As he began recording songs for his upcoming album, blues singer and guitarist Dennis Jones admitted the intolerable pressure of today’s divisive, 24-hour, cable-news, media culture had begun to seep uninvitedly into his personal creative process.
Aug. 20 | 6 p.m.
Village at Squaw | Olympic Valley
“There was all this anger and frustration with ignorance and racism that started to come out in my writing, and I didn’t like it,” he says. “I didn’t want to write an album about being a black man in America. Most people know what that’s like — whether they admit or not.”
Jones swore off television for months and took up meditation.
“I had to shut it down,” says the outspoken artist. “I just go inside [myself] now and I’m back writing things about life, things that are fun.”
If he does choose to write about the negativity, Jones hopes to offer solutions rather than problems. He asks himself: “How can I help someone to be a better person or how can I make the world better. A lot of people are complaining. Honestly, they are better off not talking. That’s not the message I want to give to the world.”
For Jones, blues doesn’t mean happy or sad, it’s simply music about real life and that is something anyone can relate to.
“People have misconceptions of the blues that are really negative and false,” he says. “Anybody who’s done any research knows the blues have influenced just about every music on this planet. I write songs that are happy. I write songs that are sad. It’s got a bad connotation because of the word blue, but not all relationships are bad. The blues are about life.”
No matter how good the good times are, everybody has to deal with ups and downs.
“I wish I could be happy every day, but sometimes you have bad news,” he says. “You go through something. You got a lot of money and you’re gonna buy a new car. Then this bill comes in, somebody needs something in your family and you’re back to zero and you kind of got the blues for a minute. The blues is anybody having a rough way of life. It doesn’t have to be someone black. It could be a gay person who came out of the closet. It could be a lot of things. The blues to me is a feeling.”
Jones’ earliest musical influence was his grandfather who lived in the horse country outside of Baltimore, Md. A country man who was crafty with his hands, he’d listen to classic country records by Hank Williams and Johnny Cash while sipping homemade dandelion wine. He had an old acoustic guitar sitting in the corner that the children weren’t allowed to touch.
“I’m not even sure if it had all six strings,” says Jones. “It may have had five on it. He was a very happy guy. Every once in a while, he’d pull it out and strum along and say, ‘I wished I could play this thing,’ and smile and put it back by the door. I never really thought about it until I started playing guitar, but it was always there.”
Since age 13, Jones has honed his chops jamming at high-school barn parties and Army officer’s clubs in Germany. As many older blues artists have said, the blues are easy to play, but hard to perfect.
“Some of these songs I’ve been playing for years now and I play them differently every time I’m on stage,” he says. “With the blues, there is a freedom of expression in any way you want to put it out there. It doesn’t have to be a million notes. It can be one or two notes that touch your soul. To me, if it’s not real, it’s not for me.”
Since 2003, Jones has released six albums on his own label Blue Rock Records while touring the world. This will be his third time performing at Tuesdays Bluesdays in the Village at Squaw.
“It’s fun,” says Jones. “It’s a great location. I’ve gotten to make some friend up there over the years, so it’s always good to go back to a beautiful environment. It’s good music, food, beer and people smiling. Everybody comes out with their families … If you want to have a good time, come; if you don’t want to have a good time, go somewhere else. It’s uplifting to be feeling good with other people.” | squawalpine.com