Recently I wrote a review of Jon Lucien’s first album for Columbia, Song For My Lady. This was the first of two albums he recorded for Columbia after leaving RCA, for whom he recorded three album. These three albums I Am Now in 1970, Rashida in 1973 and Mind’s Eye in 1974, were all good albums, but weren’t commercially successful. Sadly, Jon’s first album for his new label failed to do any better, and when Premonition was released in 1976, he must have been hoping for a change in his fortunes. His music was popular on jazz stations in parts of the US, and previously, he’d been nominated for two Grammy Awards, but still, he was trying to make a breakthrough into the highly lucrative US market.
By now, both Jon and his music had matured, and it was very different from his debut album I Am Now, when record company executives thought that in Jon Lucien, they’d discovered a new crooner. Over the past six years, Jon had been honing his sound, and maturing as a singer, songwriter and arranger. On Premonition, Jon wrote or cowrote five of the songs, and produced the album. The sound on the album is uniquely Jon’s. Premonition saw Jon enlist the help of huge number of East and West Coast musicians. Among them were Ray Parker Jr, and Wah-Wah Watson playing electric guitar, Dorothy Ashby harp, Herbie Hancock piano and Harvey Mason drums. In total, over forty musicians played on Premonition.
At the time the album was being recorded, Jon was becoming disillusioned with the music industry, He knew that he was producing one great album after another, but was fed up not getting either credit or sales his music deserved. He realized that Premonition was possibly his last chance to make the breakthrough he so wanted. What didn’t help matters, was that Jon felt that he wasn’t getting the support he needed from his record company Columbia when it came to promoting his albums. Like other artists, he realized that a great album requires some promotion to bring it the public’s attention. However, something else was going on in Jon’s life that wasn’t conducive to a successful music career, drugs.
Previously, Jon had been very anti-drugs, not comfortable around them. His only exposure previously to drugs had been the odd joint. This changed however, around the time Premonition was being recorded. With people around him using drugs, he succumbed, letting them enter his life. This wasn’t the last time drugs entered his life, but by the late eighties, he was drug free, after he met his second wife Delesa. So it was against a backdrop of disillusionment and drugs, Jon’s fifth album Premonition was released in 1976.
When the album was released, it failed to enter either the US Billboard 200 or US R&B Charts, but reached number seventeen in the US Jazz Charts. This must have been hugely disappointing for Jon, who had feared this might happen. Making matters worse, Columbia released him from his recording contract. Although other record companies tried to sign Jon, he turned down their offers. Instead, he made guest appearances for groups like Weather Report, the jazz fusion group which featured Herbie Hancock.
The rest of the seventies were tough and tragic times for Jon. His marriage broke down, resulting in divorce and one of his children drowned in a boating accident. Still he continued to make music, recording his compositions onto a four-track tape recorder. Six years passed before his next album Romantico was released. It was released on the Precision label, but because of problems with distribution, the album didn’t fare well, although Jon made money out of it.
Sadly, Premonition was Jon’s last release on a major label. After that, he continued to release the occasional album, but none of them were on a label like RCA or Columbia. Jon’s comments before Premonition was released that his music was getting neither the attention nor sales it deserved, was almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Both Jon and music fans suffered. Jon’s music didn’t gain the recognition and commercial success, and music fans missed hearing some wonderful music which I’ll now tell you about.
Premonition opens with Hello Like Before, a track written by Bill Withers and John Collins. It has a lovely laid back sound, with an acoustic guitar accompanied by the rhythm section, Dorothy Ashby on harp, piano and percussion before Jon’s subtle, restrained vocal enters. Quickly, the arrangement gets even better, with lush strings and a saxophone entering. They’re addition works beautifully, the arrangement combining with Jon’s passionate vocal. He sings the song to an old girlfriend he’s just met, at first regretting the encounter, but quickly welcoming their chance meeting. Jon brings the lyrics to life, getting across the awkwardness of the initial meeting, and how, suddenly their drawn to each other, nostalgia giving way to attraction. The lyrics are beautiful, and Jon sings them with feeling and passion, against a similarly, beautiful, almost lush sounding arrangement. This is an outstanding track, one of the best on the album.
If I Could is a track with a much more gentle arrangement, with Jon’s vocal multi-tracked. When the track opens the tempo is quicker, a jaunty combination of percussion, piano, rhythm section and guitar combining as Jon scats. This gives way to his vocal, with the use of multi-tracking seeing Jon’s harmonies accompanying his lead vocal. It’s effective, used throughout the track. Although the arrangement is gentle, it’s a complex combination of instruments that’s used. Synths, a Fender Rhodes blazing horns and congas are all used, combining with Jon’s emotive vocal. Together they produce a quite different track to Hello Like Before. Although different, Jon’s vocal and the arrangement combine to produce an emotive, gentle song.
Swirling strings and a harp open Spring’s Arrival, before keyboards, rhythm section and guitar enter, giving way to a gentle, thoughtful vocal from Jon. The addition of the lushest of swirling, shivering, strings that play throughout the track, are at the heart of the song’s success. When they’re combined with Jon’s tender vocal and his beautiful lyrics, you’re transfixed by the song’s beauty. Time stands still as you focus on both the vocal and the lyrics. Each match the beauty of the other, with wave upon wave of slow, beautiful music unfolding. Jon’s lyrics are some of the best on the album. By the end of the track, you find yourself wondering why, with fantastic songs like this on Premonition, the album didn’t do much better?
