LE BAIN: You've said that the book The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell had a decisive impact on your life. What was it about this book - concerned with death, rebirth, adventure and transformation - that inspired you to leave California at twenty-one to go to London in the very late 60s and, in some ways, re-invent yourself...?
NED DOHENY: The thing I loved about Joseph Campbell’s book was that it included me in a process as old as the human race. I was in my late teens and feeling very much an outsider. I was experiencing things for which I had no words. Mr. Campbell’s book gave me the gift of my own humanity. Things that were previously unfathomable became the poetry of my age. I wasn’t just a young man, I was every young man. My struggles took on a measure of nobility. I was no longer living exclusively for myself; I was living for mankind and writing about it. I never stopped.
Ned Doheny Words & Music with Gilles Peterson
When you decided to leave everything behind and go to Europe, you took your British Land Rover with you, driving from LA to NYC, and eventually putting it on a boat to London. Do you believe that an object can have its own soul?
I was crazy about that car. Affixed to my back window was a sticker that Jackson (singer Jackson Brown) gave me that read, “Eternity Ahead”. At the time, there were very few Rovers in Los Angeles. Each time I passed another Rover, the driver and I would wave at one another. I guess the trip to Britain was a kind of vision quest. I wrote the first song for my first album on Route 66 on my way to New York. Once in England, the skies opened. The car was my ticket to a new life. I suspect I may be a closet animist.
Back in California after your European trip, you were already a successful musician and you spent some time at Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. Tell us more about your life at the Chateau at that time?
I had the best time at the Chateau Marmont. I met amazing people, wrote some great tunes, did all manner of naughty things and survived the Sylmar quake - all at the Chateau. The Chateau was in the middle of everything. In those days it was much simpler. We played frisbee on the lawn alongside the entrance. Now it’s unrecognizable. And yet, some trace of its beauty remains.
Ned Doheny I've Got Your Number (1976)
Regarding the music scene in LA in the 70’s you said, “the greatest thing was to go to a club and see somebody that scared you” - meaning, it was a time when musicians were innovating, pushing boundaries. When was the last time you went to a club and saw somebody that scared you?
I haven’t seen anyone that scared me musically in a long, long time.
Speaking of clubs, one of your unreleased songs "To Prove My Love" had a big influence on the early UK acid house scene. Was that a surprise?
A total surprise. I had no idea I was making dance records. I thought I was writing songs. "To Prove My Love" was a little groove piece I was playing that caught Cropper’s (guitarist and producer Steve Cropper) ear. The rhythm section was already there. Steve made a few calls and some horn players showed up. They improvised on the spot - head charts. We staggered out into the morning sun quite pleased with ourselves - a night well spent.
Ned Doheny To Prove My Love
DJ Harvey is a big fan of yours, and DJs in general seem to have a big crush on you and your music. On your side how would you describe your connection with the dance music scene and the DJ community?
I think DJs are all that’s left of FM radio. After the advent of Clear Channel, radio became a Walmart-like enterprise devoid of style or originality. DJs filled the void by giving people a chance to hear new music or old music in a new way. I was an unsuspecting beneficiary. Another generation had come along, conditioned by groove and hungry for something authentic. I’ve been fortunate. Thank you, DJ Harvey.
Our Sunday party at Le Bain is called ‘Eté d’Amour’, the French translation for Summer of Love (the party started on a boat in Paris in the early 2000’s). There were at least two summers of love - one on the west coast, in San Francisco, in 1967, and the second one in 1988-89 when British DJs came back from Ibiza and brought House music to the UK … What should the next Summer of Love look like?
I don’t know if we have the requisite innocence for a proper Summer of Love. Much has happened in the interim and our faith has been shaken. Music, grace and goodwill are a fine place to start. Yes, lots of music.
Header photo by Neil Aline