Whiskey & Bananas Presents: “California Nights,” A Playlist by John Nau of Beacon Street Studios

Dig these eclectic 70s California vibes from OKRP’s Venice-based sound production partner

This month’s guest playlist, presented by Whiskey & Bananas, is curated by John Nau, award-winning composer, producer, multi-talented musician, and co-founder of Beacon Street Studios “on the groovy Abbot Kinney Blvd.” in Venice, California, with musical partner Andrew Feltenstein. Here at OKRP, we love music, and Beacon Street is one of our go-to partners. From Big Lots to Groupon, they are a musical tour de force that brings a smile to our ears!

So how exactly does one end up in this line of work? “A native of southern California, John grew up in a household that fostered his creativity and opened his mind to where his music career would eventually lead. This path moves from theatre, to jazz bands, to playing keys for Hootie and The Blowfish, and eventually composing for films and commercials.”

In creating this playlist for us, John says:

I thought I’d look back and curate some of the music that inspired me. Music that made me ask, “How do I do this?”, inspiring me to learn to play piano and organ as a kid. The simple discovery of a piece of music with beautiful chords or a smoking solo would make me nuts, and I’d listen over and over until I could play along. It was hard to select only one song from albums that I love in their entirety, but these are some of my standouts.

Check out John’s selections below and his reasons for picking these songs. And as a bonus, we’re including some of John’s music-inspired paintings to accompany this groovy, 70s-vibed playlist!

Help Me — Joni Mitchell

A love song written by the master, Joni, featuring her impeccable voice and beautiful lyricism — one of the most underrated guitarists of her generation.

Beginning Again — Brian Auger

I bought the record Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express — Live Oblivion Vol. 1 at a used record shop just because of the cover. I went home and put on side one, song one…what the ??? My ears popped off my head. I loved the vibe, the style and chords, and if that wasn’t enough, Brian lays into a smoking jazz solo on the Fender Rhodes (he’s more known for his organ playing). The architect of what would later be called “Acid Jazz”…this guy can play! Killer jazz keyboard solos over Motown soul-inspired grooves.

Painting by John Nau

Cherry — J.J. Cale

This guy is so cool! The king of laid-back! Always under the radar and often imitated…e.g. Eric Clapton. “Cherry” is just one of the great tracks from J.J.’s album Troubadour.

Stay While the Night is Young — Savoy Brown

Kim Simmonds went through many iterations of the band, this version being one of his best. A jazz influence creeps into the music on this set and newly added vocalist Chris Youlden’s blue-eyed soul baritone voice brings it.

Sandy’s Blues [Live] — Oscar Peterson Trio

From the record Exclusively For My Friends. My friend’s dad gave me a tape of this in high school. Upon listening to the intro to “Sandy’s Blues,” I realized I had a decision to make — quit immediately or listen and practice. I chose the latter. Oscar never disappoints. Watch him on YouTube…sooo good!

It’s For You — Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays

This track and record, As Falls Wichita, so Falls Wichita Falls, has always given me a certain feeling of melancholy that slowly turns to joy. I love this record. It’s a sonic exposé of the pastorale American heartland.

Any Major Dude Will Tell You — Steely Dan

JEEZ! Where are these guys coming from?? Well…a fusion of classic rhythm & blues, jazz harmony and rock n roll. The sardonic lyrics against the smooth intellectual musical backdrop (the jazz-infused chord changes) create some breathtaking iconoclastic pop music. No imitators here.

I Think I’ll Call It Morning — Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott was making music in the 60’s and early 70’s that helped tell the story of the civil rights movement and political and social injustices in America. For every poem or song that dealt with the plight of the inner city or a corrupt government, a little gem would pop on, a song of hope and beauty, this being one of them.

Gil Scott was an original! A writer of books and a seeker of the truth through his music. Hard to compare him with anybody else. With a distinctive voice and style he’s considered one the forefathers of rap music.

Painting by John Nau

I Was Doing All Right — Dexter Gordon

The POET! Born in L.A., crushed it in NYC, lived in Denmark. A towering figure in jazz (literally). Total command of the tenor saxophone, deep rich tone, laid back and hard swinging, plus a dash of humor — in the sense that if you listen to enough of his solos, you’ll notice he loves to incorporate quotes from other songs (such as “If I Only Had a Brain”).

Incident at Neshabur — Santana

From the record Abraxas. I always loved the instrumentals, and Greg Rollie’s organ playing is one of my main early influences. 1970 was an exciting time for music, the lines were blurred — Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, which hit a few months earlier, helped open the door for this jazz/Latin/rock mashup! This stuff was playing on mainstream radio.