Who was/is John Blair ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Jon & The Nightriders
''I decided to finally make a record, but I needed to find good, seasoned players. I recruited Jeff Nicholson first, who had played bass at my publishing party. He had been a musician in local Riverside bands for years using the stage name 'Niki Syxx'. A friend of Nicholson, Dusty Watson, was playing drums at the time for a punk rock band called The Press. Both Jeff and Dusty were eager to help''.
Through his rockabilly work with Ray Campi, and the subsequent publication of his surf music discography, a Los Angeles session guitarist named Ed Black contacted him and he asked Ed if he would be interested in playing on a recording of surf instrumentals. He jumped at the chance, but needed to record under a different name since he was also working with Karla Bonoff at the time, a Columbia Records artist (Ed had also performed and recorded with Linda Ronstadt, Dwight Yoakam, Gene Clark, and The Goose Creek Symphony). Combining Duane Eddy with Chuck Berry’s anthem to guitar players, Johnny B. Goode, Ed decided to use the name Eddy B’Gianni for recording with Jon & The Nightriders.
On July 22, 1979, John Blair, Jeff, Dusty, and Ed recorded four tunes at a friend’s house using two Teac four-track tape decks. John chose the name Jon & The Nightriders for the band. The word 'Nightrider' came from a Dick Dale tune of the same name. John used the alternate spelling of his first name for purely subjective reasons, to take away some of the personal identity and emphasize the entity rather than the person.
A seven-inch EP was pressed on blue vinyl in August on the self created California label. ''I had done what I had wanted to do in 1963: make a surf instrumental record. End of story''.
But Greg Shaw heard the record. Still in command of Bomp Records and his fanzine, 'Who Put The Bomp.' He was impressed with the EP and offered to release a full-length Jon & The Nightriders’ album on his record label if John Blair would produce it. The band entered a formal eight-track recording studio in April, 1980. Over the course of three days, they recorded the tracks that were released four months later on 'Surf Beat ’80,' their first album for Voxx, a subsidiary of Bomp Records. Dick Dale wrote the liner notes. He gave the band a very complimentary statement, part of which read: ''I was so inspired by this record that it just might be the time to pick up my gold Fender Stratocaster, come out of retirement and, once again, share with the people what I’ve experienced on stage and on records. Once again we’ll be one bunch of dancing surfers! Jon & The Nightriders have done their homework!!''
The secret hit from this first LP is 'Depth Charge' which was later used as a bed in the 1995 movie trailer for 'Destiny Turns On The Radio,' starring Quentin Tarantino. Ed Black felt that he should not stay in the band because of other contractual touring and recording obligations. At that point, local Riverside guitarist Dave Wronski joined Jon & The Nightriders for one final recording session the following month.
The release of 'Surf Beat ‘80' helped to spark a strong local revival of surf instrumental bands. In retrospect, the band and their first album have been credited by many writers with starting a “Second Wave” of interest in instrumental surf music. However, while some acts such as The Surf Punks, The Surf Raiders, The Evasions, or even Dick Dale were beginning to achieve substantial media attention for their local appearances, Jon & The Nightriders still had not performed outside of the recording studio.
All of this changed on October 3, 1980. The band was invited to appear as the opening act for a concert, which the promoter had dubbed 'Surf Beat ’80,' at the 3000-seat Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The headliners were The Surf Punks, a very popular local attraction at the time who had a theatrical stage show with a real lifeguard tower and dozens of props. Dick Dale & The Del-Tones was to co-headline the show.
Besides the fact that Jon & The Nightriders would be playing just before Dick Dale, they realized that The Surf Punks also had a very high energy stage show. As the opening warm-up act, they knew they needed a dynamic, exciting approach to hold an audience’s attention for 30 minutes of instrumentals. And so, a set was put together designed for a maximum, non-stop high level of energy. They rehearsed a performance that had an attitude and approach to the music that was completely different from the band’s somewhat relaxed studio performances of their recently released album. They played the same tunes, but harder and faster. It worked. The Santa Monica Civic was sold out that night, and the band received a very warm and energetic reception.
The promoter of the 'Surf Beat ‘80' concert also booked acts for several of Hollywood’s trendy rock nightclubs. Because of their performance that October night, he asked them to appear with The Surf Punks at the prestigious Roxy Theatre in Hollywood two weeks later. That was followed by an offer to perform at the Starwood Club in November. All of a sudden Jon & The Nightriders found themselves emerging as a performing group with much demand.
