Q&A with NYC Blues Roots-Rocker Jon Paris: toured and recorded with an impressive list of legendary artists

"The blues is the common ground, the music of the blues throughout all styles, and the feeling of the blues throughout all peoples."

Jon Paris: The Blues Had A Baby and They Named It Rock & Roll

Jon Paris has toured nationally and internationally with an impressive list of artists that includes Bo Diddley, Johnny Winter, Chris Spedding, Johnnie Johnson, and former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. He's also backed Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, Phoebe Snow, Hubert Sumlin, Rudy Ray Moore, the Uptown Horns, and Elvin Bishop, to name just a few. All the while Paris has maintained his own New York City-based rock and blues band. The group performs at clubs, casinos, and concerts across the USA and Europe. He's opened concerts for Little Richard, Buddy Guy, Etta James, Dick Dale, George Thorogood, Brian Setzer, Joan Jett, Southside Johnny, Jonny Lang, and more. His recording credits include sessions with Bob Dylan, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Ron Wood, and John Hiatt. For years, he was also an often-featured guest with Les Paul, the electric guitar legend, at Les's regular Monday night shows at the Iridium in Manhattan.

"I don't know about specific advice, but when I was first starting out in the Midwest, Luther Allison was one of the most encouraging bluesmen I ever got to know." (Jon Paris / Photo by Jason Kuffer)

For over a decade he played in-the-pocket bass guitar and over-the-top harmonica with Blues Legend Johnny Winter, touring the world and appearing on Winter's Raisin' Cain, Serious Business, and Winter of '88 albums. Leading his own band on guitar, vocals and harmonica, Jon Paris has maintained a consistent and loyal following in and around the New York area. Jon has already two recordings under his name ("Rock the Universe" and "Blue Planet") and now working on a third album. Jon Paris inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame.

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in music?

I always enjoyed singing, I sang in the choir when I was a kid. I started playing drums in the summer of 1963 - before the British invasion! The first time that I got together with a couple of high school friends, who played guitar, I was hooked.

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I don’t think about an actual Blues and Rock Counterculture, but being a musician and being fortunate enough to travel around World definitely made me more open minded. I wish every person on the Planet could have the opportunity to travel and experience how other people live. You realize that everybody everywhere has their joys and sorrows, their music, their Blues. We’re all passengers on this “Spaceship Earth.”

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I often say that I think every musician should, at some point in their life, be a band-leader, and at some point be a side-man (or side-woman). Many lessons to learn in each role. How to be “the star” ...book your band and entertain on one hand; and how to support the leader and the music, on the other hand.

What would you say characterizes New York blues scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

The New York scene has changed drastically, and not for the better.  Since the Jazz Era there have always been great Blues musicians and legendary clubs in the New York area. But now, big supply of musicians, small supply of venues. Sadly, I think that’s happening all over... but who knows what tomorrow will bring?!

"The blues is the common ground, the music of the blues throughout all styles, and the feeling of the blues throughout all peoples." (Jon Paris and Les Paul, The Iridium 2002 / Photo by Christopher Lentz)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Well lately, I’ve been missing our Monday night gig at B.B. King’s here in New York City, we did that every week for nearly 15 years. And I’m really missing the late-great Les Paul, I used to sit in with him and his great group every chance I got. You know, Willie Dixon said The Blues is the root and everything else is the fruit. I hope people remember that...

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I wish that more musicians got the respect, and the financial rewards, that they deserved.

What touched (emotionally) you from the late greats Hubert Sumlin and Link Wray?

I loved those guys... their music AND as people. All of them were great spirits, I’m blessed to have known them.

If you go back to the past what things would you do better and what things you would avoid doing again?

No regrets! Yeah, right! I wish I would have really studied music, learned to read. I wish I would have moved to New York earlier, started playing guitar earlier, and made my own recordings earlier. And if I knew I was gonna live this long, I would've taken better care of myself!  But as Dylan said, "don't look back" and as my father always told me, "Always forge ahead!"

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

I think music will always affect people, hopefully in a positive way. After all, Music is the Universal Language, right?!

"Keep your day job! But seriously, folks - listen, listen, listen, practice, practice, practice, gig, gig, gig… and try to find a good honest manager!" (Jon Paris and Link Wray on stage, NYC / Photo by Jim Wilson)

What does the BLUES mean to you?

When I hear that question I often think of an album by the great jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell called "Blues - the common ground." The blues is the common ground, the music of the blues throughout all styles, and the feeling of the blues throughout all peoples.

What characterizes Jon Paris’ music and how do you describe your sound and progress?

Rock 'n' roll like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Johnny Winter, Keith Richards, Cream, Page and Beck, Peter Green, and of course jimmy Hendrix. Urban blues like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, B.B., Freddie, and Albert King, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells; folk blues like Son House, Robert Johnson, Fred McDowell; jazz players like Les Paul, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, George Benson; country artists like Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard; rockabilly cats like Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, Scotty Moore and Elvis. Robert Gordon turned me on to the Johnny Burnette trio. So I’m influenced by all of that… you know, "The Blues Had a Baby and They Named it Rock 'n' roll!"

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

I don't know about interesting, but getting to work with Johnny Winter, Bo Diddley, Link Wray, Mick Taylor, Hubert Sumlin, and Johnnie Johnson… all great experiences. Getting to know Les Paul is probably the highlight.

What do you miss most nowadays from the old days of ‘70s – ‘80s?

The feel of a beautiful young woman! Now, isn't that what the blues is really all about?!


