The ‘hippie’ at Roger Waters’s side has his own squad, too

Jonathan Wilson (left) plays guitar in Roger Waters’s band and on his new album.
Kate Izor
Jonathan Wilson (left) plays guitar in Roger Waters’s band and on his new album.

The most special effect of the new Roger Waters tour isn’t the airborne pig, the 1,000 watts of prismatic lasers, or the wall of video screens that bifurcates the arena. It’s the onstage arrival of band member Jonathan Wilson. The bearded musician with waterfall hair on either side of his center part resembles a young David Gilmour, Waters’s erstwhile partner in Pink Floyd. Also uncanny? Wilson’s ability to emulate Gilmour’s vocal and guitar parts. But that’s not the sole reason Waters hired him to round out his band.

“Roger calls me his ‘obligatory hippie,’ ” Wilson says via phone during a break in the “Us + Them” tour, which arrives at the TD Garden Wednesday and Thursday.

Wilson’s retro aura goes beyond his penchant for beaded necklaces and green army jackets, or the way he often ends sentences with “yeah, man.” The 42-year-old’s most recent solo album, 2013’s “Fanfare,” plays like a psychedelic folk-rock classic from 1971. That ability to conjure up golden-era sounds has made him one of Los Angeles’ most sought-after session players and producers. Wilson recently co-produced Father John Misty’s hit album “Pure Comedy,” worked on yet-to-be-released songs with Lana Del Rey, and played on Waters’s “Is This the Life We Really Want?” Collaborators seem drawn to the Bohemian musician for his communal sensibility.


“The secret is Southern hospitality, man,” the North Carolina native says. “I learned that from my grandma long ago and my mother had it, too. People are attracted to positivity. That’s the vibe.”

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Wilson first traveled to California at age 19 to find his bliss. It didn’t come easy. After the dissolution of Muscadine, the mid-1990s grunge band he formed with Benji Hughes, Wilson declared a self-imposed strike from the music industry. Then in his 30s, he set up a luthier workshop and made guitars for members of Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, and Maroon 5. The instruments quickly became wall-mounted trophies for collectors.

“I ended up getting frustrated. ‘I shouldn’t be making guitars for people who can’t play guitar like I can play guitar. So maybe I should get back into it,’ ” Wilson recalls.

His first step: Curating weekly jam sessions at the Laurel Canyon home he’d decorated with tie-dye tapestries. On Wednesday nights, there’d be a haze above the house that wasn’t from the LA smog.

“It was centered around a house band that would continuously show up. Then it extended to everyone from Jakob Dylan to Elvis Costello to Jenny Lewis, who lived down the street. It became definitely the place to be,” he says.


As a result, Wilson amassed what might be called a “squad” long before Taylor Swift made it a thing. The songwriter called upon famous brothers-in-amps such as Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, Jackson Browne, David Crosby, and Graham Nash to guest on his albums, “Gentle Spirit” (2011) and “Fanfare,” plus the “Pity Trials and Tomorrow’s Child” EP (2012).

“When Jonathan and I worked together on [covering] George Harrison’s song ‘Isn’t it a Pity,’ I realized just how important the ‘chain’ of music is,” Nash says via e-mail. “When I watched Jonathan work, a smile spread across my face at the sight of the youth of this great country forging ahead with the musician’s job of telling the truth and reflecting the world around us.”

Wilson’s current home studio in central Los Angeles has more foot traffic than the red carpet at the Grammys. Asked about his approach to producing Dawes, Roy Harper, and Conor Oberst, Wilson replies, “My greatest strength might be that I can play and I can hear, most of the time, all the parts. I can get inside from a studio perspective and from a player’s perspective.”

Wilson is particularly proud of this year’s “Pure Comedy,” the third album he’s co-produced for his best friend, Joshua Tillman (aka Father John Misty).

“I was able to get into the control room to produce, like an old-school producer,” Wilson says. “We did not have the luxury of that in the past because the albums were made in a much more scrappy way. With ‘Pure Comedy,’ we had recognition and the budget. We spent it all. We went to the moon and made the most extravagant [record].”


Waters also completed his latest record, featuring Wilson on guitar, at the studio. “That was very surreal, to have him in my kitchen every day,” the lifelong Pink Floyd fan says.

“I wasn’t sure if my guitar work was going to pass the test,” Wilson admits. “The solos I played on the first day, they stuck around. I was immediately struck with Roger’s openness to collaborate. He dug the stuff I did.”

The consequent invitation to join Waters’s band made it challenging for Wilson to finish up his next solo album. (“It’s a different kind of vibration. It’s maximalist — that’s all I’ll say.”) But touring with Waters fulfills Wilson’s ongoing quest for a community spirit in music.

“What we’re doing with him is a very communal; no one is better than the next guy,” Wilson says. “It’s all part of the family. I still catch that kind of experience.”


At TD Garden, Boston, Sept. 27-28, 8 p.m. Tickets: From $50.50,

Stephen Humphries can be reached at humphries90048