“Such a spectacle: 80,000 fans, eight-way spatial audio”: Did Roger Waters top Pink Floyd at Desert Trip in 2016? His guitarist Jonathan Wilson thinks so (and he wasn’t in the band at the time)

Jonathan Wilson
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Jonathan Wilson’s work as a guitarist, songwriter and producer is spread across the musical spectrum, from his early work with Muscadine to credits with Roy Harper, Jackson Browne, Father John Misty and a list of solo releases. Regarded as a leading light of the revived Laurel Canyon scene, he’s been a member of Roger Waters’ band since 2017. Prog asked Wilson about his relationship with the genre.

Where’s home?

I live in the wonderful area of LA called Topanga Canyon.

What’s your earliest prog memory?

Growing up in North Carolina, listening to classic rock radio and hearing Rush. In my early teenage bands we used to cover Tom Sawyer, of course!

What was the first prog album you bought?

I was a huge Frank Zappa fan early on, so either Hot Rats or Joe’s Garage. I can’t remember which I had first.

And the last?

I recently scored a vinyl reissue of Can’s Tago Mago. I’ve been a massive fan through the years, and I love all phases of that band.

What was your first proggy gig?

Rush on their Signals tour, in Greensboro, North Carolina [March 1983]. I remember during the song Subdivisions that word came out of a different set of speakers around the arena. A quadraphonic aural experience – I’d never heard anything like that in my life.

And the latest?

Big Thief at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in LA [August 2023]. They have angular and proggy moments – I really love that band.

What was the best prog gig you ever saw?

Roger Waters live at Desert Trip, Indio, California [October 2016], before I was in his band. Such a spectacle: 80,000 fans, eight-way spatial audio. Not sure anyone has ever topped that –including Floyd.

What’s your latest prog discovery?

Jim Pembroke from Wigwam. Particularly the album Wicked Ivory, under his moniker Hot Thumbs O’Riley. The song Warm Rumours is my kind of prog rock.

Any guilty musical pleasures?

I’m totally into the early 90s, cheesy world music vibe of Deep Forest. And Zappa’s Jazz From Hell – it’s almost unlistenable to some, but I love it.

Outside of music, what else are you into?

I’m a car nut, in particular early Porsche 911s. I’ve owned three and built one from scratch during the pandemic with a buddy. Also cooking, gardening – living that Canyon life!

What’s your favourite prog venue?

The Roundhouse in London. I’ve played it twice. [English singer- songwriter] Bill Fay came out; it was amazing to meet him.

I would be honoured to work with Robert Wyatt. I love him so much

Who’s your prog hero?

Roy Harper. Poetry, melody, his guitar playing, and the genius of songs like Me And My Woman or Hallucinating Light. My kind of prog.

What’s the most important piece of prog music?

Maybe Sea Song by Robert Wyatt, or Strange Stairway by Bill Fay – they have the progressive vibrations that speak to me. Or Can’s All Gates Open. There are so many!

Recommend us a good read.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau. The only book I can read again over and over.

Which prog muso would you most like to work with?

I would be honoured to work with Robert Wyatt. I love him so much. His connection and blending of songwriting, jazz, psych is just incredible.

Which prog album gets you in a good mood?

Clear Spot by Captain Beefheart. That’s my shit!

What’s your favourite prog album cover?

Gotta give it up to Pink Floyd’s Animals for that.

And what are you up to at the moment?

I’m producing a few cool projects, finishing a new Father John Misty album, and hopefully doing some special orchestra shows around my new album, Eat The Worm.

Grant Moon

A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Prog, Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.