"I don’t think about an actual Blues and Rock Counterculture, but being a musician and being fortunate enough to travel around World definitely made me more open minded. I wish every person on the Planet could have the opportunity to travel and experience how other people live. You realize that everybody everywhere has their joys and sorrows, their music, their Blues. We’re all passengers on this “Spaceship Earth”" (Jon Paris, Bobby T. and Johnny Winter on stage, Central Park NYC 1980 / Photo by Steven Pearl)

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

Sadly, there are not as many opportunities for most musicians to perform live.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

There are so many places I’d like to go back to. Les Paul told me how he and Charlie Christian used to hit the Jazz clubs and jam with folks like Floyd Smith and Art Tatum! Can you imagine hanging out with them in 1940?! Or how about catching Elvis Presley at Sun Records, or the Louisiana Hayride?! Or hanging out with Chuck Berry when Muddy Waters took him around Chicago in the mid-50s. It’d be great to be with Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix in the late 1960s at Steve Paul’s Scene, and then join them in the studio for an after-hours jam... I can’t really complain, I’ve had some great experiences!

Do you have any amusing tales to tell from the studio with all these wonderful sessions?

I was recording some demos with Ron Wood, and in walked Woody's friend Bob Dylan to join us. I was already pretty nervous. But at one point I asked Dylan if he remembered the Solbergs from Hibbing, Minnesota. Chuck Solberg was a childhood friend of his. I knew Chuck and I’d been in a band with Chuck's brother Jim (James Solberg, the great blues guitarist, Luther Allison’s right-hand man). The fact that Bob Dylan and I had mutual friends really took some of the pressure off!

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from the late great, Johnny Winter?

Again, too many great memories! Well, there was the night I first met Johnny at a Louisiana Red gig here in New York City, and the three of us jammed together until 4 in the morning! The time Johnny invited me to play  a special homecoming show with him down in Beaumont, Texas. I got to stay with him and his wonderful parents…

"When I hear that question I often think of an album by the great jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell called "Blues - the common ground." The blues is the common ground, the music of the blues throughout all styles, and the feeling of the blues throughout all peoples." (Jon Paris with the late great bluesmen Johnny Winter and John Lee Hooker, California mid-1980s / Photo by Randy Bachman)

Are there any memories of all these GREAT BLUESMEN which you’d like to share with us?

I sat in with Freddy King when I first came to New York. Sat in with Muddy Waters when "I was square as a pool table and twice as green." (Thank you Elvin Bishop for that saying!) Freddie King had such a powerful presence, Muddy Waters literally had an aura. Backing up John Lee Hooker at the Philadelphia blues festival years ago was very cool. Having Honeyboy Edwards sit in with my trio. I got to jam with Les Pauland B.B. King at B.B.'s club here in NYC. These men were larger than life… B.B. Still is! I sang the finale number with Les Paul and his trio at les's 90th birthday party at Carnegie hall, with Steve Miller, Edgar Winter, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Pat Martino, Stanley Jordan, Tommy Emmanuel, Derek Trucks, Frampton, Satriani, Schon… about 20 great musicians all on stage together… wish you all could've been at that one!

Are there any memories from Peter Tosh, Bo Diddley, and John Lee Hooker which you’d like to share with us?

I only met Peter Tosh once, in Jamaica when Chris Kimsey brought me down to play harmonica for one of his albums. It was an honor to gig with John Lee Hooker, and a joy to hang out with him. He was magical! Great sense of humor, too! I spent a lot more time on the road and in the studio with Johnny Winter and with Bo Diddley, so I could share many more memories of those two greats! Too many to tell here!

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in music?

Keep your day job! But seriously, folks - listen, listen, listen, practice, practice, practice, gig, gig, gig… and try to find a good honest manager!

"If you look at Gatemouth Brown or Jack Bruce, for example, they might be known to some as a blues musician, or a rock musician, but guys like that, they're all-around great musicians, accomplished at many styles. Check out Albert King doing "the very thought of you" or Bing Crosby singing with Louis Armstrong or Merle Haggard singing "Pennies from heaven" on Les Paul's "chasing sound" DVD… in other words "it's all music!" (Jon Paris, The Iridium NYC 2011 / Photo by Jason Kuffer)

From who have you have learned the most secrets about Blues music?

You know, with today's technology there is so much information available for youngsters starting out - CDs, DVDs, MP3s, YouTube. But I was very fortunate to have learned first-hand from a lot of the greats. I learned so much from Johnny Winter, just getting to hear him play like a thousand times! Being on stage and getting to hang out with the mighty Bo Diddley. Jamming and hanging out with Les Paul all those Monday nights at Fat Tuesday’s and at the Iridium… priceless!

What is the best advice a Bluesman ever gave you?

I don't know about specific advice, but when I was first starting out in the Midwest, Luther Allison was one of the most encouraging bluesmen I ever got to know. Thank you Luther, we miss you!

What is the difference and similarity between the BLUES, REGGAE, and ROCK feeling?

If you look at Gatemouth Brown or Jack Bruce, for example, they might be known to some as a blues musician, or a rock musician, but guys like that, they're all-around great musicians, accomplished at many styles. Check out Albert King doing "the very thought of you" or Bing Crosby singing with Louis Armstrong or Merle Haggard singing "Pennies from heaven" on Les Paul's "chasing sound" DVD… in other words "it's all music!"

Some music styles can be fads but the Blues is always with us. Why do think that is?

Once again, blues is the common ground!


Jon Paris - Official website

"I wish I would have moved to New York earlier, started playing guitar earlier, and made my own recordings earlier. And if I knew I was gonna live this long, I would've taken better care of myself!" (Jon Paris / Photo by Arnie Goodman)

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