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By Mike Seeley
Nick Waterhouse is a purist who just wants to make R&B records the way they used to, and that's exactly what he did with his self-produced, horn-driven, debut single, "Some Place."
It was recorded to magnetic tape and mastered straight to mono on the Gold Star studios lathe at Mike McHugh's Distillery in Costa Mesa, the same one used decades earlier by Phil Spector and the Beach Boys. The result, released on his PRES record label, is a savage new R&B single you'd swear was made in the early '60s.
"I told myself I was gonna use whatever money I had, and I was gonna make a 45 that I was really proud of," says the 25-year-old guitarist/producer.
A meticulous rock & roll scholar, Waterhouse started making music while attending Huntington Beach's Edison High School, singing and playing guitar with Intelligista, a teen mod/R&B band modeled on the Animals and the Sonics. But after releasing only one single, the band split up to attend distant colleges, with Waterhouse moving north in pursuit of a more serious musical community.
He didn't quite find what he was looking for, though. "San Francisco just seemed more sophisticated," he says. "I thought I was gonna find the kind of musicians who are as serious as I am, but I was so profoundly wrong."
Depressed and bandless, he started deejaying soul and R&B clubs, spinning the most raw, head-cutting 45s ever pressed to vinyl, collected from years of apprenticing at a tiny, independent record shop called Rooky Ricardo's in the lower Haight district. But soon, he knew it was time to make music of his own—and exactly what kind of record he wanted to make.
"Most of the stuff that I love was usually made by some crazy guy who borrowed $400 and took his act into the studio, and then was selling them out of the trunk of his car," he says, "and if he sold enough of those, he made another record."
But getting into the studio to record his dream 45 proved difficult—until he met Ira Raibon, who played sax in a number of groups in the '60s and '70s, including a very collectible funk group called the Fabulous Souls and the initial lineup of Earth Wind & Fire.
Once Raibon agreed to play on the record, Waterhouse put together the Tarots and the Naturelles, two groups of wildly talented—but significantly less experienced—musicians and singers. After a few sessions at the Distillery, he finally produced the 45 he'd waited all his life to make.
Released last year, "Some Place," with the backside "That Place," is long out of print. And when it shows up on eBay, it fetches nearly $200 every time—often from record nerds Waterhouse knows to be DJs and musicians he has admired for years.
He is now signed to up-and-coming label Innovative Leisure, home to artists as diverse as rock & roll revivalist Hanni El Khatib and hard-edged rapper Freddie Gibbs, and his debut LP, recorded in a series of manic Distillery sessions between travels from San Francisco to Costa Mesa and back again, is due in April.
"I just don't want to do it unless I'm doing it the right way," Waterhouse says. "I guess I figured out the right way—now it's just about finding the right people who will go the right way with me."
This article appeared in print as "An R&B Revival: Nick Waterhouse parlayed one brassy R&B single into an old-fashioned record deal."