This is part 2 of our experiment: Can we get to know someone better through the music in their life? I want to thank Ron for taking the time to look back on his musical life and for sharing it with us.
Here is a link to Part One (youth and high school). Are you ready for Ron’s higher education?
As told to me by Ron:
College days. College daze. “Bright college years … the shortest, gladdest years of life,” according to my school’s alma mater.
I went to college in the 1970s and while there I discovered all kinds of music of which I’d been unaware. Some of it was new. Some of it was just new to me. In college, I was exposed to people from different parts of the country and world, different ethnic and social backgrounds and they in turn exposed me to new music.
Early in my freshman year, I ended up one night after a party in a girl’s dorm room where she played for me the debut album of a singer named James Taylor. I remember reading later that Ray Charles said when he first heard Taylor something like: “He sings like a blind man.” Here was a white man with soul, singing from his own soul, not trying to imitate black soul singers.
Carol King released Tapestry with the huge hit “It’s Too Late.”
One of the biggest hits of that era was Billy Paul recorded Me and Mrs. Jones, which I argued was not really about an illicit love affair but addiction to heroin (listen again. You’ll see what I mean).
The iconic Marvin Gaye put out his greatest work of art, the politically aware, at times angry album What’s Going On.
Stevie Wonder was the middle of his most fertile period, including the album Innervisions with the song Living For City with racial and political overtones. This was music born and bred in the turbulence and turmoil of the time: the Black Power movement and the Vietnam War and Nixon’s rise and fall.
(Forgive me Ron for this duo version and not the album version)
Shortly after I got to college, Jimi Hendrix died and it was only after his death, through a couple of guys who lived across the hall, that I found my way to him. Electric Ladyland, in the vernacular of the era, blew my mind. Hearing now the back to back cuts that end the album All Along The Watch Tower and Voodoo Chile (A Slight Return) are a classic pairing that send me back to my claustrophobic 3rd floor dorm with its waterbed taking up almost my e tire bedroom. “If I don’t see you no more in this world/I’ll meet you in the next one/and don’t be late…” Oh, man!
I remember too a classmate who took LSD, retired to his room to put Derek and the Dominoes on the stereo, slapped headphones on and proceeded to listen to Layla possibly 100 or times in a row, a faint smile on his face as he swayed to it all night. He literally destroyed the album in one sitting. He’s a doctor now somewhere. I think
of him that night whenever I hear Layla.
By now, my musical interests were expanding. I discovered the jazz fusion group Weather Report in the discount bin at a record store. At first listening, it baffled me but I kept playing it and began to hear something new, different, exciting. Unstructured but somehow compelling. The group Chicago which I loved was the closest thing to jazz I’d known. I was learning there was other music than rock and soul that reached me.
Another friend, someone I grew up with in LA, visited and played the Miles Davis album Jack Johnson. Side One was called Right Off, 25 minute free form jam with Miles letting go at the beginning, disappearing for a long interlude then coming back on the tail end of an awesome Herbie Hancock solo.
Collectively this would be and will always the soundtrack of my college years.
One day I had a revelation that would in a sense change my life, or rather my musical tastes and interests. In that same discount bin at the record store, I happened to pull out an album on the Impulse jazz label that was a sampler of some of their artists. It was marked down to $2.49, about half the price of a new album. For some reason — maybe curiosity; certainly the price made it easier to take a chance — I bought it. I took it back to my room and put it on. The first song was by Alice Coltrane, very ethereal with a lot of strings. Intriguing but it didn’t really do much for me.
Then the second song played. I sat up and listened. It was the most gorgeous piece of music I’d ever heard. It was perfect. I looked at the album. It was “Dear Lord” by John Coltrane. And just like that, I was hooked on jazz and, coinciding with my transition from teenager to young adult, and started on the journey toward jazz. As I was leaving college, I was finding a new genre of music, a new soundtrack for what would become my new life.