Up all night, with Freddie King;
I got to tell you, poker’s his thing.
That line from the first verse in Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band” explains the potential perils of sitting down to play a late-night card game with the legendary Texas Cannonball.
Many were the tales of King – a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – paying his band members, only to make them play poker with him so he could win back all the wages he had given them.
Texas blues guitarist, songwriter and singer Andrew Jr. Boy Jones – a member of King’s band at the time – remembers those card games, as well as the origin of that line in the song that became Grand Funk Railroad’s first-ever number one single back in the fall of 1973.
“We had played the blues festival in Ann Arbor (Michigan, in front of a crowd of 20,000) and they (Grand Funk Railroad) were there and a poker game broke out. I think that’s where the ‘Up all night with Freddie King’ came from,” Jones recently said.
As unlikely a pairing as it might seem in these days and times – with music being restricted to ‘genres’ and ‘formats’ with ‘target audiences’ in mind, King and his band then hit the road to open a number of dates for Grand Funk Railroad on their Phoenix tour.
However, it wasn’t just with Mel (Schacher), Don (Brewer) and Mark (Farner) that King and his crew found steady rock-and-roll road work.
“We were touring with all kinds of rock groups … bands like Rare Earth and Deep Purple. We played the Cotton Bowl with Blood, Sweat & Tears … those shows and tours were massive,” Jones said. “All those bands treated us with respect. They all seemed to be fans of Freddie and the blues. And we hung out with Tower of Power a lot, too. I got a chance to really know Lenny Williams and Chester Thompson and Bruce Conte. We toured a month together with both them and Rare Earth.”
All that took place in Jones’ second tour of duty with Freddie King, starting in 1973 and ending just shortly before the icon’s passing in 1976. Jones had originally hooked up with King as a member of his band, The Thunderbirds, when he was a tender 17 years old.
His first go-round with King ended when Jones left his employment in the late 1960s, but less than five years later, he was coaxed back into the fold.
“He saw me in a club – Freddie used to love to go out and sit in (with the band that was playing) sometimes. He saw me at this club and talked to me and told me that he had just recorded “Goin’ Down” (from the album Getting Ready …) and he told me he would like for me to go back on the road with him,” said Jones. “He told me things were much bigger (then, as opposed to Jones’ first stint in the band), and wow, he was right, things were significantly bigger.”
Jones played on King’s last album – Larger Than Life (RSO Records), issued in 1975.
Barely missing paths in King’s band was Jones and another larger-than-life Texas guitarist – the late, great Smokin’ Joe Kubek.
“I had just left Freddie’s band when Joe joined,” Jones said. “I think he played with Freddie for between six months and a year, right up until Freddie passed.”
Naturally, all that time spent playing with Freddie King ended up have a huge impact on the way that Jones plays the guitar these days.
“His influence on me (on Jones’ musical sound) was big. You are a product of what you hear, I guess. If you hear certain things every night – especially on that big of a stage – it’s bound to influence you,” he said. “I don’t play like Freddie – we have different textures – but I still have the essence of what I heard from him, you know? You can hear his licks in some of my playing because I listened to his playing so much. Sometimes I’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s where I got that from.’ It’s like different parts of the country have different dialects; you adapt to the dialect where you’re at. It’s the same with music.”
The Dallas-born Jones has been playing guitar seemingly since he was old enough to walk and the origins of his ‘Jr. Boy’ handle goes back even further than that.
“From what I understand, my grandmother gave me that nickname. She named me Jr. Boy, because, well, I’m a Junior (fittingly, his dad is Andrew Jones, Senior),” he laughed. “That name has been with me so long … I actually thought that was my name for a long time, until I got old enough to know. Bruce Iglauer (Alligator Records’ founder and president) loves that name. He thinks it’s real cool. Some people have a hard time calling me that, but it’s cool. That’s all I ever heard. “
Although it’s still in the early stages, work is underway on a follow-up to Jones’ I Know What It’s Like (43rd Big Idea Records), his last full-length album from 2012.
“Yeah, I’m writing my new CD right now – I’m in the midst of putting songs together for it,” he said. “It’s too early to determine when I’ll take these songs into the studio, but the writing process is underway.”
