Dave Jerden: The 10 Records That Changed My Life
In the second part of our new series, acclaimed producer and engineer Dave Jerden talks about the records that shaped him
Dave Jerden has produced some of the biggest and most influential albums of the modern rock era, including a pair of discs each for Jane’s Addiction (Nothing’s Shocking, Ritual de lo Habitual) and Alice In Chains (Facelift, Dirt) that qualify him for god-like status. But the studio legend admits that his heart still belongs to the two-minute singles that first inspired him to take up music.
“There have been singles that hit me in the face like a baseball bat,” he says. “Sometimes two minutes are all you need to start a revolution. To me, a great single is like a commercial for a band – it gives you an idea what they’re all about.” He laughs, then adds, “And some bands were one-hit wonders, but that’s OK, too. At least they had one killer song in them, which is one more than a lot of people.”
Singles take up a good amount of real estate in Jerden’s picks for the “10 records that changed his life,” but he stacks the deck with albums, choosing long-players by such artists as Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Robin Trower, among others. “Albums and singles are really two different art forms,” he notes. “One thing takes you to the moon, and the other takes you to Oz. As a producer, I tend to favour the latter approach. If I get the luxury of commanding somebody’s attention for 45 minutes, I want to take them on a journey.”
When Jerden was a teenager in the ‘60s, his record-buying preference changed from singles to albums as LPs became more of an art form unto themselves and less a quick cash-in collection of songs. “When bands started making sustained, unified statements, they changed the whole way we took in music,” he says. “I remember bringing an album home, opening up the package, looking at all the pictures and reading the words as the music played. Each record was like the most important thing in the world at the time. People are missing out on that experience these days.”
Which isn’t to say that he’s against iTunes and various streaming services. Jerden admits that he’s got thousands on songs on his personal iTunes playlist. “I’m like everybody else – I scroll around and find things I want to hear,” he says. From his collection, he’s compiled 20 CDs of favourites that he’s titled “My Brain in a Jar.”
“I think I have something like 1,000 songs on these CDs,” Jerden says. “That’s why this list was pretty tough to do – there’s been so many songs and albums that have influenced me during my life. I actually made several attempts at this list, but then I kept changing them. Finally, it got too ridiculous and I went back to the first list, which is kind of like a Rorschach Test. The first things that come to mind are always the ones that really matter.”
Link Wray – Rumble (1958)
“This was the introduction to the power chord. Nobody had ever heard a guitar sound so huge before – that low, angry distortion. Rumble was actually banned in Boston because the officials thought it would cause rioting in the streets. Think about that for a second: They were banning an instrumental because of the way it would make you feel.
“It was the first record I ever bought. I think I paid a dollar for it. I wore it out, and then I bought another one. I didn’t riot in the streets, but I rioted in my head. During this whole period, all I listened to was surf-type guitar music. Anything with a surf guitar on it was fine by me.
“Rumble was also my introduction to a concept that I developed a word for: bonehead. I always tell bands that I work with, ‘Go bonehead.’ Forget trying to be fancy and cerebral; don’t aim for art in some kind of elitist way. Strip it down to the bare minimum. What is it that you really want to say? If you keep it simple, you’ll get your message across. Rumble is honest and pure, and that’s why it struck a nerve.”**
The Kinks – You Really Got Me (1964)
“I was 15 when this song came out. Even with the Beatles and the Stones and all the other British Invasion groups that were dominating the airwaves, there was something special about You Really Got Me. It just knocked me down on the floor.
“Just like Rumble, the guitar sound was bold and exciting. I’d never heard anything so raw and forceful before. The song got me to change everything in my life. I didn’t copy the Beatles or the Stones, but I wanted to wear the same shirts that Dave Davies wore. This one song had such a dramatic impact on me. You Really Got Me is probably my favourite song of all time.
“I’ve heard so many versions of how the guitar sound was achieved. One story is that Jimmy Page played the guitar through an amp speaker that was cut up by a razor blade. There are other stories out there – who knows what’s really true? I think it was just an amp that was turned up really loud, and that probably overloaded the recording console.”
Jeff Beck – Truth (1968)
“This album flattened me, and to this day it still kills me. I listen to it constantly – it never gets old. Beck’s Bolero is simply epic, and Ain’t Superstitious has such a badass groove to it. Rod Stewart is phenomenal on that one.
“Truth changed everything for me. I was like, ‘Yeah, man – blues guitar!’ I started digging around and listened to blues records. It opened up new doors in my world. I was already a Jeff Beck fan from his work with the Yardbirds, but Truth seemed like such a giant leap forward. I just love his playing on it.
“I worked with Jeff when I was doing the She’s the Boss album with Mick Jagger. I told him how much Truth meant to me and that it changed my life. He just grunted. [Laughs] And there was the time I was working with the Stones, and I was playing the record in the studio. Ron Wood walked in – he played on the album, of course – and he said, ‘You like this?’ He seemed a little surprised. I said, ‘Hell yes, I like it. I love it!’ He just laughed and said, ‘Keith won’t let me play it. He hates it.’ So when Keith came in, I had it blasting. I was waiting for him to tear into me, but he didn’t say anything.”
The Music Machine – Talk Talk (1966)
“This is probably a strange one. The Music Machine had this one hit in the mid-‘60s. It was a weird song with odd changes in it. I heard it and thought, ‘Yeah, these are the kinds of changes I like in a song.’ It was so different from anything else that was on the radio at the time. It seemed to exist in its own little world.
