Q&A with popular Canadian guitarist JW-Jones, Billboard Top 10 Blues Artist, well known for his high-energy shows

"Blues is about the human condition, life experience, and sharing stories. I was in college in a computer course when I realized I had to go full tilt into music. I guess you could say the fear of doing anything other than music is what changed the path of my life the most."

JW - Jones: Everything About The Blues!

Billboard Top 10 Blues Artist, 2020 IBC Winner, and JUNO Nominee, Canadian singer/guitarist JW-Jones is known for his high-energy shows! After winning “Best Guitarist” at the 2020 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Jones started working on his 12th release 'Everything Now' (Releasing May 26 on Solid Blues Records, Distributed by Stony Plain), with pecial Guests Include Jimmie Vaughan, The Texas Horns, Rob McNelley, Stanton Moore and Gordie Johnson (of Big Sugar), an all-original project with special guest Jimmie Vaughan, and production by Gordie Johnson (Big Sugar), among others. JW penned the entire album with fellow Canadian legends Dick Cooper and Johnson (who also produced). "Songs! It's all about the songs!" said the JUNO-nominated Jones, whose searing axemanship has been praised in recent years by legendary blues artists Buddy Guy and Chuck Leavell. "While there are plenty of burning lead guitar solos, I wanted to open up and get more personal than ever with the lyrics. From the true story 'Papa's in the Pen' to 'When You Left' that I sang with tears rolling down my cheeks about my mother's passing, these are stories that I feel like I can finally share through my music."                  (JW-Jones / Photo by Mark Maryanovich)

The recordings were produced in Austin, Texas, with multi-platinum-selling artist Gordie Johnson, as well as in Ottawa, Canada, with long-time collaborator Eric Eggleston. JW-Jones has racked up an impressive number of awards and accolades in recent years, both as a solo performer and as a member of Canadian roots group, HOROJO Trio, including the 2020 International Blues Challenge winner as “Best Guitarist,” a JUNO Award nomination, and Billboard Top 10 Blues Artist, during a career that has thus far taken him to 23 countries on four continents. The HOROJO Trio also won the 2020 International Blues Challenge as “Best Band.” The frequent resident of Billboard magazine’s Top 10 Blues charts and roots radio favorite continues to accelerate his career momentum to new heights, whether as a personally-requested sit-in with the likes of 8-time Grammy winner Buddy Guy, opening for blues-rock icon George Thorogood, or entertaining thrilled audiences in 23 countries and four continents.

Interview by Michael Limnios                      JW-Jones' interview 2012 @ blues.gr

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

I think I am a sum of the parts, so to speak. My initial influences as a drummer were really Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix before I switched to guitar and dove in to the blues greats like B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, Albert King, Howlin’ Wolf, Hubert Sumlin, and then to the following generation like Kim Wilson and Jimmie Vaughan of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Anson Funderburgh, Little Charlie Baty, Junior Watson, Kid Ramos, etc. There are bits of all of these guys, from Chicago to Texas and West Coast to pushing the boundaries of rock-blues. I like to bounce around from super traditional to more of a free-form, jam-band style, to keep things interesting for the musicians on stage and the audience alike. Creatively, when it comes to songwriting, I usually write from my own experiences, but sometimes enjoy taking someone else's story or perspective and working from there. When it comes to playing music, it’s about staying fresh and constantly bringing new songs and ideas into the setlist.

How has the Blues music influenced your views of the world? What moment changed your music life the most?

Blues is about the human condition, life experience, and sharing stories. I was in college in a computer course when I realized I had to go full tilt into music. I guess you could say the fear of doing anything other than music is what changed the path of my life the most.

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

When I started, I was really into traditional blues and my top priority was being accepted by my heroes. I studied the music intensely, and it wasn’t long before I was working with Kim Wilson, Little Charlie Baty, Charlie Musselwhite, and Hubert Sumlin. I eventually started writing music that didn’t necessarily fit into the mold of traditional blues, but I felt that it was important to follow my heart and ears and not worry about what the “blues police” would think. I don’t feel that I’ve strayed very far from the root of all of the music that I love, but enough that it’s obviously original. What’s the remained a consistent for me has been working with chord changes and melodies that move me. It can’t be wrong if it’s from the heart!

"Blues has always evolved, and it continues to. I am not sure that I miss anything, but rather celebrate the amazing recordings that the legends left for us, and be part of the movement to keep the music alive and introducing blues to younger audiences." (JW-Jones / Photo by Mark Maryanovich)

Currently you’ve one release with Jimmie Vaughan and The Texas Horns. How did that relationship come about? Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album "Everything Now”?

Jimmie Vaughan has been one of my biggest influences since I started playing guitar. I met him for the first time when I was 17yrs old, and over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to open for him, and hang out several times. Several years ago, I saw him backstage at one of his shows and he came up and told me he watched me on YouTube! I was blown away, and that kept me flying high for ages. Gordie Johnson and I were at C-Boys in Austin while I was down there recording at his home studio, and he asked Jimmie if he’d be up for playing some guitar on a track, and a few days later he came to the studio! Kaz and the Texas Horns have been pals for a couple of decades, so having them on a track was a long time coming. It’s extra special because they’re on a song about my mother's passing.

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better blues musician?