Jones has currently been busy helping to back up blues singer Kerrie Lepai on the bandstand and has also been in the studio lending a hand with her newest album.
“We’re trying to finish Kerrie’s CD right now. We took it to Europe with us, but it wasn’t really finished like we wanted it to be,” Jones said. “So she and I are in the process of trying to re-do some guitar parts and vocals.”
Lepai made an appearance on I Know What It’s Like.
As big a temptation as there is to explain away the various forms of blues by putting geographical tags on them – markers like Texas blues, Chicago blues or Delta blues, Jones doesn’t seem to be very concerned with how his style of blues is labeled. As long as his music is just heard, he’s fine with it.
“Well, I would really rather not think there’s a difference. I guess you’re influenced by your upbringing and by the area that you come up in,” he said. “To me, I’m just playing music – stuff that I like – and writing about real-life experiences and trying to make good stories out of them.”
Make no mistake about it, you can call it whatever style you prefer, but at the end of the day, Jones does play the blues. Some of his songs are of the 12-bar variety and some are not, but they’re all very bluesy. But there’s also plenty of soul in there as well, with some of his tunes even bordering on straight-up R&B. There are also hints of jazz that highlight his time playing with the one-and-only Cornell Dupree. Once again, Jones says a large part of his sound today is because of the company he kept in years previous.
“It really is. Part of that is because of what I came up listening to. Of course, there was the blues – and I played with Freddie King for all those years – plus there was the scene that I came up in the ’60s, where I played with R&B artists and was an original member of Bobby Patterson & The Mustangs. I guess it goes back to what my uncle, Adolphus Snead – who was a big band leader – told me. He always told me to never get cornered into a box, because if you learn your instrument and learn to play more than one style, you’ll never go hungry. And that advice has paid off, so-to-speak. I guess when you just try to be yourself, all your influences come together.”
In the early 1980s, Jones was part of a real-deal southern soul experience as a member of the great Johnnie “Cheaper To Keep Her” Taylor’s band. He stayed with Taylor until 1985, when he hooked up with a rhythm section that became known as ‘The Silent Partners.’
“I had just left Johnnie (in 1985) and joined Tony Coleman (Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s drummer) and (B.B. King bassist) Russell Jackson in California to work on (Bay Area pianist/singer) Katie Webster’s The Swamp Boogie Queen (Alligator Records) album. Katie decided she wanted to do “Who’s Making Love” (a tune famously associated with Taylor) on that album, so it was really a smooth transition,” he said. “I really enjoyed working on that album.”
A meeting at a Sonny Rhodes’ recording session between Jones and harpist supreme Charlie Musselwhite, led to The Silent Partners touring the globe and playing on the trilogy of albums that Musselwhite cut for Alligator Records – Ace Of Harps (1990), Signature (1991) and In My Time (1993).
Musselwhite’s outfit won a W.C. Handy Award in 1995 as Band of the Year, but as the decade reached its midway point, Jones felt the desire to do something different, namely to go out on his own.
“Actually, certain things happened that made me realize that it was time for me to try and do my own thing. I co-wrote “River Hip Mama” ( from Ace Of Harps) and I was doing a lot of the arranging to the songs,” he said. “A lot of the things that I thought would work, did work and that kind of let me know that all of the things I had learned in the past from Johnnie (Taylor) and Freddie (King) would work. And playing with Tony Coleman and Russell Jackson, I was getting an education in what to do and what not to do. I felt like I was ready and it was time … it was just time. I may not have had the intentions (of leaving and starting his own band), but I think the situation was ready for me to go in another direction.”
Whether the timing was simply just right, or whether the stars and planets were properly aligned, it didn’t take Jones too awful long before he was ready to cut his first album as a solo artist.
“When I got home (after leaving Musselwhite’s band) Don O. (blues format director at Dallas radio station KNON) who is a friend, was responsible for getting me my first record deal. He had been talking to John Stedman at JSP Records (Stedman founded the label in 1978 and named it for John Stedman Productions – or, JSP) about me. Well, I ended up losing John’s phone number and didn’t hear from him in about six months or so,” Jones said. “So when I finally did find his number and did get in touch with him, he told me that I could have had a record deal, like yesterday. So I guess it was a case of better late than never.”
