Cleary will return to perform in Houston for the first time in two years with a special trio performance at The Continental Club on Friday, May 26.
“The trio thing is very stripped down blues, funk machine basically which allows me a lot of room to demonstrate the New Orleans piano style, which is not something you get the chance to hear often really,” says Cleary.
Cleary, originally from the small town of Cranbrook, Kent in England, became fascinated with the sounds of the Big Easy when his uncle brought home a suitcase full of 45s from the musical city planting the seeds for what a younger Cleary thought would maybe just be a pipedream of living and playing music in Louisiana.
“The trio thing is very stripped down blues, funk machine basically which allows me a lot of room to demonstrate the New Orleans piano style."tweet this
In a clear example of fate stepping in where a desire is fermenting, just before Cleary set off to New Orleans, one of his uncle’s ex-girlfriends handed him a matchbook for the historic Maple Leaf Bar with a phone number written on it. She instructed him to call her sister who worked there once he landed in New Orleans.
After exchanging some money and figuring out which coins could allow him to place a phone call on a pay phone, Cleary was connected to the bar where someone hollered at him over the loud band playing that night to come on over.
“When I walked in, Earl King was playing,” says Cleary, who immediately got a job as a painter and later began playing music at the Maple Leaf which at the time served as a laundromat and gun shop as well as a music venue and watering hole.
“They took pity on me. I arrived with $100 and spent 50 in the record shop on the first day,” says Cleary who describes rummaging through stacks of 45s in the search for Archibald’s “Stack-A’Lee” on Imperial records.
“It went so right and it could have gone so horribly,” says Cleary of his good fortune which has only grown with time.
Cleary went on to play with legends like Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, Dr. John and B.B. King to name a few and throughout the years has also established his own career as a solo artist who is continually pushing forward the classic piano style that has haunted him for so long.
“I’ve been lucky to have worked on the other side of that divide from sideman once to band leader. I know what I want from my side men. When I’m a side man I know what to do and when I’m a bandleader, I know what to do. It’s good for a little while to do both of those jobs. I’ve done both of those jobs and I continue to do both of those jobs.”
Cleary recently re-released his latest project So Swell, previously only available through subscription with Newvelle Records, so that fans can have easier access to the album which features some of his original artwork on the cover.
His artwork, like his music, reflects the imagery and feelings of times gone by as Cleary often depicts his favorite New Orleans spots with their rickety charm. He plans on compiling his stories from the road, or “daft adventures and misadventures” into a book combining his love of storytelling with his art.
Cleary is also planning on releasing a new and still untitled album of new tunes in the near future and will be performing tracks at his upcoming show. In a time when fans can access all types of music, new and old, virtually without spending a dime it creates a strange juxtaposition for an artist like Cleary who works hard to celebrate and preserve sounds from the past and experienced first hand the thrill of the hunt for records.
“I think all good music is rooted in another time isn't it because good music doesn't suddenly appear in the ether and it isn't born in a vacuum then there's also the long period of ideas being handed down through the generations and I think that's what good music is.”
Jon Cleary will perform on Friday, May 26 at The Continental Club, 3700 Main, doors at 8 p.m, $25-40.