Those first three appearances generated a fair amount of music press coverage. A surf instrumental band on the local club scene was a novelty for 1980, but because of their energy level and attitude on stage, they meshed well with the Southern California punk and new wave music scene. Over the next several months, they continued to perform regularly at nearly every major nightclub in the Los Angeles area: the Starwood, Whisky A Go-Go, the Troubadour, Madame Wong’s West, the Roxy Theater, and the legendary beachfront club, the Golden Bear.
By mid-December, 1980, things were going so well that they started to plan the recording of a second album. Instead of another studio album, a live album was suggested because our live shows had become substantially different in sound and attitude from our earlier studio recordings. We had been booked to play two nights on January 9th and 10th. Voxx Records brought in a mobile recording truck and we captured each night’s set on tape.
'Recorded Live at Hollywood’s Famous Whisky A Go-Go,' was released in March, 1981. Soon after this release, Dusty Watson had to leave the band and another friend of Nicholson’s, Greg Eckler, was brought in. Greg had a lengthy performing and recording pedigree. He had played in surf bands back in the early 60s, was with The Bush (Hiback Records) and The Light (A&M Records) in the late 60s, and with Rubicon (20th Century Fox Records) in the mid-70s. He toured briefly with Rick Nelson a few months before joining Jon & The Nightriders.
The band continued to generate attention headlining the Starwood Club and opening for The Go-Go’s at Perkin’s Palace in March followed by a short tour of Northern California in early April, playing in Fresno and San Francisco. Back in Southern California, they opened a sold-out concert headlined by The Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Thanks to Greg Shaw and Voxx Records, the first two albums were also released in Holland, Germany, England, and Italy. The owners of the Dutch record company, Rockhouse, were Bert and Frances Rockhuizen. They sponsored a large rockabilly festival in Eindhoven, Holland, every year that featured American as well as European rockabilly artists. Shaw arranged for Jon & The Nightriders to play a special showcase in Los Angeles for the Rockhuizens in May. They were interested in bringing them to Holland for their 1981 festival and wanted to see them perform. They passed the audition and ended up traveling to Europe that October for 20 days, playing the Rockhouse festival (that also included Ray Campi & His Rockabilly Rebels on the same bill) and a number of other, smaller clubs through Holland, Belgium, Germany, and two shows in Milan, Italy.
In advance of that first tour, Voxx Records scheduled a recording session for a three-track EP to be released specifically for the European market. The project was given to one of L.A.’s more legendary and controversial producers, Kim Fowley (his most recent success at that time had been producing The Runaways’ first album). The 'California Fun' EP was only released in Holland and Germany.
Jon & The Nightriders returned from Europe and continued to make local appearances through the rest of the year and into 1982. In April, the band was introduced to Shel Talmy (producer emeritus of such acts as The Kinks, The Who, The Easybeats, and Chad & Jeremy) who agreed to come out of retirement to produce the band’s third album. The recording took place at the prestigious Gold Star Studios with in-house engineer Stan Ross, himself a veteran of sessions with Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, Phil Spector, and hundreds of others over the years.
Over several weeks, 15 tracks were recorded for the band’s next release, 'Charge of The Nightriders.' A contractual dispute between Voxx Records, Talmy, and Gold Star Studios delayed the release of 'Charge of The Nightriders' until early 1984.
In the interim, the nightclub scene in Southern California changed rapidly during 1982 and 1983, doors were closed, and without 'Charge of The Nightriders' being in record stores during that time, Jon & The Nightriders became much less active. They made several local appearances to promote the album in 1984, but the band’s momentum had waned. The group settled into various individual pursuits and unofficially retired from performing and recording with one minor exception. In late 1983, they recorded some incidental source music for an independent theatrical film comedy called 'Surf II.'
By the spring of 1986, John Blair had started to consider another recording project. ''I no longer had a record company behind me and I wanted to have a little more control over the creative process. So, the 'Stampede' album was much more of a vanity project, much like that first 7-inch EP was in 1979. The new album would be in band name only with much of the same creative spirit and intent that was behind our earlier recordings. This time, however, I wanted to play all guitars (by way of overdubs) and add a saxophone to the instrumentation. George White was a perfect choice. Having played sax with the 60’s surf band, The Tornadoes (Bustin’ Surfboards), he brought genre experience to the recording project. As a result, his performance on the 'Stampede' album helped to distinguish it from previous records by the band''.
