The featured Bluesdays artist on Tuesday, Aug. 29, Dennis Jones is both a blues and a rock ‘n’ roll artist, an accomplished songwriter, guitarist and singer. He’s also a contrapuntist, someone who is skilled in the practice of the counterpoint.
When he gives his opinion, it usually is preceded by the conjuction “but.”
For example, his interest in music began with rock bands from his childhood: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Canned Heat, the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones and perhaps, most of all, Led Zeppelin.
“I was too young to be in the Woodstock generation but my older brother had albums all around the house,” he told Tahoe Onstage. “There was a common thread but as a kid I had no idea what it was until I was older. … The ’70s was an era I went to go back and study. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant got a lot of credit at the time but later on I found out that those songs were really done by old blues artists. That’s where I went.”
As an adult, Jones makes a point of giving credit where credit is due.
“It’s unfortunate that sometimes when you play an Albert King lick, people think you’re playing Stevie Ray Vaughan,” he said. “Stevie was just a monster and I don’t have one bad word to say about him but the thing is that people that don’t know the music that well or they think they do sometimes, they go ‘Oh, man, that was a great Stevie thing you did.’ It’s like, “No, that was Albert, that was not Stevie. Do your homework. … Some people only know Gary Moore, Stevie Ray Vaughan and that’s it. They don’t know anything else, and that’s a shame, and I try, in a nice way, to educate them to where this stuff really came from.”
Jones has a number of talented guitarists who play rock music.
“I see them spending so much time perfecting a great solo and they really are just phenomenal but if you don’t have a good song to put the solo in it really doesn’t matter because people probably won’t even hear it,” he said. “I’d rather hear a great song with no guitar solo than a bad song with somebody blistering and killing it. Yeah, it sounds great, when you walk out of the club nobody’s going to be humming or remembering that. They will remember you are a good guitar player, they’ll remember that part, but as for being in a band I think you want more than that. I think the songs really should matter.”
A Baltimore native, Jones wanted to see the world and explore different cultures, so the best way to do that, he decided, was at the age of 18 to enlist in the military. He was stationed in Germany, where for three years he played on weekends in a band he started with fellow G.I.s.
After his hitch, he returned to Baltimore he rejoined his former band. He played in various bands for decades as he held a day job that would allow him to go out on tours.
He played with the Zac Harmon Band in 2004 when it won the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge. While he was in Memphis, he rented the New Daisy Theater and produced a record with Harmon, Eddie Turner, Lazy Lester and Kenny Neal.
“It was great,” he said. “I lost my ass on the whole thing but if I could do it again I would. The thing about me is I don’t wait for something to happen, I just do it.”
After a layoff a few years ago, he finally pursued music full time. With a “dead” hometown scene, Jones elected to move either to New York or Los Angeles. After he stayed a week in both cities, he decided he prefers “laid-back” to “a constant hustle,” and moved to Southern California.
He’s recorded five albums, the most recent being his most successful, “Both Sides of the Tracks.” His two styles are featured throughout the record.
“I wrote 19 songs for this record and I took it down to the 13 I think went together the best,” he said. “It’s blues and rock, back and forth. I don’t think blues band are just one thing. In Europe, you hear a variety of music in one day on one radio station. Here everything has to be cookie cutter. You have to stay within the boundaries. You can’t go outside the lines too far or it’s not traditional. But I just do what I like to do and hope people get it. I think people are way more intelligent than the record labels give them credit for.”
Jones said he sometimes will not release the music he’s recorded. That was the case the only time he made an album with outside musicians. He believes it’s important to use his live band — drummer Raymond Johnson and bassist Dale Black – on the records in order to give concertgoers a consistent sound. He’s also apt to try more takes at a song, even if he already has put down a good one.
“”I am not some dictator and I listen to people who I work with,” he said. “If they have a better idea I am not going to use my ego to knock it down but at the same time I have to really be happy with what I put out or it’s not going to come out.”
So is Jones a perfectionist?
“A little bit,” he said. “But at the same time I love the sloppiness of Hendrix and Jimmy Page. They weren’t always on point but that’s because they were always stretching and taking chances. I like guys that take chances. You can hear an Eric Johnson or somebody who is precise to the point every time – Joe Bonamassa – these guys never make mistakes. They are always so perfect, and that’s good and I’m not knocking it but I like guys who go over the edge sometimes and barely hold on by a finger and then pull themselves back up. That’s what I like the most.
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