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Tim: Dennis Jones

Dennis Jones:
Between Rock... and a Blues Place
By T.E. Mattox

obert Frost once wrote, 'Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.' If Frosty Bob were alive to today, I'm sure he'd agree that bluesman Dennis Jones should have that quote tattooed across his forehead. Drop in any of Jones' three CD's and his hyperactive Blues guitar instantly leaves you winded. And with seemingly no expiration date on his poetic license, Jones demonstrates he can stop time 'I Want it Yesterday,' defy gravity 'I'm Falling Up' and numb the senses 'Slap me in the face until I can't see' with every song he writes. As an additional safety precaution, venues should probably post Dennis Jones Band disclaimers outside live shows that read…the Electrified Blues experienced tonight may cause whiplash-like bruising, neck stiffness and loss of communicative skills. Delayed side effects include, disorientation, blurred vision, restless leg syndrome followed by severe sweating, light headedness, and a bitchin' euphoria.

It seems Dennis Jones knew early that he wanted to play music. He just took a while to decide what kind of music.

"I was a rock and roller as a kid, and playing some R&B mixed up with Rock and Roll. I went back and discovered where these rock and roll licks were coming from. As you dig deeper you go back to Son House and Robert Johnson and people like that."

Was it the guitar from the start?

"I wanted to be a drummer but my parents wouldn't go for the noise. So I went for the guitar and a year and a half later I had a Marshall stack in the living room….so I think they were scratching their heads going, 'we should have gotten the drums!'

"I love blues and if I had only one style of music I could listen to, it would truly be the blues. But I've been influenced by so many things.
--- Dennis Jones

Growing up in Baltimore, Dennis has fond memories of the diverse local music scene. One legendary Maryland landmark came up, the eclectic and intimate venue called '8x10.'

"I've seen some great, great bands…. Gary 'Mudbone' Cooper and all those guys from Parliament Funkadelic came out of Baltimore; all those great players came out of there."

the writer with Dennis Jones
Dennis Jones ponders new security measures. Photo: Y. Mattox

The more you listen to Jones' music, the more you realize he's not just a guitarist that rocks the blues. When tugging at his strings of influence I discovered two distinctive traits. First, he's uncommonly focused on his craft, but more importantly he seems to relish mining the infinite diversity of his musical mentors. So if you're willing to open the latest Dennis Jones Variety Pack, he's more than willing to step outside the traditional and pin your ears back.

"People who write about music and the artists that perform it sometimes have a nasty habit of 'pigeon-holing' a musician. What I mean by that is, making a general overall comparison to another artist or group without explaining the nuances or detail behind their conclusions."

Guilty, your honor! But in my defense, the Dennis Jones Band is a kickass, three-piece collective that can singe the tiny hairs off your eyebrows with searing solos, hammer-driven percussion and thudding bass lines. In summation; after every Dennis Jones performance, when you leave the premises there's absolutely no question …you'll have been rocked hard and bent blue!

That being said, comparisons with previous generations and other contemporary's are inevitable. And honestly, if you must be lumped-in with other legendary power trios, how distressing can it be when you're mentioned in the same breath as Cream, Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble and the Jimi Hendrix Experience…especially Hendrix! So with tongue firmly planted in grinning cheeks, I asked Dennis if he thought it was the bands three-piece format.

"It's the three-piece; it's the tonality of my voice," he grins, "my attitude, I guess. I don't really know, but I could be compared to a lot of people. At first, I was kind of…aaarrrhhhh, you know? Then I thought to myself, you know what…Hendrix was one of the greatest guitar players in the world…so shut up."

Have I mentioned I really like this guy? As we talked about other players and musicians, Dennis began provided insight on why he was so drawn to them.

"When people hear me play…I don't really try to copy any of those guys. First of all they have their thing, and I always wanted to develop my own style…just my own thing. What really influenced me from all those people, especially Page and Hendrix, they're great songwriters. I mean I love songs. I don't care if I have to play songs with no lead guitar for the rest of my life; it's REALLY about the songs. So many people put their energy into doing a great solo without…" he pauses a beat. "It's like a great race care driver without a car, you know? You've got to have the whole, complete thing, for me to come and see you, buy your shirts and CD's. To me it's a combination of all those things. Songwriting is the most important thing out there to me."

photo of guitars and amplifier from Dennis Joones CD Pleasure and Pain
Photo from the CD 'Pleasure and Pain'

His music and especially the DJB live shows reflect a tremendous amount of different styles and intensities. So, LAST CALL…Anybody else you'd like to mention or pay homage to before moving on?

