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Bobby Jonz

From Soul Express 2/2004


  Bobby Jonz has a rich, warm and masculine baritone, which you can’t help but admire.  Combined with right, soulful material, the result can be a small musical masterpiece.  The man behind the music, however, has remained relatively unknown – until now.

  “I was born in a little town called Farmerville, Louisiana, and that was in 1936.  The first music I started listen to was hop music and country music, as I was raised on a farm.  Basically all we had to listen to was people like Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams and Roy Acuff.  I was also involved in gospel, when I was younger and going to church.”

  Bob Willie Jones moved to Chicago in 1959.  “My dad and my uncle were there.  When I moved up to Chicago, I got involved in the blues and rhythm & blues.  There I started working at Republic Steel, a steel mill, and I was always singing at work.  Everybody was consistently saying that ‘you sound so good, you need to go sing professionally’. ”

  “Then one day I walked upon a blues club.  I was looking for a shoe shop to get my shoes fixed there on 43rd and Drexel, the south side of Chicago.  The name of the club was Freighter’s Juke Box Lounge.  I heard the music coming out the door.  Babyface Villette was playing.  The owner was standing outside and I told him I can sing.  ‘Sure you can’.  Finally he said ‘come on in the club’ and he put me up there.  I told them to play a Ray Charles tune.  When I came down, he said ‘listen, let me tell you, you got a bright future ahead of you.  We have talent shows down here every Monday night, and if you win the talent show then you get to work on weekends, and get paid’. 

  “That’s how I kicked off there in Chicago.  I won every talent show for three months.  They would give whisky for the winner, but I didn’t drink, so I would sell the whisky back to the owner.  That time Brook Benton had just come out with Kiddio, and he was my idol.

  “Then down the street from there I discovered Pepper’s Lounge, 43rd and Vincennes.  Now I’m big-time, I go to Peppers and they hire me.  I guess I worked at Peppers for about six or seven months, and I replaced Little Junior Wells.  He had a hit record called Messing With The Kid, so he had to go on the road a lot and that’s when Peppers hired me to sing with the band, the Four Aces.

  “I met with a guy named Morrie Alexander, and he recorded me.  It must have been probably in early 1961, with the Berry Goldberg Blues Band.  It was called Sugar Baby and In My Lonely Bedroom.  It was for a little label Morrie Alexander had.” (A single by Bobby Jones Trio on Lake 708 in ‘62 titled Bring Your Love Back To Me is not our Bobby).

  All those 60s and 70s recordings were cut under the name of Bobby Jones.  Bobby’s next single, a slowie called A Certain Feeling (b/w the aforementioned Sugar Baby), came out on Vee Jay 672 in 1965, before Bill Lasley took over the production.  Further singles appeared on USA (Check Me Out/Beware, A Stranger; U.S.A. 864 in 1967) and Expo (the funky Talkin’ ‘Bout Jones’s on Expo 101 in 1968).  On the USA single Bobby is backed by the Para-monts.  “They were a group of three girls.  Their daddy was a minister and he was trying to get them off the ground to do the Supremes kind of stuff.”  The Para-monts girls also cut a single on their own on Ole in ‘67 called Come Go With Me.

  Expo was a label that recorded many a great artist, and Bobby was one to stay with them for a longer period.  “Actually we recorded an album called Talkin’ ‘Bout Jones’s.  We had two big records on that album, I’m So Lonely, written by Chuck Barksdale of the Dells, and a song called I Got A Habit Of Loving You.  We also had a duet with Pauline Chivers – she’s passed away now – and that song was Please Bless Our HomeSyl Johnson played on that album.  Syl is a dear friend of mine.  Mighty Joe Young was one of the guitar players on that album.”  The smooth I’m So Lonely finally came out as a single on the New York label, Lionel, in 1971 (b/w I Got A Habit; Lionel 3216).  I Got A Habit appeared also on Expo 103 and You’re A Devil on Expo 105.  Those days Bobby also had a single out called Welcome Back A Foolish Man / Lovin’ Hard, Livin’ Good (Kack 1).

