by ANDREW “JR. BOY” JONES
Photos and Text by Larry Benicewicz
Not long ago I went to see a Baltimore Blues Society sponsored show with Guitar Shorty as headliner. Normally at such venues, I arrive a little late, since the opening act is usually a local artist, probably one upon whom I have already reported, having covered the regional beat for so many years. However, on this occasion, the performer entrusted with warming up the audience for the Chicago legend was someone whose name, I embarrassingly admit, I did not recognize - Andrew “Jr. Boy” Jones. And since he was unfamiliar to me, I was intrigued as to his origins and made sure that I appeared well in advance with extra film for my camera. And I’m certainly glad that I took this precaution.
In short, this musician pushing 60 years old proved quite a revelation that night and indeed could very well have himself carried the whole show on his broad shoulders. Not only did he play with a confident precision, crispy and cleanly, with a string bending style reminiscent of a former mentor (more about that later) but also he was possessed of a powerful voice, a smoky baritone which suggested that of say an Otis Rush. And he also fronted a stellar supporting cast, including pianist, John Street (himself no slouch as a bluesman), which followed his every move. Moreover, the repertoire he unveiled was fresh and many of his own compositions were both clever and humorous, the latter quality seemingly so lacking in the songs of today. After his set, I said to my self, “Who was that masked man?” I just had to meet him and record his story, because I knew by the manner in which he played that there was a lot of blues history with which he could identify. And on that assumption, I wasn’t wrong.
Yes, this humble and affable guitarist had quite a tale to tell and was not only gracious but also very patient with me, submitting to two prolonged phone interviews, since the Dallas blues scene (his stomping grounds) was not exactly my strong suit. And if for nothing else, I will be eternally grateful to him for filling in the missing gaps of my knowledge to this end. For nearly three score years, he lived and breathed the R&B of this major Texas metropolis and was on a first name basis with nearly all of its colorful characters both past and present.
Andrew “Jr.Boy” Jones was born in Dallas on October 16, 1948. To say that he came from a musical background would be an understatement. His mother was singer in a big band led by uncle, a jazz saxophonist Adolphus Sneed. In fact, at his birth, she was forced to give up touring but still insisted on playing blues records around the house, including those of Jimmy Reed and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Andrew (whose moniker was bestowed by a grandmother) actually confessed to being influenced also by C&W musicians such as Roy Clark and Ernest Tubb and surprisingly used to tune in to the Lawrence Welk Show to pick up a few pointers from his own “easy listening” guitarist. Furthermore, Andrew credits a local phenom, James Braggs, as an inspiration. “James was the brother of singer Al ‘TNT’ Braggs [who recorded for Don Robey’s Peacock label of Houston the 60s] and he used to regularly serenade us neighborhood kids,” said Andrew. Encouraged by both his uncle and mother, who each bought him a “starter guitar,” Andrew by his mid-teens was earning quite a reputation himself as a musician in the vicinity; so much so, that when a vacancy occurred in touring Freddie King’s back-up band, the Thunderbirds, they recruited Andrew to handle the second guitar duties.
The Thunderbirds were a Dallas-based group founded in 1962 by singer and bassist Finis Tasby (now with the Mannish Boys). Prior to backing King, the Thunderbirds also played behind R&B demigods Z.Z. Hill and Joe Simon for extended stretches.
It was in 1965 or 1966, and King was nearly at the end of his King/Federal contract and hits like “Hide Away,” “I’m Tore Down,” and “You’ve Got To Love Her With A Feeling” and was soon to embark on a new chapter of his career with Atlantic/Cotillion (later Leon Russell’s Shelter and Robert Stigwood’s RSO). Andrew remembered that the Thunderbirds of that era - Marvin Clemons on sax, Robert Whitlow on drums, Billy White on keyboards, and Finis Tasby requested him for an audition before their boss. “Freddie was a huge man and very intimidating and he took my guitar and started pulling strings [his style] every which way. He literally tore my poor pawn shop model guitar’s strings to shreds. But he must have liked the way I played because he asked me to accompany him on the road,” said Andrew. But being only seventeen at the time, he had to seek his mother’s permission to leave home. And she complied, reluctantly giving him her blessing.