Jones’ JSP debut, I Need Time, came out in 1997, followed quickly by Watch What You Say on Rounder Records the next year.
After years of being a member of someone else’s unit, Jones quickly realized that being a bandleader is not child’s play and if you’re not equipped to handle all that the job entails, you’d ultimately be better served to just remain as a sideman.
“Well, it’s a job to do and you have to work harder than anybody else. When I was with Musselwhite, I noticed that when we were at the hotel resting or taking a nap, he’d be out doing interviews or a lot of other things to keep things rolling smoothly. As a bandleader, you’re responsible for advancing the gigs and making sure things are going smooth and making sure everyone’s rooms are there and you have to budget the fuel (for the van),” he said. “There’s a lot of responsibilities to go along with being a bandleader.”
A lot of responsibilities that a young Andrew Jr. Boy Jones probably didn’t even know existed when he first picked up the guitar many years ago.
“I grew up in a neighborhood up the street from Bobby Patterson (whom he would later go on to play with), but at the time I never knew him. He played guitar. And then James Braggs – brother of (singer) Al ‘TNT’ Braggs – lived nearby. I saw all those guys playing guitar in the backyard and stuff,” he said. “So I got fascinated with the instrument at about age 6 or 7. So I asked my mom (Gladys) for one (a guitar) and she bought me one (for his seventh birthday). It was a toy, you know, and I played that for a while, before graduating to something bigger.”
The household that James grew up in was one filled with music, including music made by his mom and ‘uncles.’
“Well, they weren’t my real uncles, but I thought of them as my uncles, because they were in the same band that my mother used to sing with. Adolphus Snead was the saxophone player in the band, but he was also the band leader. He got interested in me, because he thought I had some kind of talent,” said Jones. “So, he gave me a couple of guitars and some lessons. I got kind of bored with the lessons, because I wasn’t really disciplined enough then to sit and do the lessons. But I did learn.”
That learning continued on as Jones reached adulthood.
“Hopefully, you never stop learning, especially things about your instrument. That’s helped me to expound on things and not to get cornered into any kind of a box, musically,” he said. “If you really know your guitar’s neck, to me, you can express yourself better.”
So far, so good, as far as Jones being able to eloquently express himself via his guitar.
“I really want to be the best that I can be and then hopefully, people will like what I’m doing,” he said. “I’ve never really fallen into any kind of mold. I always like to do what feels good to me and hopefully that comes out in the music that I play. Sometimes people work hard to put you into a certain category. I’ve had some DJs tell me that I’m trying to get too slick … but I like what I write and what I put out.”
Just as it’s hard to pigeon-hole his music, it’s equally difficult to pin down Jones’ technique and approach when it comes to musical theories.
And that’s just how he likes it.
“My style may be a bit unorthodox, but I’ve got musicians around me now that have degrees and that teach. I guess it’s kind of like what I heard once about T-Bone Walker. He was the least-knowledgeable musician that he had around him and that’s the way he wanted it,” Jones said. “Of course, the more that you do know, the better off you are.”
He’s played with some of the true legends of music and he’s also managed to leave behind his own footprints with the music he’s created on his own. If it all seems like one big blur for Jones, that’s probably because he’s never really taken the time to stop and ponder all the places he’s been and all the people that he’s rubbed shoulders with over the past five-plus decades.
“I’ve never really thought about that, no. I was just always in good situations and I don’t know whether I was a good player or gifted … I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it. I just thought this was how it was supposed to be, all the time,” he said. “When I was 16, I was rushed out of my mother’s living room to go rehearse with a band that played behind Freddie King. Then it was from there to Bobby Patterson and I got signed to a recording contract when I was 18. Then after that dissipated, Freddie came and asked me to go on the road with him again and that was huge. So there’s been many great situations that I’ve been involved in. I was with a band called the Creators (a soul group from the late ’70s) that got signed by RCA Records – for one record. I was a long way into things before there came a time that I realized that you have to work for it and you have to work at it. It was like a slap in the face, but I realized, ‘Hey, I have to work hard to get better at this.'”
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Photos by Bob Kieser © 2016