  “Then I went to Florida.  I’m So Lonely stayed at number one for six weeks in the Florida area.  Then Marvin’s song, Let’s Get It On, came out in ‘73 and knocked mine to number two.  Then I cut a song called This Is My Confession in Florida, in 1973, I guess (on Adam 28409).  I worked all over Florida.  I opened for Debbie Reynolds at the Fountain Blue.  I worked at the Diplomat, where I opened for Lou Rawls.  I worked many clubs, the Night Beat, the Island Club, the Gas Light.  I worked also at a club in Hollywood called the Hemingways. 

  Although Tyrone Davis disagrees (see later), Bobby claims that Can I Change My Mind was written for him.  “Barry Despenza wrote Can I Change My Mind for me.  I took it to Carl Davis and said ‘I want to record this song’.  Tyrone heard it and he was fussing, because he was signed to Dakar Records and I wasn’t, plus I was in Florida at the time.  I wouldn’t cut it, called Tyrone at home to come to Phillip Upchurch Studio, and the rest is history.”

  “I came back to Chicago in 1977, and I recorded an album for Expansion in 1982.”  The restrained mid-paced title track of the album, Thought You Were Loving Me (b/w an instrumental), was released as a single a couple of years later.  It was produced by Robert Irving III and written by Greg Washington, and now the name of the artist is spelled Bobby Jonz.  Before that Bobby Jones still released a funky single on Capri 1020 called The Boogie Train, and there’s a compilation called The Arrival Of Bobby Jones on Cobblestone.  “The reason for the name change was because of the Bobby Jones gospel guy.  We were both working in the same area.  He came with Barbara Mandrell, and people thought it was me.”

  Among Bobby’s other 80s Chicago singles there is Win Your Love/You Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Dispo 0100).  Both sides were written by Barry Despenza and Greg Washington  and recorded at Solid Sound recording studios in Hoffman States, Illinois.  On Dispo (010050) he still had a joint single with Jimmy Burnes titled Can’t Get Over.  Another disco single called I’ve Got The Touch If You Got The Time (b/w an instrumental) was produced and written by General Crook and it came out on Kap 1247. 

  “I came to Las Vegas in 1986.  Actually I moved to Victorville, California in ‘86.  I was commuting back to Hollywood.  I did some acting and some soundtracks for movies.  Tyrone Davis, my dear friend, called me and asked me to come down to Las Vegas.  He was going to be playing there.  I came, he introduced me to some people and they put me to work in a little club called the Cotton Club.  A guy was in there that afternoon and he heard me sing Can I Change My Mind with Tyrone.  Through him I got hired and played another club down the street for a couple of years.”

  “Then I met Billy Ray Charles, and he used to play in my band.  We put together a couple of songs and I went to Mississippi and hooked up with Ace Records.  It was in 1997.  Johnny Vincent was my main man.  He was a great guy.  He was very good to his artists, and he was very thorough  about putting out good records, good music.”

  Bobby’s first CD with Ace was In The Mood For Love (Ace 2075 in ‘97).  “It’s still selling.  Tommy Couch bought it, bought out the Ace Records.  Malaco bought the Ace catalogue.”  The title tune, a catchy and lilting mid-pacer was cut also by Tyrone Davis, but it’s the power ballads that Bobby really excels on – Innocent Til Proven Guilty, Home Is Not The Same, Frank-O’s I Want To Write A Song and Bob’s own Candy and the waltzy Me & You.  There’s also a cover of Frank Johnson’s Pick Up The Pieces, whereas another fine soul ballad called Long Distance Love was penned by the late Ronnie LovejoyHey Bartender (by Bobby and Frank-O) is pure country.

  This Is Bobby Jonz Country (Avanti 1016) was released a year later.  “That’s solid.  It’s very solid.  It’s a very strong album.  As a matter of fact, In The Mood For Love and This Is Bobby Jonz Country are the two strongest albums that I have.”  Two of the songs on the country set had been out already before on a compilation titled Avanti Hall Of FameTips Of My Fingers and Willie Clayton’s My Lady.  Beautiful and catchy melodies – such as Snap Your Fingers, I Believe In You, Lonely Street and One Step From The Blues – together with relaxed mood and good singing make this a very enjoyable set.  My Best Friend’s Girl was originally recorded by Elvis in 1960 (as Girl Of My Best Friend).