According to Andrew, Freddie King and the Thunderbirds were a well-known attraction on the Southern “Chitlin’ Circuit” (composed of predominantly black audiences) which encompassed the territory from Louisiana to Texas, a wide swath of real estate which some musicologists have also labeled the “fertile crescent” of R&B, blues, and zydeco. As was the custom in those days, various celebrated artists would travel in caravans to habitual stopsinvariably large ball rooms, dance halls, road housesand one of the acts would supply the house band for the others. On many occasions, it would be the Thunderbirds who fulfilled this obligation, supporting such favorites as Little Frankie Lee, Al Braggs, and Little Joe Blue (Valery). “It must have been my first gig and we were headed to McAlester or Muskogee, Oklahoma, to back up [pianist] Jimmy McCracklin. It was winter and our old, battered Cadillac station wagon had windows that couldn’t roll down, a heater that didn’t work, and a hole in the floor.
As the rookie, I was the designated one that had to block the draft and I was pretty miserable,” said Andrew, who also remembered that some of the “blues joints out in the sticks had wood burning stoves.” Although his first hitch with Freddie King was short lived (1966-67), he was able to meet some of the biggest stars of that generation through his connection with the Thunderbirds, including Big Joe Turner, Lowell Fulson, Bobby Bland, Clarence Carter, and B.B. King, the latter at the famed Central Forest club in Dallas.
Back in Dallas in 1967, Andrew, still quite in demand as a guitarist, took up with another home town native, Bobby Patterson (b. 1944), a singer in soul-blues mold of Otis Redding. Patterson began recording for Oakland, CA, headquartered (John) Abnak records (big hit makers: The Five Americans) in 1962 and by 1967 was a charter member of its soul subsidiary, Jetstar. The late 60s were a fruitful period for Patterson, who issued several substantial sellers of a topical nature among his fourteen releases for Jetstar, including “Let Them Talk”(109), “I’m Leroy-I’ll Take Her” (110), “Broadway Ain’t Funky No More” (111), “Don’t Be So Mean” (112), “T.C.B. or T.Y.A.” (114), and “What a Wonderful Night for Love” (116), all efforts in which Andrew participated as a member of the Mustangs. Unfortunately, Patterson’s early career aspirations were short-circuited when Abnak/Jetstar folded in 1969 and he was compelled to prematurely disband.
But as the 70s dawned, work was still plentiful in Dallas, especially revolving around two clubsthe Red Jacket and Ali Baba, the latter on Lemon St. Among the singers who performed regularly were Little Hamp, his brother Leon Hamp, Floyd Braggs (another sibling of Al), and old veteran, Sammy Robinson. From time to time, Ft. Worth based guitarist Ray Sharpe would make an appearance. Sharpe had a national hit on Jamie in 1959, “Linda Lu,” as well as a cult record the same year dedicated to bluesman Long John Hunter, “Long John.” Another Ft. Worth guitarist, Cornell Dupree, would often sit in. Dupree distinguished himself as part of Atlantic Records’ studio band of the 60s and was featured on King Curtis’s Memphis Soul Stew and Aretha Franklin’s Aretha: Live At The Fillmore West, as well as Brook Benton’s 1969 national smash, “A Rainy Night in Georgia.” And last but not least, the saxophone chores, both alto and tenor, would be executed by Dallas born Hank Redd, who had already recorded with Buddy Miles and Patty Labelle and would go on to figure prominently in Stevie Wonder’s masterpiece in 1976, Songs In The Key of Life. “I’d have to say that I was surrounded by a lot of talent and I learned a good bit from all of them, particularly Cornell Dupree, who helped me perfect my own technique,” said Andrew.
About 1973 came another encounter with Freddie King. “I was over at a club on Maple and Freddie came in and heard me perform. I guess by then I was much improved. In fact, I must have really impressed him, because he really wanted me to go back out on the road with his crew,” said Andrew. Andrew recalled that on this second go round with King, he was playing in much bigger arenas and was drawing a lot of rock fans as well. “By that time Freddie had become kind of a superstar, traveling far and wide, and would be on the slate along with headliners like Tower of Power, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Grand Funk Railroad, and Rare Earth,” he added. Undoubtedly, a highlight from this period was the RSO record release of Larger Than Life (SO 4811) in which Andrew lent a hand and which contains nine tracks of which one was a single, the funky “Boogie Bump” (SO 516), inspired by the dance craze of that era. Produced by Mike Vernon of the Blue Horizon label fame, the aptly titled Larger Than Life was reissued as a CD in 2003. But again, Andrew’s stay with “The Texas Cannonball” would be of short duration as King died an untimely death in 1976 at 42 in Dallas, succumbing to a heart attack after suffering for years with acute ulcers and pancreatitis.
By the mid-70s, times were not only tough for bluesmen but also for any performers of live music, as disco became all the rage. Late in the decade, Andrew actually turned to soul music to make ends meet, forming the group the Creators, who were actually considered enough of a commodity in this new-found genre to earn a contract with a major, RCA records. One of their releases, penned by Andrew, “Blame It on Me” (11951) in 1979, was only a minor hit in the U.S. but created quite a stir in England. In fact, it is now a highly sought after collectors’ item in the category of “Northern Soul” and commands upwards of a hundred dollars.
Still working locally in 80s, Andrew’s activities were centered about an upscale Dallas lounge, the Classic Club owned by Ernest Davis. “It was definitely one of the most desired destinations of the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’ of that time. I remember that I was quite busy there, especially in the company of other soul singers like R.L. Griffin and Hal Harris,” he said. By 1983, he had latched on with one of the more frequent visiting acts thereJohnnie Taylor, whose drummer, David Burns, was half brother of Harris. Taylor by then was far removed from his glory days with Stax and “Who’s Making Love” and “Cheaper to Keep Her” and even had recently been dumped by Columbia wherein he authored the million selling “Disco Lady” in 1976. But he remained ever popular with his legions of devoted fans who would show up in huge numbers wherever he chose to entertain. Andrew recalled that like another road warrior of that era, Bobby Rush, Johnnie Taylor employed a converted bus to transport from gig to gig his somewhat unwieldy entourage of twelve pieces, including a full horn section and background singers. “I was with Johnnie from 1983-84 and again in 1985. And the thing I remember the most is how particular he was that all the charts and arrangements were laid out in advance. In other words, all his shows were well scripted, almost like we were in the studio, and not a whole lot of adlibbing,” said Andrew. By the way, for a taste of what life on the road would be all about, it would be instructive to pick up a copy of the 2003 Martin Scorsese produced documentary, The Blues: A Musical Journey, and play close attention to the portion filmed and directed by Dick Pierce, The Road to Memphis, wherein the peregrinations by this mode of transportation of both the aforementioned Rush and B.B. King are recorded for posterity.
Among the usual patrons of the Classic Club in the mid-80s were two gifted musicians, Tony Coleman, longtime drummer for Bobby Bland, and Russell Jackson, erstwhile bassist for B.B. King, who first honed their chops as servicemen in the same outfit but were now members of the trio, Silent Partners, stationed in the Sacramento, CA, area. Booked by agent Ice Cube Slim (who, according to Andrew, wasn’t) of Bon Ton West, they either played as a unit or backed other clients of the agency, invariably transplanted Cajuns on the West Coast like noted Lake Charles (Eddie Shuler’s Goldband) and Crowley (J.D. Miller’s Excello), LA’s, Texas born session pianist, Katie Webster, now pursuing a solo career, or zydeco accordionist extraordinaire, Queen Ida.
Now in need of a competent guitarist (Tony also had played alongside Andrew backing Little Joe Blue and Lucky Peterson) since their own colleague, “Wine,” was about to quit, these two persuaded Andrew in 1987 to relocate to the West Coast as a proud new member of their group. “I remember our first engagement. Slim rushed us down to Los Angeles to back up Katie on an New Year’s Eve date,” said Andrew, who also added that this newly configured ensemble could now advertise itself with a new cachetlike the Three Musketeersas all being former sidemen of blues legends.
