A name which we’ve been hearing a lot about in recent times is Canadian blues guitarist, JW Jones.
Jones recently embarked upon his debut UK tour, during which he has created quite a buzz. National Rock Review took the opportunity to sit down with JW Jones at his show at Newcastle Rock and Blues Club to talk with him about his first impressions of the UK, playing with Buddy Guy and his plans for the rest of the year.
NRR: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us here at National Rock Review, we really appreciate it.
So you’ve been out on tour across the UK for about a week, what are your first impressions of the place so far?
JW Jones: Everything’s great, the audiences have been really receptive so far, and you know this tour is all about building an audience and just getting over here and getting our feet on the ground kind of thing and getting in front of people. To be completely honest this is the first time I’ve toured anywhere where I’ve looked at it like an investment where literally the budget is negative (laughing). So I’m excited though because the response so far has been really good, it’s all been sort of social media so far, and I didn’t pay for PR on this tour, so I’m really relying on the fans and people to talk online and so far so good.
NRR: You just mentioned it’s very difficult coming over to the UK on a debut tour. You’ve had a lot of high-profile artists drumming up support for you like the guys from Vintage Trouble and Jon Amor. How did you connect with those boys?
JW Jones: Well I’ve know the Vintage Trouble guys for about I guess it will be two years this summer, because we met at a festival out in California, we were opening for them and then through them a bunch of their fans started talking to me on social media and then this whole thing happened where we all just connected through several different people. It just kept on going back and forth and around circles until everyone knew everyone type of thing. But then those guys came out to Ottawa a couple of times and on one of the times they came to the Ottawa Blues Fest and some friends, and I took them out, and we went around to a few bars and had some fun, and so that’s how I hooked up with them initially.
Then with Jon Amor, that’s like a crazy story because my first gig under the “JW Jones Blues Band” name, we had Blues Band attached to it back then, was opening for The Hoax in Ottawa and that was like November 1998 or something like that. That was our first real gig, and we stayed in touch ever since.
NRR: Who would you say are your favourite British blues artists?
JW Jones: Well those guys for sure, The Hoax are fantastic. A buddy of mine Todd Sharpville, I don’t know if you know him, but he’s a great player, a nice guy.
NRR: So you guys perform as a trio, could you tell us a little bit about the band and how you all met?
JW Jones: Yeah, Laura Greenberg on bass, she’s been in the band for three and a half years now. She was just playing around the scene in Ottawa and our old drummer who was playing with me at the time introduced me to her and said she would be great for the job kind of thing, and she was, and she’s been going strong like I said three and a half years.
Then the drummer is brand new his name is Mathieu LapensÃ©e. Anyway, he’s brand new; he’s only done nine shows with us in Canada before we came over here and started this tour. So he’s brand new but I’ve known him for quite a while because one of my old drummers who was with me for six years is a teacher and he’s been mentoring him, and that’s how I found out about Mat.
NRR: Obviously your latest album Belmont Boulevard, that was released back in 2014. Do you have any plans to release any new studio material anytime soon?
JW Jones: Yeah, I just confirmed our recording in Nashville that we will be doing in June. We expect it to be released in September/October. So yeah some new stuff coming.
NRR: There’s one track in particular on that album that I would like to talk about and obviously listening to your music your influences really shine through. The track that I really like the most is probably the “West Side Magic Boogie” because I’m a bit of a fan of Magic Sam myself. How much of an influence is he on you as a player and when did you discover his music?
JW Jones: Magic Sam is a pretty big influence, that West Side Chicago thing is really cool because not a lot of guys copy that stuff or cover the West Side stuff you know Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam being the main ones I’d say. Yeah, it’s just a different sound, but that boogie thing, he didn’t really come up with that riff even though I got it from him and then we just tried out our own flavour to it and kick it to a point where the energy was just out of control kind of thing (laughing). So that’s always fun to play, it’s one of my favourite tunes on the album too.
NRR: Where do you find the inspiration for your songwriting?
JW Jones: Oh everywhere, you know a lot of the time when I first started writing songs I was trying to really make them sound like blues songs. What I noticed early on was that everyone was kind of borrowing a line here and there, but that was only in the beginning until I really started to get more comfortable being more honest and you know opening up a little bit more.
On this record especially there are a few topics that I’ve never really written about and I didn’t know how to before you know, also I was too nervous and I was too shy or whatever I just wasn’t comfortable enough with myself I guess, but now I’m at the age where you know I can let it all out or whatever (laughing). It is what it is, so where does the inspiration come from, it comes from everywhere, stories you know things that have happened in my own life and often times people tell me about their story or I see something on the news or whatever and that sparks an idea too to write a song.
NRR: Like I said obviously your influences do shine through, particularly I could hear Freddie King, B.B King and stuff like that. Do you listen to many contemporary blues artists and if so which ones do you listen to?
JW Jones: Well when you say contemporary I mean, I think of someone like Robert Cray as being contemporary so I would say he would be the main one that I would go to. It’s weird for me, though, I’m really picky about what I like, and it’s got to have the songwriting, the singing and the guitar playing for me to really dig it and Robert Cray is the guy doing it you know. So I would say he’s the one.
NRR: Speaking of classic blues guitarists you’ve played with Buddy Guy a few times. What was that experience like?
JW Jones: Well the first time Buddy played with us was at his club in Chicago. We had no idea that he was going to come on stage or anything. Between songs the sound guy came up to me and said my dad wants you to play a slow blues in A. I thought he was literally making a request for his father who was in the audience and before I could say what are you talking about, he said my dad’s Buddy Guy and he wants to know if you can do a slow blues in A, so I said “okay.”
I turned around and I just told the band, I didn’t tell them what he said, I said ok a slow blues in A and they were like ok. So we start playing and then Buddy came up on the stage and just started singing with us, so that moment was incredible. I was pretty nervous that time, just because it was unexpected I had no idea, he kept telling us to play quieter and quieter, that’s like his thing when he sits in with bands. So it was interesting.
Then after that, he said to me “where are you from?” I said, “I’m from Ottawa, you are gonna be up there in like ten days or something.” He said, “well I want you to come up and play with me.” I said, “really, for like two nights.” He said, “Yeah, I want you to come and play.” I said “OK.” So I didn’t know if that just like the cognac talking or if he was serious you know, so I asked his management the next day, and they said yeah, he’s serious he wants you there. So then I got to play two shows with him in Ottawa too.
NRR: If you were trapped on a desert island and you could only talk one album with you, which would you choose?
JW Jones: Live at The Regal, B.B.King.
NRR: What else do you have in store for the rest of this year?
JW Jones: Rest of this year, well we are kind of in a weird lull right now in terms of the summer bookings because the album has kind of reached its eighteen-month point, so it’s like kind of tailing off. So festivals aren’t super interested unless you have something brand new, in the blues world anyway. So after we record in June it’s kind of ok because we record and then have a month and a half or so to work on that, and just hang out and then come August/September it starts to get really busy again.
We are going all the way across Canada again. We play at the Big Blues Bender in Las Vegas, which will be a big show, couple of shows and then we are heading over to Norway in October and November. We might come back to the UK or we might do other stuff in Europe and then the winter December is kind of quiet and then next year it will all pick up again when the album is out and fresh.
NRR: That’s brilliant. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us we really appreciate it and good luck with the rest of the tour.
JW Jones: Thank you very much.
Website | Facebook | Twitter