  The promising career at Ace/Avanti came to a halt, when Mr. Vincent passed away.  “They had a situation, where they owed a lot of people.  Of course, they tried to sue them, and I don’t think they won, but I understand that now Willie Clayton – Willie and I are good friends – and Johnny’s daughter got a company down there called the End Zone.  So she’s supposed to be working with him.  Willie was the A&R man at Ace.” 

  Bobby was supposed to collaborate still with Mr. Vincent, but before that he released a CD called Your Freak Is Here in 1999 on Big Bidness 4103.  “I cut it myself.  Senator Jones took me to Warren Hildebrand in New Orleans.  Big Bidness is a subsidiary to Mardi Gras Records.  He opened up another company, too – Miss Butch Records” (Jimmy Lewis).  Senator Jones: ”I talked Bobby into doing and producing that CD.  He’s a friend of mine from a while back.  He did the album, I liked it and got him a deal with Mardi Gras Records in New Orleans to distribute it.”  The set was produced by Bobby and also arranged by him together with Harrison Calloway.  Harrison: ”This was when his contract was up with Avanti that the deal went down on Mardi Gras Records.  Now he has signed a new deal with Mr. Johnny Vincent and they’re currently working on a new album for him on Avanti.”  Unfortunately Johnny’s time ran out and that album was never completed.

  On the Freak CD Bobby almost completely forsakes ballads (there’s only one tender serenade called Three Things) and concentrates on dirty funky tracks, snappy ditties and gloomy beaters.  Harrison: ”We just tried to change grooves on that particular album, just kind of experimenting with things to see what works and what sells the quickest.”  Senator Jones: ”This is the kind of stuff I preferred him to do instead of the ballad stuff.  I said that he could do a better sell doing funky stuff.”

  Now we’re finally coming round to the album that worked as a catalyst for this whole feature, Bobby’s latest CD called Lee Shot Stole My Freak on his own Red Dot label.  Inevitably a low-budget project, this CD was produced and arranged by Bobby and it was released last year.  My attention was immediately drawn to the fact that there are five songs, which appeared also on Clay Hammond’s CD titled I Kissed Her Gone (on Desert Sound Records in 2003).  A country song called I Believe In Love is correctly credited to Mike Vaughn on both CD’s, but the four other ones – Lee Shot / Leon Stole My Freak, I Can’t Live Without You, I Like The Way You Dance and New Line Dance – are credited only to Bobby on his own CD, whereas on Clay’s CD the writers are Pete Peterson / Bobby Jones / Eric Smith or Pete Peterson alone.

  “I did that album that Clay Hammond did.  Pete Peterson and I had a falling out, so I didn’t sign the contract with him.  All those songs on the Clay Hammond album I did them first, and I wrote the songs.  That’s probably why we’re now having controversy at the copyright office.  I recorded the Clay Hammond CD.  What they did, they took my voice off and put his voice on and they rushed and released his.  His came out before mine.  And I had put so much effort and so much time and some money – we had put a lot of studio time – so I decided to put my own songs out, and to add songs to complete the album. 

  “Eric Smith is the engineer and arranger.  We did the melodic lines together, from my mouth to his instrument, to his piano.  And then of course he arranged it around.  So I guess that’s why his name is there, but I don’t understand why Pete Peterson would be on it.  He didn’t write anything.”

  On Bobby’s CD of the new songs I enjoyed a poignant and pretty ballad called That’s When The Heartaches Began, a pleasant toe-tapper titled I’m On A Love Mission and a romantic, late-night slowie named This Song About An Angel.

  Today Bob performs in Las Vegas, at Seven Seas.  “That’s been my home base since 1989.  I’ve been in and out of there.  I perform there on weekends.  I cover Brook Benton, Lou Rawls, Elvis Presley, do also Frank Sinatra and Blood, Sweat & Tears.”

  Bobby’s voice resembles a lot the velvety instrument of the late Brook Benton.  “I’m getting ready to do a tribute to Brook Benton, and Dinah Washington.  I’m also getting ready to go to Mississippi and record with Senator Jones.  He’s got the same people over there that cut me at Ace.”

-Heikki Suosalo

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