It’s Out There If You Look
As music fans there are always reminders about how fortunate we can be when it comes to attending great shows for little more than making the effort to show up.
Early this week I was attending a performance at Blues On Whyte by Texas-based guitarist, singer and tunesmith Andrew “Jr. Boy” Jones
, who makes two trips a year for week-long stints at the Commercial Hotel.
Jones is as talented a guitarist as you’re going to find out on the blues circuit. It doesn’t matter what level we’re talking about; the man is a creative force and technical wizard when it comes to playing the guitar.
A little history tells us that he was mentored early, in his mid-teens, by the one and only Freddie King in Houston. I can just hear the legendary bluesman telling Jones to “learn this lick grasshopper, watch my hands grasshopper,” and smiling as his pupil was gaining confidence and showing improvement week after week. King left the world at far too young an age and I am sure there are many great guitar players, Eric Clapton among them, who wished they could have spent the kind of time with King that Jones did.
During one of Jones’s set breaks at the start of the week, a few longtime blues enthusiasts were talking with the guitarist about his career and how each of us was introduced to his playing.
It was sort of a “fingers on your buzzers” moment and the correct answer regarding Jones’s debut in Edmonton was that he appeared at a funky and happening little joint just off downtown called Bandito’s.
The early nineties was a memorable era for roots music fans in the province and lots of small rooms were presenting established acts.
Mr. Jones pulled into town as the right hand man for the great Charlie Musselwhite who was just starting to re-establish himself as a major force on the international blues stage. Musselwhite hadn’t been treating himself well for a number of years but had sobered up, put a new band together, signed a deal with Alligator Records and was knocking crowds out with his ferocious harp playing, heavy duty arrangements and a smokin’ song book.
“That was a great band,” recalled Jones, with a smile before adding, “but I couldn’t have honestly told you that I remembered that gig.”
Jones stuck with Musselwhite for a long ride and can be heard cutting it up on the harp-player's comeback disc, Ace of Harps
. The guitarist even co-wrote a tune titled River Hip Mama
with Musselwhite for that 1990 session.
Twenty years on, Jones is still slinging the blues but he also injects his performances with heavy shots of soul and jazz.
At times the nods are to George Benson and at other points in a set he’s channeling great and tasty R&B players like David T. Walker, who worked with everyone from Lou Rawls and Marvin Gaye to Carole King as a studio ace.
And speaking of Gaye, Jones turns up the heat on the Gaye classic What’s Goin’ On
every time he digs into the piece and this is one observer who is glad he’s kept that one in his quiver for a few years.
I’m not a guitar player, but Jones’s execution is amazing. Wild progressions of chord changes, interspersed with single note punctuations, plus a wonderful array of tones that have as much to do with the relationship his fingers have with the instrument as any additional gear. It all adds up to consistently spirited and brilliantly constructed solos and rhythmic patterns that induce a listener to react on both a physical and cerebral level.
The end point of this endorsement is that twice a year for the first four nights of a six night stand, Edmontonians can cruise into Blues On Whyte and for the price of a pop witness one of the best bluesmen on the planet. By my logic the joint should be jammed for every one of the three nightly sets and at $6 or $8 or whatever the tavern charges on weekends, it’s still a steal of a deal.
Good new for Jones and company, and Calgary blues fans, is that the group has also secured a deal with Calgary’s newest blues joint, The Bluz Can, for weekend stands prior to their Edmonton dates.
Those dates with Jones, as riveting and compelling as they are, are not isolated weeks on the Blues On Whyte calendar. There are any number of fine bands that strut their stuff in this Strathcona tavern throughout the year and just a few weeks ago I was grateful to catch a night of Chicago guitarist John Primer and his band in action, once again for the price of making the effort.
Whatever city you live in, I would like to suggest that there is probably some great music to soak up and all that is required is a stroll and stepping into a music venue you haven’t supported before. You’ll probably have a ball for half of what a major box-office slaps on as a ticket fee to a major concert.
I’ve just finished a drive up to Wells B.C. to hang out for a bit of an extended long weekend. Between Quesnel and Wells there is a roadside turnoff and rest area where a sign stands that reads Robbers Roost
B.C. tourism put up the sign and although journals and such can’t verify it, folklore suggests that this was the area where Bill Miner (aka the Grey Fox) and other bandits robbed stage coaches as they brought gold out of the Barkerville gold rush in the 1860s.
The reason I mention this is that singer-songwriter John Bottomley
was very much inspired by the history of this area and he even made direct mention of Robbers Roost on one of last recordings.
Bottomley also worked in Barkerville a few summers ago and was commissioned to write about the area for the historic site that draws tens of thousands of tourists a year.
Seeing the Robbers Roost sign drove home the reality that Bottomley took his life about six weeks ago near his home on the sunshine coast.
It was three years ago that Bottomley last played the Edmonton Folk Music Festival and over the space of 20 years he created an impressive body of work. His biggest commercial success was the Colin Linden-produced Blackberry album that contained the hit You Lose You G
ain, but there were always gems that were worthy of repeated plays to be found on all of his discs.
“I really thought he has something unique to offer and really wanted to support him. It’s such a shame,” stated Edmonton festival producer Terry Wickham after hearing the news of Bottomley’s death
There were many individuals in the Canadian music industry saddened and perplexed by the news of Bottomley’s suicide. Robbers Roost indeed, as we were robbed of a fine, warm-hearted individual who worked very hard at his art and left us with what I consider an underappreciated body of work. But isn’t that the way it often goes in the world of art and culture.
If you were never introduced to the songs of John Bottomley, YouTube
is a pretty good place to start.