JW-Jones Mines Powerful Blues and Personal Pain on Everything Now

JW-Jones and some cacti friends.
JW-Jones and some cacti friends. Photo by Mark Maryanovich
It used to be in the music biz that in order to make a connection, there was a lot of hanging out backstage at shows, showing up at recording sessions, or schmoozing at parties and participating in activities of various legalities.

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Record cover
Today, you can find that potential bond via social media. Case in point: Canadian bluesman JW-Jones snagged fellow countryman and now Austinite Gordie Johnson (formerly of bands Big Sugar and Grady) as both a producer and musical contributor to his latest record, Everything Now (Solid Blues Records).

“Gordie and I met the old-fashioned way—on Instagram during the pandemic!” the singer/guitarist jokes in the press release for the record, before elaborating further on the phone.

“Connecting with him really brought this together. He was making Instagram videos during the pandemic and I wrote him. I never played with him and had only seen him once at an Ottawa music festival,” Jones says.

The pair made tentative plans to make a video together but had no communication for months. Then Johnson had seen on Jones’ Instagram that he was coming to Austin and invited him to lunch. A tour of Johnson’s home studio sealed the deal.

“He goes there and creates music every day. Every day,” Jones says. “And I knew that was the kind of person I wanted to work with. And I’ve always wanted to record in Austin.”
Everything Now features quite a number of guest musicians and session players, but no guest was a bigger get than Texas blues legend Jimmie Vaughan to play guitar on “Take Your Time.” Jimmie and his brother, the late Stevie Ray, were childhood heroes of Jones’.

Very surprising to Jones though, was that Vaughan had been aware of him for several years through…social media. In this case the younger player’s videos.

“That was incredible. I was a fan of theirs even before I started on guitar and was playing drums. I’d play Stevie Ray’s Live at the El Mocambo on VHS and stretch a cable from the TV to the VCR on the other side of the room. And then I found the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Jimmie, whose guitar playing I was drawn to even more,” Jones says.
He had already established a working relationship with Thunderbirds vocalist Kim Wilson and met Jimmie Vaughan briefly at the age of 15. Fast forward a few years and Vaughan came up to a shocked Jones and offered a “Hey man, I watch you on YouTube!”

“It was crazy! That was in 2013 or 2014 and I’ve run into him a bunch of times. Then Gordie and I ran into him during his show at C-Boy’s in Austin. Gordie said he’d love for him to play on the record, we called him the next day, and he did! It was a dream come true. He’s my biggest living influence.”

Everything Now is Jones’ 11th studio album since his 2000 debut, Defibrillatin. By intent, it’s a departure from a straight up blues sound, even if many of the song topics are about love lost, gained, or desired—“Keeping Me Up,” “To Tell You the Truth (I Lied),” “I Choose You,” and “Works Every Time” among them.
But two numbers are downright jarring: “Papa’s in the Pen” and “When You Left” are about two parents who are variously imprisoned, addicted to drugs and alcohol, or dead. About as far from a model mother and father as you can get. And both songs are autobiographical. In the latter, Jones sings that he wasn’t surprised when he got the call that his mother had passed away.

The songs are so raw, listeners can almost feel like they’re eavesdropping on some family drama they shouldn’t. Or at least a tortured therapy session.

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Joel Oppong-Boateng, JW-Jones, and Jacob Clarke
Photo by Kamara-Morozuk Photography
“I wrote ‘Papa’s in the Pen’ first. I took me a really long time to open up in my career about my childhood. My mother had a drug and alcohol problem and on an earlier record, I had a song called ‘Cocaine Boy.’ And that was me. The boy dealing with cocaine in his life, but not taking it,” Jones says.

“And the man who I called ‘Dad,’ who wasn’t my biological father, ended up in a maximum-security penitentiary here in Canada. And he’s not a good person,” Jones continues.

“What’s weird about it is that this is a man who taught me how to ride and bike and showed a lot of love. I didn’t know him as a bad person, but he was doing terrible things behind the scenes, a career criminal. I don’t know if he’s even out. I have no idea.”

It’s part of the reason that this record stands out to the artist himself. “I’ve always wanted to release a 100% original record, and it’s important to write about real things. The pandemic forced me to do a different approach in the last record, but I started writing these new songs four or five years ago, and it’s great to finally do something with them,” he says.

“And to make it not strictly a blues album. There’s grooves and chord changes and melodies that move me as an artist, which is hard when you’re in the blues world. You get this little voice in your head saying ‘Well, that’s not bluesy enough for the hardcore fan.’ And then you start questioning yourself.”

The existence of a “Blues Mafia,” or self-appointed fans, writers, and experts who judge the “legitimacy” of any new blues music or players has of course been in existence for decades.

“I know, because I was one of them when I started out!” Jones laughs. “The goal was to sound as traditional and old school as possible. And I did to get the respect of [blues legends] Charlie Musselwhite and Buddy Guy, [Howlin’ Wolf guitarist] Hubert Sumlin and Kim Wilson,” Jones says.
“That was important when I was younger, and I feel like I achieved that when I worked with them. Now in my forties, I’m making music for myself. Not a select group of people who probably don’t even pay for their music anyway. How many of the Blues Mafia are actually out there buying records?”

Locally, Jones says he loves playing Houston’s Big Easy Social & Pleasure Club, dropping the hint that they’ll be back November 18 as part of the tour for the record after spending the summer playing mostly festivals, outdoor shows, and bigger gigs. His touring band will include Joel Oppong-Boateng (drums) and Jacob Clarke (bass).

“You can have people from all ages and walks of life at the Big Easy. I’ve met doctors and lawyers and then people who look like they just came off the street,” he laughs. “That’s what I love about it! It’s so cool.”
Jones has also been recognized by the larger blues world at the prestigious International Blues Challenge. Held annually in Memphis, Tennessee, Jones walked away in 2020 with the coveted Best Guitarist award. Which also meant he would likely be an ideal target for an old fashioned “cutting contest” where one player challenges another onstage in a contest of skill, dexterity, and emotion while playing.

“That was also more when I was younger. Growing up, that’s the attitude I had. I would go to any club and play against anybody and be a tough guy and show them what I got. Jimmie and Kim Wilson would do that. Go in a club, play, and leave everyone dead,” he says. “But then I learned it was more of a community. It was more ‘Let’s jam!’ than ‘Let’s GO!’ Though I value both!”

Of course, axe slingers of all skill levels can now give frenemies a heads up—by posting to social media. Which makes Jones go back to the connections and experiences he made mentioned earlier that led up to Everything Now.

“It’s probably the only good thing about social media! I can actually connect human beings to other human beings sometimes,” he laughs. “When it’s not ruining the mental health of most people!”

For more on JW-Jones, visit
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero