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COLUMN:  Sound Board

Mild-mannered and self-effacing, Jon Goin doesn’t often let on that he has worked with some real heavyweights in the music industry.  He has jammed, performed, toured, or recorded with stars in R&B, Country, and Contemporary Christian music, from Martha Reeves and Buddy Miles to Jose Feliciano and The Crusaders.  He has also worked with music makers such as drummer and producer James Stroud (of Stroudivarious Records), record executive Ahmet Ertegün (founder and president of Atlantic Records), and producer extraordinaire Tony Brown (former president of MCA Records) (see Part 2 -The Producers).  

Along the way, Jon has gained insights into the creative process, the art and science of producing music, and the music business. He has also had a whole lot of fun rockin’ out with some very talented people.  

In the early days, Jon toured the country with a nine-piece R&B band.  At an outdoor festival in Oklahoma one summer, Freddy King, one of the most high-energy blues singers and guitarists of all time, was a featured artist.  As Jon’s band started their set, Freddy quite literally jumped on stage and shouted, “Let’s jam!”  He grabbed the guitar right out of a stunned band member’s hands and proceeded to rock the place.  The band knew all of his hits and, as it turned out, ended up playing most of them.  

“At the end, Freddy thanked us and strutted off stage to wild applause,” said Jon.  “When Freddy returned the guitar to its rightful owner, the guy discovered deep gouges on the back of the neck from Freddy’s rings.  It left the guitar only marginally playable.”  While most guitarists would be in shock at his favorite instrument’s war wounds, the guitarist treasured it as a trophy for many years to come.

It was summer in New Orleans, and the band had an extended engagement at the Ivanhoe Club in the French Quarter. One night, Jose Feliciano, Puerto Rican singer and virtuoso guitarist famous for the holiday single Feliz Navidad, stopped by.  He listened to the band for a set, then asked to sit in for a jam session.  

And jam they did, into the wee, warm hours.  It was the first time Jon had heard Jose Feliciano play electric guitar.  “He was stunning,” said Jon.  “He just tore it up, it was absolutely incredible.  We had a wonderful time with him.”  

Feliciano’s artistry and prominence is particularly impressive given than he was born in poverty, blind and sickly, yet rose to international stardom as a performer and composer garnering eight Grammy Awards and more than forty-five Gold and Platinum records.  He was the first Latin cross-over artist and opened the door for a generation of musicians to follow.

When Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records, signed a new artist, Diana Ross, he looked to producer Richard Perry to repeat the success he had just had with a Martha Reeves album.  The solo release, titled Martha Reeves, came out after she left The Vandellas.  It was followed by a tour which ran coast to coast—from the Bottom Line and Madison Square Garden in New York to The Troubadour in Hollywood—and finally up to Detroit, the home of Motown.  Jon was the lead guitarist.

from the Bottom Line and Madison Square Garden in New York to The Troubadour in Hollywood—and finally up to Detroit, the home of Motown.  Jon was the lead guitarist.

On the way, the group stopped to play at a Toronto jazz club.  There they were joined for two nights by Billy Preston, a keyboard player who had been a child prodigy.  By the age of ten, Preston was backing gospel singers such as Mahalia Jackson on organ, and later became a member of the bands of both Little Richard and Ray Charles.  He gained fame as a session musician for The Beatles and played on the solo albums of three of the ex-Beatles after the breakup.

Back in the mid-70’s Preston had played with The Rolling Stones, recorded a live album, had singles in the top four on the charts, and wrote Joe Cocker’s greatest hit, “You Are So Beautiful.”  And yet, Jon recalls seeing an artist whose musical genius was beginning to fade.

It was not a lack of talent or opportunity that was stunting Preston’s creative growth, but rather the toll a lifestyle of excess had begun to take.  Like so many artists before and since, his life of partying crossed the line into addiction and self-destruction.  It was a cautionary tale for a group of young musicians on the road.  “My whole experience with the band was more or less a party,” said Jon.  “It wasn’t until I saw real professionals who had achieved success that I realized, if I too wanted to succeed, I would need to grow up and get serious about my musical career.”

That’s Groovy, Part 1 - The Artists

By Ilona  Goin