After the beauty of the previous track, the quicker, fuller sounding Mi Vida is a very different sounding track. There’s a Latin feel to the track, with percussion, congas and bells, combining with the rhythm section, saxophones and keyboards. The tempo is quicker, with an exotic and energetic sounding arrangement, accompanying Jon’s vocal. Backing vocalists accompany Jon, their enthusiasm and energy including various shrieks and yelps, that combine well with the bells, congas and percussion. Although the complete opposite to the previous track, I like the energy and use of traditional instruments. This results in a quite joyous sounding track.
Strings open the track, their sound has a sense of sadness as Laura begins. Jon half-speaks the vocal, against the backdrop of strings and flute. The arrangement has been almost stripped bare, so that it’s just the strings that feature. This is effective, allowing Jon’s vocal to take centre-stage. Occasionally, subtle horns cut in, but their appearance is brief. What helps the track is the space left within the music, which allows it to breathe. This allows you to focus on Jon’s vocal and the beauty of his lyrics. They’re about a beautiful and magical woman he’s dreamt about. Like this mystical woman, the song is tender and beautiful, thanks to Jon’s vocal and a pared down arrangement.
Gaku is another track where Jon leaves space within the music. Again this is highly effective and the result is a track that combines elements of jazz with funk, world music and sixties psychedelia. It’s an impressive combination that works well, but may not be to everyone’s taste. Jon scats as the song opens, his vocal fast, sung against a myriad of rhythm section, percussion and wah-wah guitar, reverberating heavily. Congas and percussion combine with the Fender Rhodes, producing a sound that’s melodic and jumpy, awkward even. This becomes infectious, and when horns blaze in, it lifts the track. Jon’s bass is prominent in the mix, while his vocal is improvised, with a variety of shrieks and yelps thrown in for good measure. By the of the track, you’re struck by how good, yet how different from the rest of the album this track really is. That’s what makes this such a good album, the sheer variety of the music on it.
Chiming guitars open You Been Away Too Long, a much more traditional sounding track. It’s a lovely ballad, one that sees Jon’s strong, emotive vocal accompanied by female backing vocalists. During the track, swirling strings and bursts of braying horns accompany Jon. When a saxophone solo takes over from Jon’s vocal, there’s a fluidity about the transition. Beauty replaces beauty. The addition of the saxophone is a masterstroke, as is the use of the backing vocalists. Their gentle, soulful voices unite dramatically, providing a contrast to Jon’s vocal. That’s just the finishing touch in what’s a beautiful ballad, one about missing the one you love.
The tempo increases on And It All Goes Round And Around, with the arrangement also having a much fuller, almost frantic sound. Atop the arrangement is Jon’s vocal, strong, emotive and laden with passion. Behind him, blazing horns, a myriad of percussion, driving rhythm section and guitars accompany Jon. On guitar is Ray Parker Jr, with Harvey Mason on drums and Chuck Rainey on bass. This trio are key to the driving, fulsome arrangement, providing its energy and heartbeat. Together, their experience and talent, result in an arrangement that combines jazz and funk. This is perfect for Jon’s quick, jazz influenced vocal. They fuse together perfectly, resulting in yet another different style of music.
Child of Love closes Premonition, and is another track written by Jon. It features his lovely lilting vocal, siting above a melodic, jazz tinged arrangement. The tempo is slower than the previous track, and features and features instruments that provide contrasting sounds. This ranges from the melodic sounding acoustic piano, to blazing horns. In between, sit the rhythm section and acoustic guitar, who combine to keep the tempo slow, providing an understated sound that works really well with Jon’s much more restrained, yet joyful vocal. As the song heads towards its conclusion, the arrangement and vocal grow in strength. Jon revisits his scatting style briefly, on what is a lovely track to end the album. Like the opening track, it has a lovely laid back sound and feel, something Jon was able to do so well.
In my previous articles about Jon Lucien, I’ve always said how unfair it was that Jon’s music wasn’t heard by more people. Sadly, between 1970 when he released his debut album I Am Now, and 1976, when he released Premonition, his music was loved and appreciated by a few, and unknown to many. This is similar to many other artists, including Terry Callier. For whatever reason, whether lack of promotion, being on the wrong record label, musical tastes or just sheer bad luck, Jon’s music never found a wider audience. The sad thing is that, now Jon’s music is being rediscovered by a wider audience, he’s no longer around to see this. He died in August 2007. However, now, the three albums he recorded for RCA, I Am Now, Rashida and Mind’s Eye, plus the two he recorded for Columbia, Song For My Lady and Premonition have all been rereleased, allowing a new generation to hear Jon’s music. Of these five albums, Premonition is one of the best. It’s my favorite of the two he recorded for Columbia. One of the reasons for that, is the sheer variety of music on the album. No two tracks are the same. Ballads follow lazz tinged, while one track that combine funk, world music and psychedelia. For anyone who hasn’t heard Jon’s music, this is an album I can thoroughly recommend. It was recently rereleased on BBR Records, along with 1975s’ Song For My Lady. Both are great albums, and show how Jon Lucien’s music had matured from his debut album I Am Now. They’re a good starting point for anyone who wants to discover the magical music of one of the most underrated, but talented artists, Jon Lucien. Standout Tracks: Hello Like Before, If I Could, Laura and Child of Love.