“It’s a heavy song, very gritty and raw. The guitars are so loud and rude. It reminded me of the Kinks’ guitar sound, but whereas You Really Got Me was straight-ahead, Talk Talk was all over the place. I’ve heard jazz artists do these kinds of changes – Charlie Parker, John Coltrane – but nobody in rock was doing this sort of thing. For rock‘n’roll, it was pretty sophisticated.”
Blue Cheer – Summertime Blues (1968)
“I saw Blue Cheer play when this song came out. What a night! The club was jam-packed; there was such a crush of people. Blue Cheer had the biggest wall of amps you’ve ever seen – it was stunning. A couple of people actually threw up because the sound was so massive. At the time, it was the loudest thing ever.
“The guitar sound on this record is totally engulfing. I still try to emulate it to this day. It’s like the amplifiers are blowing up or something. There’s nothing subtle about this record at all. It’s raw power to the max, and it’s in keeping with what I call ‘bonehead.’ They didn’t try to overthink what they were doing. They just plugged their guitars into their amps, they turned everything up as loud as it could go, and then knocked you down with an overwhelming noise. You’ve gotta love it.”
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced (1967)
“This is a no-brainer for me. It’s probably my favourite album of all time. I had a friend who was on Capitol Records, and he got an advance copy of this from Warners. He came over and put it on, and I just couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Who is this guy Jimi Hendrix, and what is he doing?’ The album wasn’t due out for a few weeks, so I got to walk around telling everybody about this new thing I’d heard.
“It was life-changing. Listening to this album was a total epiphany. People are used to it now, so it almost seems traditional, but at the time, this was new territory for music and the guitar. Hendrix changed the game like nobody else since the Beatles.
“I saw Hendrix in 1968 at the Hollywood Bowl, and he played the whole record live. It’s the best show I ever saw. I was ‘experienced’ after that night. Seeing Jimi play really opened the whole thing up for me. You hear a record and you just can’t imagine that anybody can do this kind of thing live; it’s just not possible. But Hendrix took the place into the outer limits. It was everything rock‘n’roll should be. It was exciting, it was new, but most of all, it was dangerous.”
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin (1968)
“I went to see Zeppelin when they did their first U.S. tour. It was at the Ice House in Pasadena. I went to see them because Jimmy Page was playing – I didn’t know too much about this new band. When Robert Plant started singing, I was blown away. He was probably the loudest singer I’d ever heard. The whole band was brilliant. I couldn’t believe how good they were.
“The record is so bonehead to me, and I mean that in a good way. Communication Breakdown, Good Times Bad Times – it’s like three notes, three chords, done. Get in, get out, hit ‘em hard. This is what I love about Jimmy Page – he’s kind of bonehead. He does things so simply, but he screams the hell out of it. This album came right after Hendrix, and it seemed to push things into overdrive. The whole period in the late ‘60s was so important to music. Every week, there were great records coming out.
“I love all the Zeppelin albums, but I have a real soft spot for the first album. I have it in my car, and I play it all the time. I think I listen to it every other day. It’s one of the most incredible debut records of all time. It’s amazing when I talk to young engineers coming up. I’ll say, ‘Led Zeppelin,’ and they’ll say they know the band, but then I mention songs from this record, and I can tell they’ve never heard it. That’s a shame. If you want to be an artist, you should study art."
Robin Trower – Twice Removed From Yesterday (1973)
“Everybody points to Robin Trower for his second album, Bridge of Sighs – and I love that record, by the way – but Twice Removed From Yesterday has such a strange vibe to it. I’ve tried to get that same sort of feeling on records I’ve worked on, but I know that I can’t come close.
“I love the title track, but the song that always kills me is Hannah. When I was doing Three Days with Jane’s Addiction, that was the song running through my head. The way it keeps building and moving on – I love that. They do that thing I was talking about: They take you on a journey. If a song can whisk you away and bring you somewhere else, then it’s really doing something magical.
“Robin Trower came along after Jimi Hendrix died. Everybody wanted more Hendrix, and Trower filled that void. His playing was exciting and kind of spiritual. He didn’t sound like anybody else. He could be a little laid-back at times, but he knew when to explode. He understood taste, restraint and dynamics.”
Cactus – Cactus (1970)
“Jim McCarty on guitar – boy, what a great guitar player. Amazing band. I challenge anybody to find a better, more high-energy song than Parchman Farm. Jim’s playing on that is amazing. He lets loose with a blaze of notes that’ll send you spinning. And Carmine Appice just rocks the drums. These guys could play.
“You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover just explodes. That’s a Willie Dixon song, and Parchman Farm was made famous by Mose Allison. What these guys do to them has to be heard to be believed. They killed them!
“I was in a band at the time, and we did electric blues like Cactus. Truth be told, they did it so much better. This is some of the most exciting music ever. Some people called them ‘the American Led Zeppelin,’ but I didn’t really see that. Zeppelin were deeper and more methodical, and Cactus was like a band on speed.”
Captain Beyond – Captain Beyond (1972)
“Every young band I run into these days knows this album, which surprises me, because for the longest time nobody seemed to mention it at all. It’s influenced a lot of people I’ve worked with. I just did a record with a band called the Shrine, and they all knew about Captain Beyond.
“The first three songs are strung together so well. I try to do all the records I work that way. I don’t know if these guys knew what they were doing at the time, but their work has meant a lot to me over the years.
“Two of the guys in the band were from Iron Butterfly – Larry ‘Rhino’ Reinhardt and Lee Dorman. Lee was a monster bass player. I tried to get the same bass sound when I was doing Jane’s Addiction. If you want to hear something that’ll flip you out, check out Captain Beyond. You might not understand it at first, but give it another listen. You’ll get it, and then you’ll be hooked forever.”