 del norte buddies, Jimmy Boom, Clint Sobolik, and Christian Vela. The other was Hecpat drummer Greg Narvas, another Rocksteady 7 touring alumni Chiquis Lozoya (He’s played with everybody in LA), and Brian of course.

In 2 days in LA, the 1st section cut 9 tunes and the 2nd section three. Then I was lucky enough to call in some favors and get a nice group of vocalists together including Greg Lee & Alex Desert (Hepcat), Jesse Wagner (Aggrolites), Devin Morrison (Expanders), and Sean Wheeler (Throwrag.)

Then I brought the music with me back to New York and got a lot of my east coast buddies on it. I recorded, my guru, Larry McDonald in his living room. I got guys from the Rocksteady 7 and . I found friends in the midwest and even in Italy that could help me finish up parts.

The album is being made in pieces. Slowly the pieces come back to me. Layer after layer is pieced together. Its easily the most complex arrangements I’ve ever done. But somehow, probably because of Brian, it’s sounding natural and organic. The songs (even the instrumentals) are story driven. Everything is centered around the lyrics. The instruments serve the greater story.

Brian really gets that.

I also got Vic Rice and Agent Jay to deconstruct some tunes and make some dubs.

To me, the album feels like a Hepcat album I could make at the age of 43 (as opposed to 21 when I did it). Sometimes it feels like a Slackers album if all the songs were written and arranged by me. Or a Rocksteady 7 album with a lot of vocals. Its a summing up of what I’ve done so far and pointing me towards what I have to do next. I didn’t feel like I could move on with my life until I got this off my chest!

The album is currently available for digital download for just $10 from Whatevsi Records (and well worth every damn penny!) as well as CD and Vinyl thanks to the BigTunes campaign. It is also coming out on Rocking Records from Germany.

California Back PanelRecording Details

Drums – Jimmy Boom
Drums – Greg Narvas
Bass – Clint Sobolik
Bass, Vocals – Chiquis Lozoya
Guitar – Christian Vela
Gutiar – Brian Dixon
Guitar, Banjo – Justin Rothberg
Violin – Regina Sadowski
Organ, Piano – Dave Wake
Organ – Ray Jacildo
Organ – Vic Ruggiero
Trumpet – Kinkaid Smith
Trumpet – Rich Graiko
Trombone – Phil Cooper
Trombone – Buford O’Sullivan
Trombone, Vocals – Glen Pine
Trombone, Bass Trombone – Mr Tbone
Saxophones – Dave Hillyard
Vocals – Greg Lee
Vocals – Alex Desert
Vocals – Jesse Wagner
Vocals – Sean Wheeler
Vocals – Devin Morrison
Vocals – Christine Mayers
Percussion – Larry McDonald

Track Listing:
1) Won’t Back Down
2) Guilty
3) Fortunate One
4) Interlude #2
5) Baby Smile
6) Drive My Car
7) Green Dolphin Street
8) Pulling Strings
9) Oldies
10) Tenderly
11) Opposition
12) You Don’t Care For Me At All

Bonus Digital Only Tracks
13) Won’t Back Down (alt mix)
14) Won’t Back Down Dub
15) Fortunate One Extended Mix
16) Fortunate One Dub
17) Fortunate Two Dub
18) Dubbing The Strings
19) Opposition Dub
20) Interlude #1

I've been involved in the Los Angeles music scene since at least 1995 going to shows, promoting, spinning records and running labels. Ska and Early Reggae are my passion among other things of course.