Mayer Hawthorne is not afraid to wear his influences on his sleeve. The writer/producer/multi-instrumentalist/DJ/rapper and possessor of the smoothest tenor this side of Smokey Robinson strutted onto the music scene with 2009’s A Strange Arrangement, a collection of seductively soulful tracks that payed tribute to his Detroit roots. The Motown-esque arrangements and masterfully crafted pop hooks (not to mention his perfectly tailored suits) saw him labeled as something of a retro ’60s throwback, although one with serious cred. But his latest long-player Where Does This Door Go sees Hawthorne take a great leap forward…one decade, to be exact.
The new record moves away from the Motor City melodies of past work, and towards the champagne shimmer of slickly produced late-’70s “yacht rock” popularized by acts like Steely Dan, Hall & Oates, and Off The Wall-era Michael Jackson. But don’t start thinking it’s just an oldies retread. On this album he gets production help from modern day hit-making maestros like Pharrell Williams, Greg Wells and Jack Splash, as well as vocal appearances from Kendrick Lamar and VH1 You Oughta Know artist Jessie Ware. With this blend of cutting edge and loving nods to past musical greats, it makes perfect sense that Mayer Hawthorne would be named Hard Rock’s very first Artist of the Month.The honor brings with it certain privileges, and Mayer was able to pull some (guitar) strings to get us deep inside the off-limits Hard Rock memorabilia vault at the company headquarters in Orlando, Florida! Picture an attic the size of a Costco filled with walls of legendary (and often autographed) guitars, racks on racks of iconic stage-wear, gold records and other priceless artifacts. Now you’ll have an approximate idea of the awesomeness. But trust us, it has to be seen to be believed. For music fans, it’s the stuff that dreams are made of.
Speaking of “stuff”, sheer amount of stuff is overwhelming as you enter, and it’s impossible to decide where to look. But Mayer knows what he likes. He zeros in on a slender red velour track jacket. The distinctive Neverland Ranch patches point to the original owner, the King of Pop himself. “That might be my favorite thing in here. Michael Jackson is my whole childhood,” he gushes.It’s so hard to choose favorites, though. No matter who you are -or how famous you are- there’s something in this vault that can take everyone’s breath away. Hard Rock historian Jeff Nolan acts as our guide, and he keeps the hits coming with an insane lineup of jaw-dropping items. From seemingly out of nowhere he produces the Rickenbacker double-neck guitar played by Getty Lee of Rush during the Permanent Waves tour in 1980. Now that multi-instrumentalist Mayer has incorporated playing guitar as well as bass into his live performances, he might have to invest in a similar model. If we see him rocking out on one of these bad boys, we’ll know where he got the idea! From KISS bassist Gene Simmons‘ axe-shaped guitar to a zebra-print Stratocaster played by Foreigner’s Mick Jones, and even a six-string played by former-Beatle George Harrison during his solo years, the epic instruments are endless. A late ’60s Fender Mustang, originally owned by British soul-shouter Eric Burdon of the Animals and War, particularly grabs Mayer’s attention. “My dad’s got a ’65 Mustang, too,” he says. “That’s the guitar that I borrow every time I home to Detroit. I go over to his house and say, ‘Dad, let me borrow the Mustang. Not the car, the guitar!'”
Jeff steers us over to a table with battered case resting on top. We swear we hear angles sing as he cracks it open to reveal the holy grail of electric guitars: a 1959 sunburst Gibson Les Paul. As if that’s not good enough, this particular Les was used by the Rolling Stone’s Mick Taylor on the tour to promote their landmark 1972 album Exile on Main Street. And it ain’t just pretty to look at. “It sounds pretty good when it’s plugged in…Or so I’ve been told!” Jeff says with a wink in his voice.But Jeff’s not even close to done. Lady Gaga‘s head-dress, starched stiff and perpetually fluttering, delights us all. On one rack Mayer spies a green tour blazer, emblazoned with “Luke Records” on the back. He immediately identifies it as belonging to 2-Live Crew‘s Uncle Luke. “I used to listen to them back in the day! My parents would get so mad, they’d try to hide all of my 2-Live-Crew tapes.” We even sneak a peak at fellow Detroit native Madonna‘s yearbook, complete with her name misspelled. Can you imagine that happening today? Heads would probably roll…. It all ends far too soon, and the time comes to seal the vault up once more. But not before Mayer leaves a little something of his own for generations of rock fans. His custom-made leather jacket, pants and one-of-a-kind NIKE Air Max 1 iD shoes serve as his own contribution to the 77,000 item collection!