Lee Jones is off the road again, and he hopes it stays that way.
For more than 35 years, Jones has traveled across the country, and even around the globe, playing music wherever he stops. From Hawaii to Florida, from Texas to Tennessee, and with stops in England and Peru, Jones has been there and done that.
Last month, he landed in Lake Tahoe after a too-long timeout in Reno.
“I’d like to settle down and stay here,” he said, already taking in the Tahoe vibe. “I love it here. So far, the people have been good to me.”
Jones’ repertoire ranges from folk and country to old time rock and roll, tunes spanning from the ‘50s to the late ‘70s, with some traditional Hawaiian music weaved in for good measure. He’s down home, and down-to-earth, mellow at one moment and then pounding out a Charlie Daniels piece on the fiddle the next song up.
Jones, nicknamed Fid (short for Fiddler) by some musician friends, also has been pounding the pavement almost daily in Lake Tahoe, looking for spots to perform. He got his first gig at Artemis Lakefront Café, where restauranteurs Brian and Angela Luke gave him a shot.
The café’s patio overlooks the lake, and Jones has been entertaining tourists and locals alike from 6 to 10 p.m. on Thursdays and Saturdays. A tip jar sits nearby: “Fid’s Life Savings.”
“I came here on my last dime,” he admitted.
Life on the road is tough, but patrons have been kind, chipping in and also purchasing his recent CD, “Wooden Trail,” featuring instrumentals by Jones and other music and lyrics by a Canadian friend, Everett Adams.
When he breaks out the Hawaiian music at Artemis, listeners take note. “You know what’s funny,” Brian Luke told Jones, “when you start playing Hawaiian… people start ordering umbrella drinks, like mai tais.”
Up the road, Fid was onstage Saturday night at MontBleu Resort’s new HQ Center Stage, backed by a mural of a Lake Tahoe sunset. He poured out a rendition of the Eagles’ “Tequila Sunrise.” By the end of the night, partygoers had abandoned their tables to dance, and even the bartenders were tapping their toes.
Dave Davis, MontBleu’s entertainment director, has described HQ Center Stage as “one of Lake Tahoe’s newest casino entertainment venues.”
“Every Friday and Saturday,” Davis suggested, folks can “enjoy fantastic live entertainment from local and regional acts in our new state-of-the-art stage.” HQ is a favorite place for locals, he noted, and visitors get in on the action, too.
On this Saturday night, a bachelorette party lined up for a photograph as Jones covered Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.”
“Every little thing will be alright,” he assured.
Then there was the birthday party, followed by special requests and more dancing.
It wasn’t always a party for Jones, though. Born in Indiana in 1955, he grew up in Hawaii with three brothers a sister who followed. His mother was of Japanese heritage, a native of Hawaii; his father of European descent. That made Jones a “hapa haole – half white,” and a first-line, post-World War II Baby Boomer.
Like most kids in Hawaii, Lee Jones learned to play a dime-store ukulele. His dad later brought home a guitar and amplifier, and Jones went to work as a 12-year-old. He started spinning 45-rpm records of Creedence Clearwater Revival, “my all-time favorite band,” and learned to play the songs — one note at a time.
“I ruined them all,” he said of the vinyl.
After high school, he left Hawaii: “I needed to go out and see the world.” But music wasn’t the ticket at first. He moved to San Diego and, for five years, toiled as a transmission mechanic. At age 23, though, he had wrenched enough.
He sold his mechanic’s tools to his boss and bought a Les Paul Custom guitar and a Fender Super Reverb amplifier and “went back to Hawaii and started a band.” A little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, with music also flavored from his Hawaiian background.
Three-plus decades later, Jones is a one-man band of sorts, employing a multi-track tape player to provide backup music and vocals. But this is no karaoke. He recorded all the vocals and instruments, including laptop-steel guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, fiddle and harmonica. He breaks out one instrument at a time during live performances.
Jones kept coming back to Creedence on Saturday night: “Down On the Corner,” the band’s 1969 self-look from “Willy and the Poor Boys,” and “Green River,” when times were simpler, and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” when times were happy, if not cosmic.
He never got to “Lodi,” though, on that night.
“Just about a year ago/I set out on the road/Seekin’ my fame and fortune/Lookin’ for a pot of gold/Things got bad and things got worse/I guess you know the tune/Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again…”
“I’ve been stuck in a lot of places – been through there – but I’ve never been stuck in Lodi.”
HQ Center Stage in MontBleu
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