The Silent Partners remained with Katie for several months and in fact collaborated with her in a highly acclaimed album in 1988, Swamp Boogie Queen (AL CD 4766), which was recorded for Bruce Iglauer’s Alligator in Chicago, IL, Los Angeles, CA, Austin, TX, and Nashville, TN, and included cameos by Robert Cray, Kim Wilson, and Bonnie Raitt. The “best of” this material, a full five tracks, is contained in another Alligator offering of 1999, Katie Webster: Deluxe Edition (AL CD 5606).
When not touring, executing club dates (Santa Cruz’s Moe’s Alley or the Catalyst), or opening for big names like the Neville Brothers, the threesome, as well seasoned professionals, accepted many opportunities to act as session men in the Bay Area. There was one séance in particular that proved pivotal in Andrew’s career. “I remember that we were helping both Little Frankie Lee and then Sonny Rhodes, when [blues harmonica giant] Charlie Musselwhite happened to come by and he asked us to accompany him on a tour with John Lee Hooker. Since Katie was in Europe with another band, we jumped at the chance,” said Andrew. But about halfway through the envisioned itinerary, in Saskatoon, Canada, Andrew abruptly decided to leave, as his relationship with Coleman and Jackson had quickly soured. “It always seemed to turn out that it was the two of them against me. I quickly became the only silent partner in the arrangement,” he added. But Musselwhite didn’t want to let a guitarist of Andrew’s magnitude slip away so easily and when Musselwhite formed his own band in late 1988, he invited him on board. This mutually beneficial association would last eight years. “What was even better about Charlie’s schedule is that wherever we went, at the tour’s end, he’d fly us back home. And for me that meant Dallas,” added Andrew.
As anyone familiar with Charlie Musselwhite can attest, he doesn’t let dust settle on his shoes too long before he hits the trail. With Charlie, Andrew paid a call to some quite far off and exotic outposts, including South America, the Eastern Hemisphere---Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Japanand Europe, with treks through Poland and Scandinavia. Needless to say, there were also many junkets that crisscrossed both the U.S. and Canada. During that span of time, Musselwhite also recorded three fine undertakings for Alligator which amply displayed the merits of his newly discovered guitar virtuosoAce of Harps (1990, ALCD 4781), Signature (1991, ALCD 4801), and In My Time (1993, ALCD 4818). Undoubtedly it was the scintillating play of Andrew on lead guitar which contributed mightily to Charlie’s supporting cast winning a W.C. Handy Award in 1995 in the category of the Blues Band of the Year, which was no mean feat considering the sheer number of competitors.
But by the middle 90s, both Andrew and drummer, Tommy Hill (who has remained with Andrew off and on to the present), amicably parted ways with Musselwhite in order to commence their own careers. Back in Dallas for at least the meantime, Andrew began performing at old friend R.L Griffin’s new enterprise, the Blues Palace. During that time frame, John Stedman, an English producer, was interested in recording Andrew for his own label, JSP. Andrew doesn’t remember how the connection came about but it was perhaps through a tour abroad with Katie Webster or Charlie Musselwhite that the British record mogul had became obsessed with recording him. And even more so after a visit to the renowned club him self in 1996. Anyway, Stedman, who normally taped noted artists on the move overseas (Charlie Sayles, Creole Zydeco Farmers, Deborah Coleman, Lucky Peterson, Joe Louis Walker), this time set up a session stateside at Audio Dallas Studio in Garland, TX (with Hill on drums and Christole Jones, Andrew’s son on bass), which yielded I Need Time. The selections of I Need Time, like “Blues Joint,” “These Bills,” and “Hoochie Mama (a husband stealing tramp on the prowl)” were written from common, everyday experiences in Andrew’s life and would define him as a composer in later undertakings as well. As usual in that pre-internet era, Stedman had problems with distribution of his label in the U.S.; so he leased the project to Rounder records and their Bullseye subsidiary. As a first trial, the CD made enough of an impact to warrant an extensive nationwide campaign to promote it.
