Paul Jones (new album ‘The Blues’) – London Jazz News
The blues have been central to Paul Jones’ life for sixty years. The singer, actor, harmonica player, radio personality and TV presenter turned 80 in February. He presented his last blues show on BBC Radio in 2018 and the Blues Band, which he co-founded forty years ago, played its last gig earlier this year. He has now produced a retrospective albumThe Blues – link to review below. Interview conducted by Bruce Lindsay.
“I’m a bit surprised to be interviewed by London Jazz News,” says Paul Jones as we begin our interview, “I don’t see myself quite in the same boat as John Taylor”. At the end of the interview, the kind and knowledgeable Jones revealed the early love of jazz that led to his lifelong love of the blues.
Jones turned eighty in 2022, but that wasn’t the catalyst for his new compilation, The Blues. “The catalyst was the coronavirus, when all of my gigs suddenly disappeared… I started listing all the songs I wrote, figuring out which publisher had which songs. I thought “There is an album here”. I was already thinking of handing in my resignation to the blues band [which started over 40 years ago and played its final gig earlier this year] and I thought a blues album I’ve done over the years would be good enough. If I limited myself to things that I had written or co-written, then it would be more of a picture of me, so to speak. That’s how the album was born.
Jones selected the songs, and programmed the album following an intervention by Stephen Fernie, from the Jones Umbrella Music label. ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1’ by Manfred Mann, the theme song for a pop TV show On your marks, ready? leave, was going to be the opening track, but Fernie told him ‘You can’t start a blues album with “5, 4, 3, 2, 1”, you can slip it in later.’ ‘I said “But Steve, it’s a blues!” You can argue with a few changes, but that’s the blues. It started life as a 12 bar and was moved around a bit, to meet the demands of On your marks, ready? leave for a new signature song. It only became a single afterwards.
The album begins with “Without You”, which Manfred Man recorded in late 1963 and which, as Jones says, “is unmistakably blues”. Initially, he thought of scheduling the album chronologically, but that would have meant putting the seven Manfred Mann tracks at the start, followed by a mix of solo and Blues Band tracks: “So I thought I’d take a song by Manfreds, a Solo and a Blues Band and run the whole album in that order and it works perfectly.
Jones’ love of the blues grew out of jazz. “There were two boys in the year above me at school, when I was about fourteen. One of them asked if we had any records and I said ‘yes, we have Tchaikovsky, Brahms’. He said “No, do you personally have any?” I hadn’t. Her friends recommended Percy Faith and Jo Stafford. Jones found nothing there to his liking, but bought a Nat King Cole record and a Sammy Davis record, on which Davis posed as singers and actors. ‘A few weeks later these guys told me I should buy some jazz records and gave me a book, believe it or not, Rex Harris’s Jazz … Harris’s enthusiasm for New Orleans music was contagious and I bought a 78 from King Oliver’s band with Louis Armstrong on second cornet, “Dippermouth Blues”. It was wonderful. I bought a King Oliver’s Jazz Band LP and a track, not a blues, called “Mabel’s Dream” just blew my hair. I still can’t listen to it without a similar reaction. I discovered that my favorite records were the vocal records, the blues of people like Jelly Roll Morton or Bessie Smith. They caught me in a way that Buddy Holly or Elvis just didn’t. The real blues, like Jimmy Rushing with Count Basie, absolutely grabbed me.
Jones’ father, a Royal Navy officer, was posted to Plymouth Dockyard in 1960-61. Jones was in his first year at Oxford when the family moved to Plymouth and when he first returned home he discovered Pete Russell’s Hot Record Store. The title impressed him: “Store! It looks really cool. One day he played T-Bone Walker, a record made in Chicago for Atlantic Records. Junior Wells played harmonica on two tracks including “Play on Little Girl”… Wells’ playing is relatively simple but beautiful and I thought “God, can you do that with a mouth organ? I bought a mouth organ, and of course I couldn’t do that with it.
Luckily, Brian Jones, later of the Rolling Stones, was on hand. “Brian taught me how to play the cross harp, taking a harmonica in C and playing it in G, for example. This is the first step to playing as Little Walter. It opened the door, it was me running.
The Blues features many legendary British musicians: “The Dog Presides” features Jones and Paul Samwell-Smith of the Yardbirds on bass, Jeff Beck on guitar and Paul McCartney on drums; Eric Clapton plays guitar on ‘Choose or Cop Out’; Alan Skidmore, Guy Barker and a host of other high-flying jazzers appear on ‘It’s Got to be the Blues’ – but the album’s most moving track, to me, is ‘Sonny Boy Williamson’, the tribute from Jones to the second Sonny Boy, a major blues figure with a fearsome reputation who died in 1965. It’s a duet performance, recorded in 1966, with Jones on vocals and harmonica, and Jack Bruce on double bass.
“I loved Sonny Boy, though that wasn’t all he was about. He was very subtle compared to a lot of the ‘smack you in the teeth’ blues singers. His writing was wonderful, ‘Mighty Long Time’ was one of the most influential records of my life When he died I had to write a tribute song ‘Mighty Long Time’ is just Sonny Boy and a bass – I found out years after I wrote the tribute that it was not a double bass, but a bass voice. I asked Jack if he would agree to join me on the song… I think it went pretty well. I think the The word ‘banal’ was used by one reviewer, but it’s actually simple and heartfelt. As he left the studio, Jack, bless him, said ‘Well, that made me cry.’
Jones briefly met Williamson when Manfred Mann was booked as a backing band for some UK gigs. “It was around 1963, before we had any hits. We did maybe a show or two and then he got rid of us. No arguments, no acrimony, but the whole band except me was deciphered jazz musicians and there was a difference of opinion between the Manfreds and Sonny Boy as to how many bars there are in a 12 bar blues. That’s all it was.
When Jones stopped presenting his blues show on Radio 2, “Mighty Long Time” was the last song he played. “I decided that, as this was my last program, I was going to end with probably my favorite blues track of all time.” And that was it.
CONNECTIONS: review of The Blues