JOYCE: So we’re here at Finley’s Bar and Grill in Nelson, BC with JW Jones, upcoming blues star on the Canadian blues scene. I’m assuming Canadian—
JONES: Yes, Ottawa.
JOYCE: Oh, so you’re from the same city as Sue Foley then.
JONES: She was our guest on the Legendary Blues Cruise back in 2007.
JOYCE: So talk about how you came up into the blues and where that all got started for you.
JONES: Well I was initially a drummer listening to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and stuff like that. And then I realized they got everything from the old blues guys, Chess Records, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and all that stuff. And I had some friends that were really, really into hardcore blues and they got me into all the right stuff. So I ended up switching from drums to guitar in around ’95 when I saw B.B. King for the first time; I was 15 years old. Since then it’s been ten records and I’ve played in 23 countries and just keep going.
JOYCE: You’ve been on some very famous blues labels, like Blind Pig. Can you mention a couple that you were on?
JONES: Yeah, I started out on Northern Blues Music, a Canadian label out of Toronto and we were the first artists signed to their label in 2000. And then after that—we did I think the first six records with them—and I did a couple on my own. I’ve worked with Ruf Records and then Blind Pig for our Belmont Boulevard CD, which was nominated for a Juno Award a couple years ago. And then I’ve done the last couple releases myself on my own label, Solid Blues.
JOYCE: Any particular reason for that?
JONES: Well, the whole landscape has changed. Blind Pig ended up selling the label to Sony, so it’s not really an operating label anymore in terms of signing new artists, it’s just a catalogue. It depends on your perspective, because you can release the record yourself and hire the publicist and do the advertising yourself and then you keep the lion’s share of the sales. Or you can go the other way, and the label keeps the lion’s share of the sales and puts all that money into it for you. I mean, there are pros and cons to both. But honestly for the live record, because I wasn’t expecting it to be a huge seller, I just wanted to do it on my own label. Live records don’t tend to sell as well as studio records.
JOYCE: Alright, let’s talk about influences. My guitarist friend Jon Burden tells me he hears a strong British blues revival sound to your music. Would you say that’s characteristic of your music or just one thing you do?
JONES: I’ve never studied any British blues. I think what he’s hearing there is that all those guys listen to the same guys I listen to. They all studied B.B. King, Albert King, Albert Collins, T-Bone Walker, all the great guitar players, and I’ve done the same thing. My biggest influences are B.B.—number one—Jimmie Vaughan is up there, Hubert Sumlin, Anson Funderberg, Little Charlie Baty, all the Texas guys and all the West Coast guys, Junior Watson. And I’ve worked with all of them in some shape or form so I’ve been very fortunate.
JOYCE: Really? Even Hubert Sumlin?
JONES: Yeah, he’s on one of my records with Charlie Musselwhite, they’re both on Midnight Memphis Sun. We recorded that at Sun Studios in Memphis.
JOYCE: And you mentioned a couple other people you worked with…
JONES: We recorded with Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds; he was on my second album, he produced my third one. Colin James was a guest on that one. I’ve worked with David ‘Fathead’ Newman from the Ray Charles Band, great sax player. Charlie Musselwhite, Little Charlie Baty, Junior Watson, Richard Anson, Larry Taylor—the best rhythm section in history if you ask me. Who am I missing? Colin Linden produced my last record and he was on it of course.
JOYCE: And you played with Buddy Guy?
JONES: I’ve played with Buddy Guy six times—four times with his band and twice with my band.
JOYCE: So how did you meet him? How did that happen?
JONES: We played at Legends in his club in Chicago and he saw me play and said some nice things to me about my playing. So he asked me to join his band for a couple shows in Ottawa. There’s some great YouTube footage of that. And then whenever we’re at Legends, he sits in with us and sings if he’s there.
JOYCE: I read a quote of him saying, “This young man is one of the people that’s going to keep the blues alive,” so I bet that makes you feel good.
JONES: Pretty cool, yeah. I’ve been seeing him since I was 15 years old.
JOYCE: So with your albums—and forgive me, because I’m not familiar with your catalogue of work—would you say there’s a diversity of sound, from Delta to Chicago to what you might call British, is there a style or a sound that you’re aiming to keep?
JONES: In the early days I was definitely emulating the Chicago, Texas, West Coast kind of sounds. I had a harmonica player who was on the first couple records, Steve Mariner. He was great and that was the sound we were going for at the time. And then as the years went on, I did a couple albums with huge horn sections with stuff kind of like Ray Charles, that jump blues sound. The last couple records have been a little more guitar-driven.
The music’s changed for a lot of reasons, number one because my writing’s changed. In the beginning I was just trying to write blues songs that sounded authentic to a certain style. Now when I write songs, the life it takes on is what it takes on. I’m not trying to fit into a box and that makes it sound—first of all, more original. Second of all, there are a lot more choruses that aren’t like the old blues records where it’s the old AAB thing—sing the line then sing it again and then rhyme the third one. And that’s just a personal preference. I mean, there are a lot of great songwriters who can totally kick butt doing that, but I feel that I need a little more space and different chord changes to make me feel like it’s fitting the song.
JOYCE: So do you feel like that’s part of the natural evolution of 21st century blues? Do you see that happening more?
JONES: You know, I think it just depends on the artist. Everyone has their own way of doing things. You look at Joe Bonamassa and he does everything from 12-bar blues to stuff that’s a lot more poppy. And that’s a good example of someone who’s at the top of the food chain right now, other than Buddy Guy. There are a lot of guys who are just sticking close to the tradition, and then there are other guys who are just going totally away from it into R&B and stuff.
JOYCE: Well, each artist has to forge their own path. I guess the important thing is, it keeps the blues alive in some form.
JONES: Absolutely, yeah. Any time people are playing the blues or talking about the blues is a good thing. I mean, there’s a terrible stigma, that the blues are sad and slow. And that’s something we need to fix. And the way to do that is to keep getting it out there. I mean, we play shows all the time where young people are going nuts for the show. And they go, “I didn’t know this was the blues.” And they don’t know because they’re not exposed to it. We play high energy stuff, so if it wasn’t for that, I don’t know how we would do. That makes a really big difference for young people, because they feel that energy.
JOYCE: And in fairness to slow blues, some of the best blues is slow blues.
JONES: That’s right, and we do that too, we mix it all together. It’s all about getting the right balance.
JOYCE: I think of Ten Years After with their Slow Blues in C, that’s just an incredible slow blues shuffle. The notes just get wrung right out of that guitar. In closing, any thoughts about next steps for you?
JONES: Well, we just released the live record and we charted in the Top 10 Billboard chart for blues albums, so that’s pretty cool, first week out it’s number 8. So we’re promoting that album with the tour, that’s the plan for now. And then a studio album in the next two years. I release an album every two years on the dot. The next album will be all originals.
JOYCE: Well thank you very much for taking the time JW.
JONES: Thank you.
Special thanks to the Kootenay Blues Society, Richard Metzner and Jon Burden for inviting me to interview JW and hear his dynamic live show.