"I love Jeff Beck on a lot of his stuff. Some of the things he does…" Dennis shakes his head, "he's just a master of what ever he does. Even to this day he's unbelievable. Just unbelievable! I guess some of the early Fleetwood Mac, before they became a pop band. I wasn't really a big Clapton fan, because at the time when Jimi was alive, not many other players existed to me. He was just so far ahead of everybody else."

You've absorbed so much over the years, when you write music and especially when you play live, it seems to come out that same way…a combination plate of blues, mixed with rock and roll, a little R & B…

"…Motown, Country…its all Americana to me. I love blues and if I had only one style of music I could listen to, it would truly be the blues. But I've been influenced by so many things. I love American Roots music. I love Rockabilly, Brian Setzer. On the way here I was listening to some Dwight Yoakum. I love his first three albums, his songwriting…that's what I'm talking about, songwriting. Lucinda Williams, great lyrics. I love things that touch me inside, not just the visual. They've got to deliver something."

Let's go back a few years, when you first got to Los Angeles and talk a little about one of your earlier bands: Blackhead.

"It was a cross between Funkadelic, Aerosmith and Zeppelin and all original material. I had a singer that was wild. It was just a bunch of brothers playing alternative (music) that was not expected for us to do. The bass players' grooves were just unstoppable. Amazing. And my rock guitar on top of a soul voice; the guy had a voice like Luther Vandross singing Rock and Roll if you can imagine that, it was a strange combination but it worked."

photo from the Dennis Jones CD Falling Up
Photo from the CD 'Falling Up'

Was it about that time when you began leaning more toward blues?

Dennis smiles, "I was going to play blues. After breaking up Blackhead I decided to put together a blues band. I had a trio for awhile, then added a keyboard player and added sax players. I had all kinds of combinations, but always went back to the trio, because that's what I did as a kid. I always go back to the Power Trio.

A Miles Davis comment that always stuck in my head, 'it's what you don't hear, that silence between the notes.' If you can imagine sometimes, it's the best thing. Sometimes things are too cluttered."

Wait…a bluesman quoting Miles? Showing respect and an appreciation in the wisdom of jazz elders? Are you seeing why I like this guy?

"I've had a couple of reviews on my latest CD. 'There are too many spaces here; he should've had a B3 player.' You listen to somebody like the White Stripes, with just a drummer and a guitar. It's only what you're used to. If you hear a guy on piano and singing, are you going to say, 'Oh, he should have an orchestra behind him?'

There's nothing missing. It depends on where you're coming from and how pure you are in your head when you hear somebody. Not just about, 'hey I just heard a band with five pieces, but they sure could use a keyboard player because I said so.'" (laughing)

Tell us a little about your process when you write music.

"I write a lot of my songs on bass, which is strange for a guitar player. That's why a lot of songs have a certain groove to it. There are certain songs that have a really, heavy bass groove and that's basically what I wrote. I write some songs on acoustic, some songs on an electric guitar. If one thing I hit the wall with, I'll just go to the next thing. It always seems to fill itself out."

Your latest CD is called 'Pleasure and Pain.'

"It's really about songwriting. I had some older songs that I redid. I had some music for ten years and could never think of lyrics, and all of a sudden. Boom, I write the lyrics out, like in one day. It's weird, when I get into a songwriting mode; I push my friends away, people around me I just kind of go and get in this mode where it flows. And when it comes I take advantage of it. To me its something, I don't want to get too deep for anybody, but to me it's a very spiritual thing. I'm a very spiritual person. Not necessarily religious, but spirituality to me is all the things you feel. Like us, talking right now is no accident. There are no accidents ever in the world to me. Everything to me has a rhyme and reason. If it's bad, years later you go, 'Wow, I learned a heck of a lesson, and I'll NEVER do that again.' And that's the way I live my life. When bad things happen, I feel like everybody else does, but I always look at why that happened and what did I just learn from that?

Kind of explains the song, 'Kill The Pain!'

