Going out of -- hell, just trying to get out of -- the box in blues is hard. Purists, traditionalists, blues nazis, or whatever you want to call them built the box and they are proud of the box. The box has its advantages: it's comfortable and doesn't require much thinking or adjustment, the comfort zone is there to cocoon in.
So who knows what traditionalists will make of JW-Jones, a brash young Canadian with a mostly-Texas blues bone who refuses to play by the rules. He plays two gigs in Houston this weekend, tonight at Shakespeare Pub and tomorrow at the Big Easy.
Blues Revue calls Jones "a fluid amalgam of T-Bone Walker's big, bright chords, Johnny 'Guitar' Watson's slashing leads, and Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown's jazzy sting." That's high praise indeed. For his part, Jones says it's nice to have the accolades, but his influences are fairly wide.
"T-Bone, Watson, and Gate are all big influences. I've studied them all, and still do," Jones explains. "As flattering a comparison as that is, I don't consider myself to be in the same league as these gentleman, who are some of the most unique blues guitarists of all time.
"My hope is that the combination of their influence on me, along with other Texas players like Albert Collins, Anson Funderburgh, Jimmie Vaughan, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Hash Brown, is that they come out sounding like my own interpretation with my own voice. It's a long road to finding your own voice in this deep music. That's the challenge, and I am in it for the long haul."
Well, at least the young man knows his history.
Jones comes to town pushing his most ambitious record yet, Belmont Boulevard, the first album where he's has placed himself under the control of an outside producer. And it's not just some producer, it's Nashville veteran and Grammy Award winner Tom Hambridge, who recently produced Joe Louis Walker's excellent new album Hornet's Nest. Hambridge is hatched out of that Delbert McClinton/Gary Nicholson group of errant cohorts from the funky side of Nashville.
A 34-year-old guitar-slinger from Ottawa, Canada, Jones counts Charlie Musselwhite and Dan Aykroyd as fans. In spite of such endorsements, though, blues purists may have a problem with some of Jones' outside-the-blues-box tunes like the incredibly catchy "If It Feels This Good Tomorrow," which sounds like it fits somewhere between AAA radio and Americana if the Fabulous Thunderbirds gave a damn about Americana.
"That's a song Tom Hambridge brought to the table to get me out of my comfort zone and try something new," says Jones. "I love that song and the way it turned out. Whether you call it blues, country, AAA or Americana, it's a great song.
"We aren't currently performing this song live because it would be hard to pull off as just a trio whereas in the studio we had the organ, piano, and multiple guitar tracks."
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One song that should strike a chord with Texans is the T-Bird-ish rocker, "What Would Jimmie Do?" Jones says that song was a no-brainer.
"I have been listening to Jimmie Vaughan since I started playing drums, even before guitar. B.B. King is my all-time biggest influence," says Jones, "but I have studied Jimmie Vaughan almost as much, and he's my No. 2. I am sure he'd agree B.B. should be first.
"I've met him numerous times, but last year in Hamilton, Ontario, was extra special," Jones continues. "He came over to me from the other side of the room, extended his hand, and said, 'Hey man, how are you? I watch you on YouTube.'
"He invited me to sit down and chat, and asked how my career was going," he goes on. "We hung out all night, going to an after-show gathering, etc. Then less than a year later, I opened for him a couple of months back in Oshawa, Ontario, and again he went out of his way to hang out and chat.
"He is the kindest, most genuine guy, and an enormous influence on my playing," Jones continues. "The reason I wrote the song is because I literally ask myself that question on stage, think to myself, 'What would Jimmie do?' whether it's a song or a solo or how to approach what to play or how to look on stage. That's where the song came from."
As for the turned-up noses of some traditionalists, Jones just laughs it off.
"Look, I'm an evolving artist and I make choices about what I play based on what I like. I'm not playing music for that one-to-five percent of the audience that is only interested in one kind of music. I used to be a blues Nazi myself, but my horizons have expanded and it's made the way I play the blues deeper than ever."
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