Liner Notes 05: Ripley Johnson

Red Light Radio breathes diversity, and diversity is just what guitarist Ripley Johnson stands for. The Portland based Johnson is part of the better known space/psychedelic rock band Wooden Shjips (often compared to The Doors, Soft Machine and Guru Guru) and Moon Duo, and represents their music mostly during live occasions. True fact here is that having Johnson on board for an exclusive Liner Notes Mix by Red Light Radio and Sonos is a true honor. A mix filled with psychedelics, rock, ambient, jazz, funk, Turkish pearls, Zam-rock and heavy noise. Get warmed-up for a proper master class and some pleasure for the ears.

  • Track 1LondonJibóia

    Psychedelic and experimental electronica have been massively taking over the last couple of years.
    This recent track by the Portugal based Jiboia is just a perfect example of how the genres blend so
    well together. Jiboia aka Joao Silva’s ‘Masala’ has just hit the shelves in February and covers eight
    tracks that all represent city names. ‘London’ is a heavy experimental track with loads of Arabic influences - nothing like the name pretends it to be. Johnson: “I chose this because I’m a big fan and it’s from their great new album. We played with them in Lisbon a few years ago, and that’s how I found out about them. It’s always great when you discover something cool and unexpected while on the road.”

  • Track 2Like A Hawk (D.B. Version)Golden Teacher & Dennis Bovell

    Their LP cover might just be one of the best out there, but it sure is a must have when it comes down to the mixed flavor of post-punk, (acid) house and techno Golden Teacher represents. The Glasgow band released their first three EPs on JD Twitch’s Optimo Music, and later on put out their debut album ‘First Three EPs’ through the well-known Rough Trade shop in London. ‘Like A Hawk’ reflects the collaboration between the analogue dance outfit Golden Teacher and prime mover Dennis Bovell - the famous reggae guitar player who was part of the British band Matumbi. His influence can be noticed by the groovy yet hypnotic reggae strings and a sputtering drum machine shuffle, whilst Golden Teacher tops off with their unique left field sound.

  • Track 3Right Down HereAsha Puthli

    From combining the experimental rhythms in the first two tracks, Johnson easily finds his way to Indian singer Asha Puthli. The Bombay based musician is classically trained in jazz improvisation and world music, and makes her jazz, funk- and soul sweetness just as bright as the colors spread in her home town. Whilst her heavy but candied voice sings through the basis of bass guitar, trompet and keys, she creates a cute atmosphere that keeps you listening right from the start. Johnson, who’s heart rather not grabs back to disco, fell in love with her cover single of ’Right Down Here’, released on CBS in 1974. “I’m not a huge disco fan but I love JJ Cale, and she does two JJ Cale covers on one album. I only really like cover versions that bring something new to the song, and her sound is so different from Cale’s, yet it works so well”

  • Track 4Sequencer RollBaumann & Koek

    As said earlier on: Johnson is a man of diversity. This German ambient beauty from 1979 is the result of the teamwork between the Turkish Ata Koek (real surname: Köktürk) and Wolfgang Baumann (who’s often confounded with Tangerine Dream’s Peter Baumann). Without any label releasing this creation, the pair put their first and only EP out theirselves. Mixed in Conny Plank’s studio, the two made music that has loads of references to the Berlin School: ‘layered sequencer patterns, swirling chord tapestries and a weird computer beat’ blended in one release. Their reissue of this LP came out recently on Hamburg based label Bureau B. Call it undiscovered and mysterious treasure of German electronic music.

  • Track 5Moon BeamsBrenda Ray

    Johnson flips back to the warm-hearted, reggae/funk influenced, synth-popish, fresh and slightly experimental sound of Brenda Ray aka Brenda Kenny, who’s been part of Naffi (Sandwich) band together with her musical friend Freddie V (aka Jerry Kenny). Her LP, with the amount of thirteen DIY-tracks, was recorded at a home-made studio in North West England. Brenda Ray’s ‘D’Ya Hear Me!: Naffi Years, 1979-83’ is the second release by the Japanese EM label and brings a wide-ranging sound with lovely vocals, dubs and odd instrumentals.

  • Track 6Purple MusicPrince

    There are very less words needed to describe Prince’s music; his music creates the story itself. The legendary musician knew how to blend genres perfectly, opened eyes constantly, erased boundaries/payed awareness regarding gender and was one of the best performers our world has ever known. With his recent loss this year, the world has been paying tributes to the musician that will be missed forever. ‘Purple Music’ is one of the tracks that has never seen the daylight that moment. Johnson: “I was never a huge Prince fan, and never actually owned any of his albums. His Super Bowl performance some years back really opened my eyes. When he died, I downloaded a 4-CD bootleg of unreleased tracks that someone had culled from like 20-plus CDs. His creative output was unreal. I love it. I think the fact that it’s less-slick enabled me to get into his world more easily. Now I can’t wait to work my way through the proper albums.”

  • Track 7TanithThrobbing Gristle

    The surprise effect of this mix is definitely one of the elements Johnson tried to squeeze in. This mysterious, soft, twinkling, experimental and haunting sound of Throbbling Gristle takes you on a weird trip through their bizarre blend of genres. The band is mostly described as ‘the first real industrial group’ and as ‘the founders of Industrial Records and one of the most important electronic music innovators of all time’. With quite a reputation out there, they’ve put out around 80 releases with ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’ being released in 1979. Johnson: “I just started to listen to Throbbing Gristle a couple of years ago. I always associated them with Industrial, which I always associate with clanging and power tools etcetera, so I never checked them out. But they really exist outside of any genre. It’s like mystery music.”