"Kill the Pain is actually an older song. I did it with my band now; we rerecorded it and put a whole different inflection on it. I become a better player, a better singer and just felt that everything was ready for me to do that song over again. A lot of reviewers out there now…it's such a gut-bucket kind of blues song, that's the one they all latch on to. They love the solo in it; I get to play my Les Paul on that one. It's a different vibe than the Strat songs; it's got that Texas kind of groove to it."

Dennis Jones in a photo from his second album, Passion for the Blues
Photo from the 2nd Dennis Jones CD

I've notice a laundry list of folks you always thank on your CD covers, one name in particular jumped out at me; Guitar Shorty.

"Guitar Shorty is a friend of mine. He's a great person who's been putting out records since before I was born and he's just had a rough way of going. I hope he doesn't mind me saying this, but I think he's been taken advantage of for a long, long time. The last three albums he's done on Alligator Records, especially the new one, I think it's one of the best ones he's done so far. He keeps getting better and better…Amazing!"

It seems to me, I remember reading or hearing Shorty had a connection or 'six degrees of Kevin Bacon' thing concerning Jimi Hendrix?

"Shorty was married to Jimi's half-sister. Actually when Jimi was younger, he (Shorty) would show Jimi stuff on guitar. I think Jimi was into him and Albert Collins a lot. Jimi would follow those guys around. The thing about Hendrix that some people don't know was that he had a photographic memory. When he saw something or heard it, he never forgot it. That's why his rolodex of vocabulary was so amazing. He never forgot things he learned to play. He'd do it one time and it was forever in his brain. So he absorbed all that stuff. He played everyday, all the time. It was no accident he became that good."

I couldn't think of a more perfect narrative than that to describe… Dennis Jones! '…he's absorbed all that stuff, plays all the time and it's no accident he's that good.' The Dennis Jones Band is currently touring California and through the Southwest. To see if they're headed your way, check Dennis Jones' website. But whatever you do, don't miss an opportunity to see him live, just remember to protect your jugular at all times.


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Let Tim know what you think about his traveling adventure.

I was there at the Shrine to see Bob come in riding on a baby elephant. He says in the interview it was either '68 or 69: it was both – it was New Year's Eve (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Debbie Hollier, Nevada City, CA

* * * *

Who else played with Canned Heat and Deep Purple at the Shrine in '68?

Bill, LA

I think the Shrine show on New Years in '68, where Bob Hite rode out on the elephant, also featured Poco, Lee Michaels, Black Pearl, Love Army and Sweetwater. Don't know that Deep Purple was booked on that evening.

Bill, maybe you're thinking about the International Pop Fest in San Francisco a few months earlier that featured these fine folks... Procol Harum, Iron Butterfly, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Rivers, Eric Burdon And The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grass Roots, The Chambers Brothers, Deep Purple, Fraternity of Man & Canned Heat or possibly the following year in Jan of 1970 when Deep Purple appeared with Canned Heat and Renaissance on a triple-bill in London at the Royal Albert Hall.

One final note: The current Johnny Otis piece didn't mention it, but it was Mr. Otis that took Canned Heat into the studio the very first time to record in 1966. Small world, ain't it?

Tim

* * * *

Thank u for posting it! Bob is still boogin' around!! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Stefano Di Leonardo, Fisciano (Salerno, Italy)

* * * *

Great Read! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite) I will post it on Bob "THE BEAR" Hite Official Facebook Page,

Dave Tohill, Brandon, UK

* * * *

Hello Tim, thank you so much for letting a huge Canned Heat fan check out this
interview with the Bear. I really enjoyed it.

Best regards,

Rick Caldwell, Fairfield, Ohio

* * * *

I knew Bob Hite in the 60's. Canned Heat played at our high school prom 1966 Rexford High. The Family Dog, Chet Helms, Skip Taylor.

Max Kalik, Los Angeles, CA

Dear Tim,

I just discovered you from an email I received from Preston Smith disclosing his next event. I wanted to tap into his website Prestonsmithmusic but it would not link from your site for some reason. I have to say Preston really is a genius and I met him in Glendale at a jazz club about three years ago, after a fatal accident. By chance, I was invited to spend time hanging out with Preston and some friends after his gig. He is everything you say and I will never forget his amazing creativity and his positive influence in my life.

Janelle, Palm Springs, CA

Love the article! (on Lowell George) Lowell was my father.

