Houston Music

Gotdamn Jack Jones Emerges from His Own Shadow

Gotdamn Jack Jones
Gotdamn Jack Jones Photo by Belle&Bee Photography, courtesy of Juice Consulting
Some weeks, ago, the Houston Press got an invite to an exclusive show at Brava, a posh downtown high rise, featuring Gotdamn Jack Jones. A press release was attached to the invite but the face in the photos wasn’t familiar. There was a link to some of Jones’s music and the songs that link led to made me RSVP ASAP.

I’ve been writing about Houston music 11 years now and pride myself on knowing at least a little about a lot of what’s happening here. Jones’s music is a blend of soul, R&B and rock, the kinds of music I grew up listening to, and the songs are solid. Most of all, they’re delivered by an undeniable voice.

I was angry with myself for having somehow slept on this obviously talented artist. Then, I was upset with the Houston music community for not creating the buzz Jones deserves. I couldn't believe he had only 95 monthly Spotify listeners, just 100 subscribers on YouTube. When I finally had a chance to speak with Jones – a lifelong Houstonian who grew up in South Park and Hiram Clarke like me – I learned there was really just one person who’d kept him from me and other music lovers and that person was Jack Jones.

“I grew up in a pretty chaotic household,” said Jones, who spent his formative years in South Park's Villa Americana Apartments (aka “The VA”) and the Aristocrat Apartments in Hiram Clarke. “I was the youngest of five. The one thing that brought peace into the house was music. Even though it was chaotic and dysfunctional, the weird dynamic was that everyone in the house had an intense love for music. It was the only time there was any kind of peace in the house, was when music was going on. And everybody was eclectic and liked their own type of music. In any parts of the house, you could hear four, five different genres just going on and that’s kind of what brought peace to the house.”

Jones said his mother was devoted to country western, blues and the soul classics. An older brother listened exclusively to Prince. One sister favored ‘80s pop like Madonna and Culture Club and another turned him onto The Isley Brothers and The Gap Band. He started writing music at an early age. He loved singing but wasn't sure if anyone else knew about his interests.

“I knew my mother loved me but there was never any encouragement. There was no hugs, there was no kisses. My mother took care of me and was a good mother, but she wasn’t loved and hugged and kissed and encouraged. So, you don’t really do that, sometimes it passes on,” he said. “So, I didn’t know I had a gift like this because it never was really encouraged.”

There were hints he had talent, even if no one at home was acknowledging it. When the Challenger exploded in 1986, some elementary school choirs came together for The Challenger Choir and Jones was selected from his gifted and talented class to participate. He sang at church. As a young collegian, he was in a group that went to New York and had a chance to sign with Epic Records.

As the opportunities emerged, so did something else, the thing that’s kept Jones from being a better known artist.

“I had to deal with a lot of weird things in high school and it just put me in a shell,” he said. “I’ve always had anxiety but I had no idea what it was until a few years ago when I took my son to a counselor because of his anxiety. I never knew what it was called. I just knew that any time, if I was singing or performing, I was okay on stage, it was just before and after when I was a mess. I couldn’t explain it, man, I just didn’t want the limelight.

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Jones and his band at Brava
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
“You don’t have that foundation to kind of give you the confidence to stand out. You succumb to it and it was a tough battle, it really was. But I was comfortable being in my own shadow, I really was. When people found out that I could sing, it was very surreal for them. But here’s the crazy thing – I didn’t believe them. For years, whatever they would say, I didn’t believe them because if I didn’t get that kind of love within my family that loved music like that – I mean, no one made a fuss – so you just don’t know.

“I was in singing groups where I was playing like the JoJo role, but I was really K-Ci. But I was perfectly fine just being the secondary singer and not being the lead singer. It was a weird dynamic, and it made sense in my sick mind.”

Although his anxiety disorder manifested early, it didn’t keep Jones from being involved in music as a songwriter and producer. He was content in those roles. About six years ago his son was battling his own anxiety and while talking with the therapist Jones realized he too needed help.

“I was able to get some counseling and a part of that therapy was to actually put something out. That was the only way. I realized that freedom was my only choice and I had to kind of let Jack Jones out after all these years,” he said. So, he wrote an album and released it, titled Left Handed in My Right Mind, and “that was kind of like the start of this journey of people kind of realizing where this guy came from, that I’ve been trying to hide my whole life.”

“I’s Wide Shut” is a central track of the EP, which released in 2020. When you hear Jones sing it – a song about feeling out of place and coming to terms with one's self -- you hear his conviction, the way his favorite musicians -- Prince, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Bill Withers - believed in their own songs. When you watch him, it’s astounding to hear tender nuances coming from his 6’3 frame on tunes like “Water on Mars,” less so when he rumbles through a song like “Fear” from Left Handed in My Right Mind.

“I titled that based off of whatever you think I am, I’m not. And you have to read the story because, again, self-love is so important and that was the first journey of self-love. And it was tough. It was a tough album because I’m an introvert by nature. There is no middle ground. I am 100 percent introverted, but I’m not shy. I never wanted the attention.

“It took a while for me to go through therapy, which I’m a big advocate of, and I think that so many people, especially growing up in situations were you don’t have both parents, you probably do need to work out and talk through some of those things so you try to put some stuff back together. I know it was instrumental for me and it’s really the only reason that we’re talking about Jack Jones.”

Issues like anxiety crystalize into art and that art is cathartic to the artist. We know the blueprint. Jones has taken his time unveiling his full gallery of talent, specifically its centerpiece, his voice. The show at Brava was a bit of a coming out as much as it was an advance of new music he’s creating for an album titled Shepherd.

He’s assembled a talented group of musicians and he considers them and himself “music snobs” who  demand the best from each other. We were already sold on Gotdamn Jack Jones (and yes, the “Gotdamn” is meant to be read like an exclamation point) but seeing the live show made us further believers.

“I did a lot of performing. The performance was never really the issue. It was the before and after. My anxiety before the show and my anxiety after the show was really bad. So, if I was good at the show I didn’t hear about it because after the show you couldn’t find me. I was dealing with so much with the anxiety demon.

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Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
“I found ways to shelf a lot of stuff. I am a huge critic of my own music. It’s a process of letting go and letting it flow free but I’m very meticulous because I respect it so much. I am a music snob and a part of my journey is to not appear that way, right? But I am because I respect what the people before us did, I respect the essence of what music actually is.

“Words are spells. It’s a trance,” he said. “It can be a high vibrating trance or a low vibrating trance but, you know, I don’t want to break the trance. My job, when I write, I’m trying to tell you a story and it has to make sense, it has to tie into something.”

Right now, the story is Jones emerging from his own shadow, escaping the anxiety that’s kept him from being better known in music circles. But one day, the story will solely be about his talents as a songwriter, a producer, a bandleader and a vocalist. He thinks songs from Shepherd and playing more shows will help in that development.

“It’s kind of like a full circle moment. Through therapy, you kind of find out who you are. Your journey with God. It was just a rebirth because that’s who was trying to get out. My anxiety was because I could not keep Jack Jones in. And inside wanted out. I needed freedom. My freedom is me waking up and doing music all day. If the journey gets me there, I may be one of the most dangerous artists out there because I can do this for days. I write and produce and I have so much to talk about with my ruminating mind.

“I look forward to sharing my story at big festivals and with small crowds, it doesn’t really matter. I think I’m just ready to be an inspiration to anybody, just be an inspiration to myself.”
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.