Greg Loiacono recently found himself in front of a sea of more than 20,000 people at San Francisco’s Conservatory of Flowers, singing the Scott McKenzie song “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).” The occasion was a star-studded concert—featuring Country Joe McDonald, the Chambers Brothers, Jack Casady from Jefferson Airplane and more—to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Loiacono, who was born in San Francisco and raised in Marin County, is too young to remember San Francisco’s hippie heyday—his childhood memories are of riding in his mom’s Cordova listening to Donna Summer—but the music of the era left a lasting impression on him.
“I was never much into the Grateful Dead in high school. I was more into Dead Kennedys, and Zeppelin and Hendrix,” he says. “But Janis Joplin and the Dead definitely had an influence on my musical direction growing up. They were all my dads and moms of music—that was the music in the backyard: Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, New Riders, Jefferson Airplane. What an amazing chunk of musical history.”
When Loiacono co-founded the Bay Area rock band the Mother Hips with Tim Bluhm, they drew inspiration in part from the San Francisco sound, but mostly from Southern California acts like the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield. The West Coast hybrid formula worked, and the Mother Hips established itself as a beloved part of the indie and rock scenes in California and beyond.
While he has recorded several solo projects over the years—including an EP of home recordings he describes as “very low-brow,” as he burned the CDs and photocopied the covers himself, as well as an album titled Listen to My Shapes, under the band name the Sensations—last year’s Songs From a Golden Dream is the first full-length Loiacono has released under his own name. The record is a collection of old and new songs that provide a deeper glimpse into his experiences, perspectives and emotions.
“The songs are closer to my actual personal life than my output in the Mother Hips,” he says. “That was always from a different viewpoint. It’s a working band, and I’m on the road or in the studio and hanging out with those guys and thinking about it in those terms. These songs are little personal chunks of me, rather than the larger band process.”
A recurring theme on the album is the red thread, which Chinese mythology says is tied by the gods around the ankles of those who are destined to meet or help one another. Loiacono wove that idea of connection through the album, and says the songs are also connected because they were written over a 10-year period of time. The last song on the album is “The Red Thread Part III (The Day’s Long Wind),” a lullaby Loiacono wrote for his daughter when she was three years old.
Whether he’s writing for the Mother Hips or one of his solo projects, Loiacono’s songwriting process is the same. The recording process for a solo album, however, is very different.
“When you’re in a band, it’s more of a democracy,” he says. “Whoever brings the song in will have a little more control and say, because it’s their song. But you’re in a band. You want it to sound like it, and be created by those people.”
For Songs From a Golden Dream, which was recorded at Allegiance Studios by David Simon Baker, Loiacono had a clear vision of how he wanted everything to sound. The other musicians, including Scott Thunes on bass, Todd Roper on drums and Alex Koford on backing vocals, guitar and percussion, had “input here and there,” but their job was to bring Loiacono’s vision to life. The experience allowed Loiacono to make his own unique contribution to San Francisco’s rich musical history.
“When the album was in the studio,” says Loiacono, “I just needed people to play it. A lot of that stuff was already written, and it was exactly how I wanted it to be.”
Greg Loiacono will perform at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 26 at the Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $15. 429-6994. Lee Bob & the Truth opens.