I’ve had plenty of obstacles in my life, so there a lot to draw from. Both parents struggled with addiction issues. Trying to make a living as a full time musician has plenty of challenges. I lost my brother at a young age. I guess the common thread for me has always been that during challenging times, I’ve always had music to focus on. Music is the greatest healer! No doubt that life experience finds its way into your music… that’s what it’s all about, and I feel that I get better every year!

Do you think there is an audience for blues music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

The thing with blues music is that once people are exposed to it, they fall in love with it. I just wish there were more ways to get younger people to hear it. The great parents teach their kids about real music, and hope that it sticks. My daughter knew B.B. King’s name and voice by two years old, so I’m doing my part!

"Some musicians and songwriters are deep into the political side of things, and I respect that. I just want to play music, have a good time, and bring joy to the people. Along the way, if I can tell stories that resonate with the listener, that is fantastic." (JW-Jones / Photo by Mark Maryanovich)

What's the balance in music between technique skills and soul/emotions?

It’s a catch 22. You have to have a balance of both. There are technical players out there that can do astonishing things on their instruments, but it feels like something is missing. I think that different people gravitate to different artists. Some people love Bob Dylan’s singing, and others prefer Howard Tate. They’re nothing alike, but they both move people, and they’re probably not the same people!

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

Some musicians and songwriters are deep into the political side of things, and I respect that. I just want to play music, have a good time, and bring joy to the people. Along the way, if I can tell stories that resonate with the listener, that is fantastic.

Are there any memories from previous album "Sonic Departures" studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

There are so many! This album literally has more instruments playing at one time than anything I’ve ever recorded thanks to the 17 piece big band including 13 horn players. What a sound! Working with Eric Eggleston to create loops from existing parts… pieces of horn lines, drum parts, bass lines, and creating what could almost be considered a song within a song as the intros to Blue Jean Jacket and Snatchin’ It Back. For the tune Drownin’ On Dry Land, so I just said to the horn section “whoever wants to solo, let’s just all solo together and see what happens”. When you’re playing with pros like that, everyone knows that the most important part is listening. You’ll hear me playing guitar lines that are similar to what a trumpet played right before me, and you’ll hear the horns working off each other, and how it becomes a sort of organized chaos. Every time I listen to the ending solo section of that tune, I hear something new which is special to me. That was recorded in the first and only take because if we rehearsed it… if we had time to think about what we might play, it would take all the magic out of it. What you’re hearing there is a seriously inspired performance, and it just doesn’t get any cooler than that in my books! Finally, having my wife Brit sing on the record, and sampling my then 15-month old daughters voice was really special and wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for recording from home during COVID lockdown.

"Creatively, when it comes to songwriting, I usually write from my own experiences, but sometimes enjoy taking someone else's story or perspective and working from there. When it comes to playing music, it’s about staying fresh and constantly bringing new songs and ideas into the setlist." (JW-Jones / Photo by Mark Maryanovich)

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

Blues has always evolved, and it continues to. I am not sure that I miss anything, but rather celebrate the amazing recordings that the legends left for us, and be part of the movement to keep the music alive and introducing blues to younger audiences.

What would you say characterizes Canadian blues scene in comparison to other European and US scenes?

I have been very fortunate to tour all over the world, and the international blues community is an incredible force. We are all linked by the love of the same music, and there are blues societies in every corner of our great country as well as across Europe and in the US where it all comes from. Instead of comparing them, I think of them as all being part of the same team. “It takes a village” as they say!

What touched (emotionally) you from Buddy Guy, George Thorogood and Chuck Leavell?

It’s the little things that mean the most to me. Being on stage with Buddy Guy when he says “I hear you”. That doesn’t mean he CAN hear me, it means he hears that I am playing the right riff, an appropriate riff, a riff that shows the influence from the greats, at the right time. Or just hanging with him at Legend’s in Chicago, sitting at the bar talking about our mutual hero, B.B. King. Touring with Thorogood was incredible! We didn’t hang much because there were some tight schedules, but he was very kind to us, and we were thankful to be invited to join him on tour. I met Chuck Leavell backstage at a Rolling Stones concert in Quebec City, and we exchanged contact info. He’s been an incredible supporter since then, and what I love about him is that he always takes the time. He’s never missed replying to a message, and is one of the sweetest guys in the business. I hope to work with him on a live show or recording someday, but he’s a busy guy with his solo career, being a tree farmer and conservationist, and a gig he’s had for many years... being on-call with that little blues band from England!

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?                       (JW-Jones / Photo by Mark Maryanovich)

It’s a slow climb, but it’s worth it. The most important moments to musicians and artists are always deeply entrenched in the music and art. Those are the times that our hearts are bursting and we feel like we belong, that we are loved. These moments are the core reason why we started this journey in the first place. No one learns their first song on an instrument thinking they'll win awards or play on big stages. They do it because they are excited about hearing the results. It's always about the music. It’s also important to pay it forward. I wouldn’t be here today without support of so many people… and I feel that it’s my duty to pass that on as they did for me.

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

It’s November 5, 1966, and I am in the audience at the International Club in Chicago to see B.B. King. The live performance that resulted in the album Blues is King, which to me is the most soulful performance by anyone, anywhere, that I’ve ever heard. The chills I experience listening to it would only be amplified to a whole other level. What a feeling that would be, to see the King in his prime!

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