Private Playlist: Nick Waterhouse crate digs for his most transformative tunes

Nick Waterhouse. Photo courtesy of the artist

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments.

Nick Waterhouse is no stranger to KCRW’s airwaves, having first appeared on the station in March 2014. Over five albums and a clutch of singles, Waterhouse has distilled the myriad sounds of his LA upbringing into an evocative and ever-evolving brew. For this edition of Private Playlist, he picks a mix of albums and singles that have changed the course of his life, including Mose Allison and Dee Clark.

“Songs are whole worlds. That’s what makes art so significant. It can resonate with you even though it’s traveling from 10 to 150 to 500 years ago.” — Nick Waterhouse

The arc of my selections was [about] how music could be another world for me when I was developing as a human being, not just as a musician. The magic of music is that listeners each have their own astral planes that are layered over this. And songs become these nodes that are in the fourth dimension. It's so tied to your visceral, immediate response, but also your memory and whoever wrote it and whoever was playing on it. I think it's so fascinating how these all intersect. So [there's] almost this spiritual or emotional geography to all these tunes.


The Action was a British group that was around for a few years in the 1960s. For the experience some people were having with The Strokes — where they heard about [them] for 16 months before they ever heard their first song — that was The Action for me. 'Cause every British band was like, "Reg King of The Action is the most soulful British ... They were legendary and undervalued, and they never quite made it. And they were the band that should have made it." 

It was another thing where I was like, "Wow, this is a whole world where you don't have to idolize Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. There's other stuff in this field, in these changes, in these arrangements." And I was playing in a band, so The Action was like, "Alright, well, I'm not going to sound like Sam Cooke or Otis Redding. But Reg King is an amazing singer that can show me how to sing my own songs, maybe, or approach a melody in a certain way."


Helen Grayco’s "Lily's Lament" used to be considered a pop vocal record that would have been junk. These records really sum up where I arrived as a listener and my interest in production and arrangement. And as somebody really interested in what David Thompson, the film writer, calls "the whole equation" ... There were all these treats in these records that really nailed me to the wall. And so something like "Lily's Lament" sounds nuts, and it was unusual, but it had a groove and it would make you feel a certain way.


I kinda feel like I'm tiring people out talking about Mose Allison's influence on me. But he's one of the biggest skeleton keys. This is my favorite period of Mose's career. And what blew my mind is, even this year, after 20-plus years of being a Mose Allison fan, I found out something new about this record. It was cut here in LA at what used to be the annex at Radio Recorders, which is now the Record Plant. 

This record is so cool, though, because you can tell it's his existential-crisis Vietnam record. And it's very subtle, like everything else he does, but besides being the perfect intersection of bebop, traditional swung jazz, blues, folk-blues, a little bit of clever wordplay ... he's like Kenneth Patchen combined with Louis Jordan, but playing in Count Basie's band with no horns. And I just love the songwriting on this. These songs all sound like they already existed. 


Vi Redd was apparently an LA City College attendee who got scouted by Barney Kessel. And because Atlantic was cutting a lot of records on the West Coast at that time, they did two LPs with her. And it's a thing where New York jazz snobs would be like, "Well, it's perfectly competent music, but what is she saying?" You know, this is the time of Ornette Coleman and the world of Don Cherry. There was a big move to intellectualize jazz, which was nightclub music. And she was part of the old way of nightclub music, which was [about] playing your song beautifully with personality. 

Some records are just perfect without needing to be groundbreaking or statement pieces. It doesn't have to just be about fireworks. And Vi Redd's LP is like there's a food group somebody invented. This didn't exist for me before because I was reading the All Music Guide, and they were only telling me about stuff that “matters.”


Dee Clark’s records are so amazing. There are more than a dozen that are [filled with] killer arrangements, tunes like the story he tells as a singer. “Warm Summer Breezes” is the type of record that shows you there are other worlds, and you can keep finding the other worlds. That's the difference between me being 15 in my room listening to The Action, and 10 years later being in the city and hearing this kind of song for the first time.

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