Johnny Jones

Nashville Blues/Soul Man Preserves Lost Era

Listen to Johnny Jones on Really- Part 1

Johnny JonesThink back for a moment if you will, to a time when Nashville was as much an R&B flashpoint as it was America's country and western capital. During the '50s and '60s, clubs like the New Era, Club Baron and Club del Morocco pulsated to the music of nationally known R&B stars like Ray Charles, Etta James, Ike and Tina Turner and Bobby "Blue" Bland, while supporting a thriving local scene that boasted hard-hitters like Ted Jarrett, Christine Kittrell, Gene Allison and Earl Gaines. Radio Station WLAC beamed the blues and R&B sounds out to over half the country, with hosts Bill "Hoss" Allen and Gene Nobles spinning crazed discs that influenced everyone from Elvis Presley onwards.

Nowadays, an interstate highway system plows through the all-but destroyed former black entertainment district, WLAC has switched to an all-talk format and little music comes out of Nashville but cookie-cutter, radio-friendly hat acts masquerading as country.

Guitarist Johnny Jones flies in the face of it all, a one man testament to the hip Music City U.S.A. that once was.

Born in 1936, Jones moved to Chicago as a teenager, shortly after falling under the spell of the blues during a Joe Hill Louis performance in Memphis. Primed for the Windy City, he soon caught Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and moved into an apartment with harmonica player Walter McCollum with whom he formed his first band. He worked with Junior Wells and Freddy King before moving back to Nashville and beginning a career as a studio musician. In the early '60s, he formed the Imperial Seven and they found steady work at the New Era Club, where he crossed paths with a young Jimi Hendrix—then playing alongside future Band Of Gypsies bassist Billy Cox in the King Casuals—who often showed up to sit in and glean tips from Jones.

By mid-decade he was playing along side Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown on Hoss Allen's mind-blowing Shindig-style television dance show The!!!!Beat, where he renewed his acquaintance with frequent guest Freddy King. Shortly thereafter, he joined the King Casuals, who were signed by Brunswick Records in 1968. The band's trio of singles for the label, commencing with the apocalyptically-named "It's Gonna Be Good" clear on through the crackling "Soul Poppin'" and a soul rendition of Hendrix's "Purple Haze" can only be termed—in the perfectly succinct words of the Funky Sixteen Corners website—as "prime examples of blues players getting funky." Indeed, Jones' twangy guitar is at the forefront throughout.

After a few singles on Atlanta's Peachtree Records, Jones played with Bobby "Blue" Bland before retiring and then resurfacing in the late '90s to reclaim his crown with new albums on the Black Magic and Northern Blues labels.

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