Foundations: Nick Waterhouse

Expert selections from the soulful American vocalist...

Nick Waterhouse writes songs as crisp as a brand new Brooks Brothers buttondown shirt, as bright as a pair of box-fresh Bass Weejun loafers.

Tapping into both the Ivy League tradition and the golden era of rhythm 'n' blues, his expertly stylish, deeply soulful approach has a path of its own.

His latest album – self-titled, of course – drops on March 8th, and it finds Nick Waterhouse toying with gritty soul and latin influences, all channelled through that phenomenal voice. Indeed, that's one of Nick's main desires – taking his expert musical knowledge, and translating that into something implicitly personal.

Clash caught up with Nick Waterhouse to discuss a few of his Foundations…

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Mose Allison – 'Mose Alive'

Mose is a tonic to me, something I can have on and feel totally in tune with; the lyrics, the tones, the rhythms… It's just the total package.

While many of his other studio albums mean so much to me (‘I've Been Doin’ Some Thinking’ and ‘Sings’ definitely sit a hair away from this spot) this dark horse might be the most influential, sheerly for its wabi-sabi. Glasses clink and loudmouth revellers murmur all throughout. The mics are dark and wooly, at times highly distorted, and through every solo the vocal microphone keeps grabbing Allison's wordless hum as he solos. And I LOVE all this stuff. This was the nightlife world, not the rock star world, in one disc.

The tunes and arrangements taught me so much about economy, personality, humour, and syncopation. Worth the price of admission for 'I Love The Life I Live' alone.

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Atlantic Rhythm And Blues

Ruth Brown, Lavern Baker, Gator Jackson, Ray Charles, The Coasters, The Drifters, Solomon Burke, Aretha Franklin. This box set up and LIVED in my mind for years and I keep coming back to this the way theatrical types do Shakespeare.

Some of the best captured, recorded, produced music ever made in the history of time and an extra thrill to me knowing it was done with the vision and luck of a small gang. For years they'd cut these MAGNIFICENT 45 singles at radio stations and small by the hour studios, and when they went 'pro' they were pushing the desks of the office to the side after hours and having young Tom Dowd cut right there six stories up from Broadway.

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Johnny Guitar Watson – 'S/T'

"Let me invade a little!" Johnny cries, off the cuff, as he starts into his phenomenal guitar solo on ‘Gangster Of Love’. There's a weird thing that some people talk about with movie stars – that x factor that makes a face ripe for not just the adoration of millions, but for identification… and John Watson had it on this one and only King LP of his.

It's more than charisma, it’s just that he sounds so DAMN good in front of this band (Johnny Otis' team of LA players, by the way) just being himself. Every vocal tic, every guitar pickup between lines, every solo is like a stand up comic landing jokes on the perfect beat or a basketball player that cannot stop sinking threes.

He's too underrated among blues fans because he is so much a PART of these great and funny and sly and sexy tunes that he can't just be considered a guitar hero… Etta James even said she learned a lot of her vocal chops off his tunes like 'Cuttin' In'.

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Urban Renewal

This may be a cheat, but you could make this playlist yourself via YouTube nowadays.

In San Francisco, I worked for years at a shop called Rooky's. The owner, Dick, had made a bunch of cassettes in the 1980's that were a huge hit after being used strictly for continuous background playback in the shop and a few friends' restaurants. They weren't High Fidelity style mixtapes full of neurotic white rock culture decisions (The Prufrocks of the import bin). 

No – these were living breathing things, tapped into the ether of the dance club scene Dick grew up in, where you'd go to see and the Ike and Tina Review in Vallejo, and scoot across the bridge to shingaling to The Miracles at the On Broadway. Everyone knew the only white British record black dance clubs played was 'Keep On Runnin' by the Spencer Davis Group and that 'The Duck' was a huge hit in San Francisco but no one in Los Angeles liked it… It's this knowledge, this world, that spurred Dick on to start making his own thematic and dramatic compilations he sells at the shop.

Urban Renewal is a collection of a dreamworld – something so deep and powerful it makes you feel like you are living in the metropolis in 'Spanish Harlem' or those great, early big city type records by Maxine Brown, Chuck Jackson, and the Isley Brothers.

The thing is, this compilation is all one off, never before on CD recordings straight from his private collection, stuff like Milt Grayson's 'Your Old Standby'. For me, it perfectly sums up my own private world of San Francisco… sitting behind a window gazing out at the city lights, jumping the street car for some late-night rendezvous… timpanis and vibraphones and Spanish flourishes all through a haze of plate reverb and the perfect sweet spot of Brill Building adult writing.

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Joe Bataan – 'Under The Streetlamps'

I used to be made to feel bad about my shortcomings, but Joe Bataan taught me how to accept them and use them as strengths. Within this collection are some of my all time, stone cold dancefloor favorites.

The arrangements, the performances, the frankly brutal recording techniques, all give me the shivers they are so bold and, frankly, refreshing. I LOVE this band, and I LOVE tunes like 'Subway Joe', 'Magic Rose' and 'What Good Is A Castle'.

In a way I learned a lot about simplicity and teamwork, and most significantly – the atmosphere! Just listen to most of this and try not to start grooving just a little in your seat…

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'Nick Waterhouse' will be released on March 8th. 

Catch Nick Waterhouse at the following shows:

18 Manchester Gorilla
19 Nottingham Rough Trade
21 London 229

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