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Shut Your Mouth

Where is instrumental rock? Los Straitjackets and John Paul Jones might know.

Still cool as hell for his ba-boomŠ boomŠ boomŠ boom intro on "Dazed and Confused," Jones also thinks a change, instrumental or not, is under way. His work and that of Los Straitjackets may be harbingers of insta-pop's death. "A lot of it these days isn't interesting," says Jones from his home in England. "It's like at the end of the '70s. There was nothing, then punk came along. It's kind of like that now. We have to wait and see.

"The standard artist today is a bunch of old folk doing the same stuff. I'm old folk doing new stuff." He laughs. "I feel there's room in rock to do different things. Rock is energy and attitude. I'll see where I can go without trying to retread the past. We should build on the pastŠ.Everything will change real quick soon and radically. It's very exciting."

Until about four years ago, when Jones began fantasizing of recording solo, he had been, as usual, working in bass-player heaven, behind the scenes. Back home Jones taught college, scored films and produced records. He has contributed to the works of Austin's Butthole Surfers, Peter Gabriel, R.E.M. and Brian Eno.

Mexican wrestling masks in place, the members of Los Straitjackets deliver strong instrumental surf.
Sears Portrait Studio
Mexican wrestling masks in place, the members of Los Straitjackets deliver strong instrumental surf.
His aversion to the spotlight notwithstanding, John Paul Jones enjoys center stage with his instrumental outfit.
His aversion to the spotlight notwithstanding, John Paul Jones enjoys center stage with his instrumental outfit.

Jones began performing live again in the mid-1990s, when he joined Diamanda Galas and her band on tour. Not long after sharing the stage with Galas he began consciously crafting what would become Zooma. "In the final days of Zeppelin, we were playing these huge stadiums," he says. "They have their own charm, but the vibe wasn't conducive to much. You can't get too sophisticated, in the musical sense. The crash barriers began at 16 feet.

"It's nice to see people's faces as is. It's nice to get backŠ.If people are talking at the bar, you'd better think of something quick." He laughs again, an almost worried chuckle. He says Zooma came from his "desire to play live in the first place."

Not much of Zooma relies on overdubs or heavy mixing. That way, Jones says, when he and his stage help -- Nick Beggs on the stick and Terl Bryant on percussion -- perform Zooma tunes live, they can deliver honest studio replications in real time.

The composer of every song on Zooma, Jones obviously wrote from the perspective of "that other guy in Zeppelin." Even "The Smile of Your Shadow," a mostly atmospheric acoustic reverie, makes one's head sway along in measure. In each song, especially "Zooma" and "Snake Eyes," rhythm is key. If a song's heart cannot be found in the main bass riff, sometimes simplistic, other times solid, it is there in the percussion or tempo.

Considering how the bass guitar has evolved, along with Jones's obvious technical skills, Zooma offers more than what one would expect from a typical bass-guitar-drums arrangement. Strumming a 12-string, popping a four-string, punching a ten-string or sliding over a lap steel, Jones carries entire tunes almost by himself. The playing and sonorities are rich. Give Jones a B-boy rapper and he might be on the Top 40 alongside Limp Bizquick and (Kreamy) Korn.

"I'm fortunate, because I can afford to experiment," says Jones. "It doesn't have to be commercial. But I don't want to make obscure records, either."

In some respects the rock instrumental may be on its deathbead, but thanks to Jones and Los Straitjackets, it looks like its heart will go on.

Los Straitjackets performs Saturday, March 11, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington. For more information, call (713)869-COOL. John Paul Jones performs Wednesday, March 15, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. For more information, call (713)862-7580. E-mail Anthony Mariani at anthony.mariani@ houstonpress.com.

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