Forrest George, Warren, Vermont

This Bob Hite interview is the most interesting thing I have read concerning Canned Heat. I have Fito's book, but I always was interested in learning more about Bob Hite. You did it here my friend...great interview!!!!!

Tony Musto - Pittston, PA

Hey Tim, Great article on Preston! I really enjoyed it and you did your homework. I'll probably catch PS this weekend.

Best,

Dave - Northridge, CA

* * * *

Hello, what a great article on Preston Smith! I actually met Preston one evening after an Acoustic set of my own at the Prestigeous Carlton Hotel here in Atascadero, Ca. We were loading up and he happened to be walking down the sidewalk and stop to say hello. I must say that he is a truly interesting and talented man that NEVER forgets to let me know when he is playing around the Central Coast where I live. It was so fun to read about who he truly is...(as if you don't know him the first time you meet him)! My adventures have only just begun as I recently returned from Nashville recording my self titled debut EP. I can only hope that my adventures down the road are as enlightening as Preston's and that I have the honor of a great writer such as yourself to share them with the world. Thank you for doing just that, sharing "Preston Smith" with the world.

Sincerely,

Amy Estrada - Atascadero, CA

Hi Tim,

My name is Bert, I'm from Italy and I'm a blues harmonica player...I read your article and it reminded me of the two trips I made in the Delta, in 2008 and 2009. I love Frank's music and I think it's a shame people don't really know his work. It's important that people like you write about him. Thank you! In the Delta I was only a "stupid" tourist, but it was a great, unique experience I consider one of the most important in my life: driving on the highways, Listening to the blues everywhere, jamming in places like Red's and ground Zero in Clarksdale or the Blues Bar in Greenville... are priceless things, something I will keep in my heart for the rest of my life. I met a beautiful, lovely woman there too (named Hope), but I behaved like a stupid kid and I lost her... Alas! I will never forget that days and the chance I had to find happiness...Well, I also wrote something about Frank on a website, but it's in Italian... I give you the link of the first part (the second will be published in the next weeks) anyway if you know some Italian or somebody who can understand it... Even if I'm thinking of making a translation ...www.bluessummit.com

Cheers,

Bert - Pavia, Italy

I wanna be Tim!

Brent, Seattle, WA

* * *

Those pictures give you an idea of what the Rockin' Pneumonia actually looks like and it looks BAD! But the man can still play! Enjoyed the article - give us more TRAVELING BLUES BOY!

Steve Thomas - NA, INDIANA

* * *

Good Stuff, Tim. Having been a Johnny Winter fan since the first time I heard Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo, it was great hearing his take on some his highlight moments that defined his blues career. His affiliation with Muddy Waters was particularly interesting. Kudos for bringing that out. Thanks to your dedication to covering the blues scene, this "one of a kind" music still lives for servicemen & women around the world. Keep it Up!

Brandon Williams, Moreno Valley, CA

* * *

Impressive! What a legend and how cool that you got so much time with him, Tim.

Don, Louisville, KY

Tim - Great article, enjoyed Little Feat/Lowell George story, really brought me back in time. Did not know he was a fishin' man! Wonder what surfaces out of the abyss of your memory next?

Steve Thomas, New Albany, IN

* * * *

Tim,

I really liked your travel back in time with Lowell and Little Feat. As a long time Feat fan (mostly the stuff with Lowell) it was cool to read. I learned several of their songs back in the day and they still stand up today when played live. Another singer I really liked from back then is TimBuckley. Thanks for the article.

Chet Hogoboom, Arroyo Grande, CA

Loved your last issue of TB, especially the Mayall piece. I want that guy's job!

Brent, Seattle, WA

Tim,

This is a great write up. Has it been printed in any magazines? It's better than a lot of things I read in my guitar magazines, so props for that.

Caejar, Moreno Valley, CA

Tim,

I can tell that you have this passion for jazz. I wonder if you yourself play any instrument. Or are you just a groupie like most of us?

I talked with a mid-aged flute jazz artist a few weeks ago and he lamented that despite his talents (and he is extremely talented) he says that the industry hasn't been kind to him. He said jobs are few and far between. He said the music industry is combating piracy and competition due to technology being readily available to private homes and that they are not as profitable as before. So they are replacing live talent for synthesized or digital instruments.

Do you see the same trend in your relationships with your music network?

Bob, Pasadena, CA


Stay tuned.


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