Actually, Rounder thought so highly of this new “hot” acquisition that they not only had him return to the studio for a second album on Bullseye Blues, the 1998 Watch What You Say (CD BEYE 962), but also they saw fit to exhibit many samples of his handiwork on a bewildering array of anthologies and compilations (some on auxiliary Easydisc), including the 1997 Blue Cat Blues:All Instrumentals (CD EDIS 7057) with Bobby Radcliff, Larry Davis, and Walter “Wolfman” Washington; the 1997 New Blues Hits from Bullseye Blues and Rounder (CD BEYEAN 27) with the Persuasians, Johnny Adams, and Jimmy King; the 1997 Lone Star Blues (CDEDIS 9009), featuring Gary Primich, Mike Morgan & the Crawl, Johnny Copeland, and Albert Collins; the 1998 Blues Joint (CDEDIS 7058) showcasing Smokey Wilson and James Harman; the 1999 Highway Blues (CD ROUNTS2) with Rory Block, Eddy Clearwater, Smokin’ Joe Kubek, and Michelle Wilson and in the same year, Tower Takes Texas By Storm, wherein Andrew shares the bill with Rosie Flores, Roomful of Blues, Susan Tedeschi, Anson Funderburgh, and Marcia Ball. But perhaps Rounder’s greatest tribute to Andrew is to reserve a slot for him in their monster 60-track retrospective of 2003, Box of Blues (CD ROUN 2171), which acknowledges a myriad of blues legends over the years affiliated with the Cambridge, MA, label.
Within the last ten years, John Stedman has also released a compilation, Texas Blues Guitar Summit (1997) with cuts by Andrew, U.P. Wilson, Bobby Gilmore, and Henry Qualls. He also recently (2005) repackaged and re-released I Need Time.
After leaving Rounder, Andrew has recorded two more CDs of his own. The first is a 2002 endeavor of all original tunes, Mr. Domestic (Galexc Records 7001), wherein Andrew finds comedic material in household situations confronting every man - “My Work,” “Baby I’m Sorry,” and “I Get No Respect.” His fourth and most current CD which was issued in 2006 is “Jr. Boy Live” on the 43rd Big Idea label and captures a positively smoking onstage performance of Andrew at yet another popular Dallas watering hole---Deep Ellum Blues, named after the Dallas quarter (like New Orleans’s Storyville) of yore, renowned as the “breeding ground” of blues and jazz.
And since the first project, all of these albums have given Andrew impetus to wander far from home in order to somehow make it on his own. And you’ve got to give him credit. How many musicians can survive without a day job in this day and age when the club scene of any town is shrinking so alarmingly. His philosophy is that if there is no gig in your town, surely there must be one out there somewhere, even if the routing leaves something to be desired (for example, after the Baltimore concert, Andrew’s trusty van deposited his loyal troops in Dallas after a 24 hour drive).You need only to consult his website to track the next engagement in his unrelenting schedule, a host of dates which may even land him in China. “Felton Crews [bassist for Charlie Musselwhite] secured for us this gig in Beijing for the month of April in 2006 in a club they called the Ice House. We actually were interviewed for a broadcast segment by the Today Show people who were following the Rolling Stones in Shanghai. Yeah, I guess you can say I’ve been everywhere,” said Andrew.
But still after ten years of working independently, Andrew wonders why he still has to struggle so, why he hasn’t hit the big time. “I’d have to say that I’ve been close to certain things all my life. Been right there [where the action was]. Maybe, there have been some bad decisions on my part. Maybe, I haven’t sucked up enough or to the right people,” he confessed in frustration, unabashedly recognizing the fact that he hasn’t become a household name.
And Andrew “Jr. Boy” Jones may have a point. But, then again, I’d don’t think anyone’s really done him justice, at least in the print media, providing him a decent resume in this regard, considering his life long immersion in the blues. There’s nothing like some good press to put someone finally over the top. And, hopefully, that’s where I come in.
Copyright © 2008 -- Larry Benicewicz, Baltimore Blues Society, BAS-Journal
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