  • Track 8Forsaken DawnUmberto

    Moving over the synthesizer madness with Umberto, the alias of Los Angeles based composer Matt Hill. His approach to producing music is somewhat unique you can say. Whilst starting in Kansas City in 2008, Hill started writing scores to films which only existed in the ethereal realms of his imagination, combining the influences from several horror films of the late ‘70s and ’80s with italo disco and ambient music. American label Permanent Records released his album ‘From The Grave…’ in 2008, which includes the electro and prog rock based track ‘Forsaken Dawn’. Johnson: “I think Umberto is a genius: every album is fantastic. He really should be huge by now. Someday he’ll probably be making amazing film scores.”

  • Track 9FaroHeron Oblivion

    New progressive and psychedelic rock from the US. Released on the well-respected Sub(terranean) Pop label, San Francisco based Heron Oblivion (Charlie Saufley, Ethan Miller, Meg Baird and Noel Von Harmonson) already found a huge home for their first ever record. Heavy guitar plays mixed up with loud noise and dusty ’60-ish vocals; that’s what this band stands for. The group may be new to all listeners, but each musician of the band has been making music for almost ten years now. It was the jams in 2014 that created something special and eventually ended up in forming the initiative. Johnson: “We know Heron Oblivion from their past bands, from San Francisco: Comets on Fire, Howlin Rain, Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound. It’s a super group. They’re awesome. They’ve slept in our house. We’re buds.”

  • Track 10JointSoft Machine

    Soft Machine’s jazz/rock album ’Switzerland 1974’ was released on Cuneiform Records last year. Daevid Allen was one of the founders of the band and rubbed shoulders with Terry Riley and William S. Burroughs, got free acces to many jazz clubs, got influenced by the music philosophies of Sun Ra and formed the Daevid Allen Trio later on. The Soft Machine-project, which he co-founded (before leaving the group) with Kevin Ayers, Robbert Wyatt and Mike Rutledge, creates the perfect balance of jazz and rock as aftereffect of their own development within psychedelic music. ‘Joint’ is part of their CD/DVD-release from 2015, and got recorded in performance at Congress Hall in Motreux (Switzerland, on July 4, 1974). It’s a direct link to the album title the men gave this recent release.

  • Track 11Khala My FriendAmanaz

    “Where do you think you're going to?
    And the road you're taking
    There is no end
    Khala my friend, come back to me
    Khala my friend, cause I'm gonna miss you
    Khala my friend...

    The world is full of misery
    And the road you're taking
    There is no end
    Khala my friend, come back to me
    Khala my friend, cause I'm gonna miss you”

    Pure, thoughtful, sweet and lovely vibes all over in Amanaz’s ‘Khala My Friend’, with lead singer Keith Kabwe singing his words carefully. The five-piece band has its heritage from Kitwe (Zambia) and put out this fantastic record in 1975, whilst being part of the ‘Zam-rock’ scene. These musicians were both behind and ahead of its era, representing a sound that combines the best elements of rock, folk-pop and funk all at once. Their album ‘Africa’ got reissued twice by the labels Now Again and Shadoks, whilst Kabwe already retired farming by this time and out of the other four band members, only Isaac Mpofu still survived. Johnson: “I actually thought about doing a whole mix of just Zam-rock bands. It’s one of the greatest rock scenes of all time, and this Amanaz album is one of the best releases. I like this song because it reveals a gentle side to the music.”

  • Track 12DolanaMustafa Ozkent Orchestra

    From the African beauty above, Johnson hops over to Turkish composer, arranger and musician Mustafa Ozkent. Ozkent was one of the lesser-known players within the industry, but definitely one that can be defined as a significant figure. At the age of 19th, Ozkent was part of the band ’Teenagers’ and later on earned the reputation as a gifted maverick and was known for modifying the design of his instruments to create unusual tonal qualities. His sound fused psychedelic and pop/rock, R&B and jazz influences, and created music that was based on improvisation. The always steady and impressive Finders Keepers Records were the ones releasing Mustafa Ozkent Orchestra’s Anatolian masterpiece ‘Genclikle Elele’ in 2006. It’s everything you expect and, especially, want it to be.

  • Track 13ZorHardal

    Another Turkish gem following up Mustafa Ozkent’s classic. Hardal was a Turkish progressive rock band, which was active around 1976-2000, known by a small-group of insiders and existed of Sukru Yuksev (vocals/guitar), Cahit Kukul (guitar), Aydin Buyar (bass) and Sedat Avdikoglu (drums). Their debut album ’Nasil? Ne Zaman’ (which means: ‘How? When?’) was recorded in 1974 and got reissued by the same Shadoks as Amanaz’s music in 2009. ‘Zor’, literally translated as ’tough’, is about wishing everything would be a way easier. True music filled with guitars, Eastern-vibes, vocals, harmonies, rhythms and synth sounds. Like one said before: ’the music is the best Turkish progressive underground you can think of.’

  • Track 14A Meditation Mass Part 2Yatha Sidhra

    A proper close off to an experimental ride through Johnson’s record collection is made with ‘A Meditation Mass Part 2’, which is stretched over four parts. Yatha Sidra is the experimental progressive/cosmic-fusion band from Germany, which was formed by the Fitcher brothers from Freiburg in South-East Germany. The siblings rooted in the 1960s rock and soul combo Lea Gamble, later on Brontosaurus and renamed Yatha Sidhra after Achim Reichel signed them via Gorilla Music for a release on Brain. Their LP was their first and only debut album under this alias, and creates a dreamy musical landscape whilst oscillating between folk music, hippie ambience, space rock, jazzy sounds and resulting in mostly instrumental outcomes. A beautiful experience for all Krautrock fans.