'Stampede' was recorded between August and October of 1986 in Riverside, California. Only released in Holland on Rockhouse Records (although it was reissued in 1990 on the domestic Norton Records label), it was the fourth Jon & The Nightriders long player and the last one released on a 33 1/3 vinyl record. The track 'Beneath The Reef' from that album was featured in the soundtrack of the Showtime TV movie, 'The Cool And The Crazy' in 1995. The full band wouldn’t regroup for another 10 years.
In May, 1994, the film 'Pulp Fiction' premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and surf music was suddenly back on the pop culture radar. The so-called “Second Wave” of surf music that Jon & The Nightriders started in 1980 seemed to suddenly explode into a “Third Wave” as many surf instrumental bands (here and around the world) formed in the wake of 'Pulp Fiction.'
Jeff Nicholson had relocated to Oregon, so John asked Pete Curry to step in on bass guitar. At the time, Pete was playing guitar for a popular Los Angeles surf instrumental band, The Halibuts. John Blair was set in for another recording project that would be the band’s first CD release and their first recordings together in over ten years. Dusty Watson returned to the band and John approached Rob Santos, the Manager of Product Development at AVI Entertainment in Los Angeles. Over the previous year or two, the label had released several surf music reissues that helped to further define the surf music scene in Southern California during the 60s. They were about ready to launch a subsidiary label, Atomic Beat, and agreed to sign the new Jon & the Nightriders’ CD for the label’s fledgling release.
'Fiberglass Rocket' was released on Atomic Beat at the end of July, 1996, and the band was quickly booked into Hollywood’s Roxy Theatre on August 17th for a CD launch party. It was the first live appearance in 12 years. The label did a good job of promoting the CD and the band headed out for a few more shows over the coming months in support of the new record. By the end of 1996, hey found a tour promoter in Belgium who wanted to bring the band back to Europe and ideas for another overseas tour began to develop.
Jon & The Nightriders was the first surf instrumental band to tour Europe in 1981, but the music had become more popular by 1997. There were more surf bands now than ever before, especially overseas. That meant more opportunities to hear surf instrumental music played live. They completed their second tour of northern Europe in March, 1997.
In June, Jon & The Nightriders was one of a group of surf bands that marched through Georgia and Tennessee for a handful of dates on what was billed as 'The Surfari USA Tour.' Over the next several months and into 1998, they made a few local appearances, including a return to the Whisky A Go-Go.
In November 1997, Jon & The Nightriders recorded two studio tracks for a single release on the Finish label, Gas Records. Another live performance was recorded in the summer of 1998 at the Foothill Club in Long Beach, California that was released on the German Gee-Dee label as a CD 'Raw & Alive ‘98'. The European 'Raw & Alive Tour' followed in September and October, 1998.
The band remained active into 1999, although becoming more of a studio band than a performing one. A track for a tribute compilation to The Ventures was recorded and another for a Christmas-themed compilation of surf instrumentals that was planned for later in the year.
''Once again, a European promoter wanted to bring us back to Europe that spring and the idea of recording a new CD was discussed. We already had several tracks recorded for earlier projects, so we started to work on more tracks for a new CD in the winter of 1998. It would be our most ambitious undertaking to date. I used acoustic guitars and a 12-string electric on some tracks, and brought in a keyboard player to create MIDI string arrangements. It would also take the longest amount of time – nearly a year – to finish recording and mixing everything for the new record, 'Moving Target'. We struck a deal with the same German record company that released the 'Raw & Alive ‘98' CD the previous summer. And so it was that most of our dates on the 'Moving Target' European tour took place in Germany during May and June, 1999. The CD was arguably the band’s best reviewed release''.
Jon & The Nightriders performed at a benefit concert for the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum on March 26, 2000. It was billed as 'The Rendezvous Ballroom Reunion Concert 2000,' bringing together several surf bands to help celebrate a special evening of music surrounding the memories of the Rendezvous Ballroom (the birthplace of surf music in 1961). The concert was recorded and released privately by the museum in 2001.
Jon & The Nightriders played a few more local dates that year, and recorded one final CD of cover tunes (called 'Undercover') specifically to promote their final European tour in November and December of 2000. That was the last time Jon & The Nightriders rocked Europe
With excerpts from a John Blair interview