During the last weekend in January, Dream Syndicate singer/guitarist Steve Wynn was thrilled to learn that Led Zeppelin bassist/keyboardist John Paul Johns was in the audience to witness the band's set one night at the Todos Santos Music Festival, the annual gathering in the Mexican coastal town, hosted by former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck.
"That was enough of a thrill," Wynn says. "John Paul Jones watched me play. I thought, 'I'm done for the weekend.'" But then the following night that thrill turned to elation as Jones — and Buck — joined the Dream Syndicate on their signature jam-tune "John Coltrane Stereo Blues," a song that was first officially issued on the band's 1984 album The Medicine Show.
Jones has a history with Buck, having arranged the strings on R.E.M.'s classic 1992 album Automatic for the People. "Peter mentioned that he [Jones] was hoping to play with someone that night, which was the final night of the festival," Wynn says. "I said, 'That would be us. That would be great!'"
Later Wynn met with Jones and told him about the band's epic jam tune and he was agreeable to join in. Strangely, after Jones's mid-song solo (starting about the seven-minute mark in the video below), the band broke into not a Zeppelin classic, but the Doors' "Break on Through."
The Dream Syndicate's earliest version of "John Coltrane Stereo Blues," then titled "Open Hour," is one of nine tracks on the just-released The Day Before Wine and Roses, a 1982 live radio performance by the band captured just days before they went into the studio to cut their debut album, The Days of Wine and Roses. The Day Before... captures the band's twin-guitar attack, use of feedback, and Wynn's tales of tortured souls that made it the hardest rocking attraction in Los Angeles club's scene's early '80s Paisley Underground movement and earned it critical accolades and comparisons to the Velvet Underground and Television.
That night at the KPFK studios in Studio City, Calif., Buck was the audience to witness the performance, fueled by Mickey's Big Mouth, that began at 2 a.m. It may or may not have been the first time the two met. "He claims we spoke that night," Wynn says. "He has a good memory, so I'll take his word for it, but I didn't know him at that point, but we might have met that night. We have a lot of different stories about how we first met. There's about four different versions." The two later toured together when the Dream Syndicate opened for R.E.M. and are now bandmates in the Baseball Project.
Aside from early Dream Syndicate originals like "Some Kinda Itch" and "Sure Thing," The Day Before... features blistering covers of the Buffalo Springfield's "Mr. Soul," Bob Dylan's "Outlaw Blues," and Donavan's "Season of the Witch." After jamming with Jones, Wynn realized he missed an opportunity connected with the latter song. "The one thing I missed out on that I'm kicking myself for, I didn't know until afterwards that John Paul Jones played organ on the original," he says. "I'll be ready next time."
Wynn is certainly ready now. After touring and recording for years as a solo act and his band the Miracle Three, he reunited the Dream Syndicate in September 2012. Original drummer Dennis Duck has been on board, as is mid-period bassist Mark Walton, while Jason Victor from the Miracle Three is now handling the guitar duties.
The original lineup of the Dream Syndicate fell apart shortly after the release of The Days of Wine and Roses, when bassist Kendra Smith left to form Mazzy Star forerunners Clay Allison, later Opal, with her boyfriend at the time, former Rain Parade leader David Roback. Wildman guitarist Karl Precoda split after touring The Medicine Show.
Wynn says he's still in touch with Smith through occasional phone calls and emails, but no longer speaks to Precoda. "We just kind of grew apart," he says. "I'm a music fan and there's a side that says, 'It's got to be the original thing just as it was,' but the reality is that it just wouldn't be that good, especially in this case, and I knew that. I had a better chance of getting across what the band was all about and what made it special with the lineup that's out there now than I would have if I forced something to happen and pretend it was 32 years ago."