Interview with Canadian singer/guitarist JW-Jones
Today on What On What’s Good with Host Jovin Tardif, I am here with Billboard Top 10 Blues Artist, 2020 IBC Winner, JUNO Nominee, and Canadian singer/guitarist JW-Jones. In our interview, topics include starting off as a drummer, his experience at the 2014 Junos, collaborating with many of his idols. his latest album ‘Sonic Departures’ and much more.
1. When did you first get into music? Who were some of your favorite artists growing up? You started off as a drummer and switched to guitars and vocals. Can you tell us about what inspired you to go in this direction?
I started out playing drums at 13 years old and was listening to classic rock like Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix at the time. As I explored their influences, I discovered blues greats like B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters. At 15 years old I saw BB King live in Ottawa, and it completely changed my life. I knew I had to pick up the guitar and the rest as they say, is history! I started singing because I knew it was the best way to make a career for myself, and I feel like my vocals are finally at a point that they’re reaching my guitar playing.
Growing up in Ottawa, there were a couple of great blues clubs including the Rainbow Bistro. I saw tons of great blues bands there when I was younger and I became friends with so many of my musical heroes. Most touring blues bands don’t come through town anymore, other than to perform at the Ottawa Bluesfest. When the festival started, it was truly a blues festival. Now it’s more of a general music festival with everyone from Kiss to Lady Gaga. But in recent years, they’ve still been bringing in great blues artists like Buddy Guy, Dr. John, The Fabulous Thunderbirds etc.
2. What was it like at the Junos and being a nominee for your 2014 album Belmont Boulevard?
It was an honour to be nominated among such amazing Canadian talent. The JUNO events were a well-oiled machine, and an incredible opportunity to network with other industry folks. Walking the red carpet alongside Jim Cuddy and Alanis Morissette was pretty surreal. I have been listening to these icons since I was a kid, and I wasn’t shy about getting some “selfies” with them to document a very cool full-circle moment in my career.
3. You have collaborated with many of your idols. Can you tell us what it was like being on stage with Hubert Sumlin and Buddy Guy?
It’s hard to believe how fortunate I have been to go from a drummer playing along with some of my favourite artists tapes and CDs to being on stage or in the studio with them.
To me it’s the little things about those moments that stick out. The first time I was on stage with Hubert Sumlin, the way he looked back at me with approval during a solo.
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.
4. How about working with Larry Taylor and Richard Innes?
In 2009 at a Sun Studios recording session in Memphis with my favourite rhythm section of all time, Larry Taylor and Richard Innes (both have since passed away), we played a slow blues together and at the end, Larry said “that was the sh*t right there… you couldn’t overdub something like that in a million years if you tried… all loose and in the moment. It was right”. I was skeptical of my performance and thought it would probably be something I’d overdub to make it better, until he said that. Richard nodded in agreement and said “that was nice”.
These are not the types of guys to throw out compliments easily, and when they do, it means so much more. I was playing with living legends, cutting tunes at arguably the most influential studio in music history. That’s what it’s all about! 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.
5. Your latest album is Sonic Departures. Can you give us a few highlights of what we can expect?
We had recorded some tunes late last year with the big band (17 piece band with 13 horn players) with hopes of releasing a 4-song EP or something, but when COVID hit, Eric Eggleston (producer) and I thought it was sounding so good that we should make it a full length album and dive into it since the world was practically shut down anyway.
I think of it as turning isolation into inspiration, and it gave me something productive and positive to focus my energy on since I had no tour schedule anymore. I bought some gear and learned how to record my own vocals and worked with Eric remotely by sharing screens and audio over the internet for the mixing and production.
I truly love every song on the album, but the highlights for me are the cool intros to Blue Jean Jacket and Snatchin’ It Back (which features my then 15-month old daughters voice that was turned into a sample in the background that sounds like a keyboard pad), the dixie land inspired one-take performance of several instruments soloing simultaneously on Drownin’ On Dry Land, and having my wife Brit sing with me on Bye Bye Love and It’s Obdacious which sound sweet and swingin’!
6. Tell us about the importance of teaching your family and others about the blues. How did your family participate in your latest album?
In terms of educating about Blues music, this is something very important to me. I have been part of Blues in the Schools in Ottawa for over a decade, and I have an annual show called #613FutureBlues to inspire young musicians to play blues by having them perform live with my band. This year we did it virtually and had participants from Canada, US, Mexico, and Poland.
When young people hear blues, they usually enjoy it… the key is to expose them to it!
Spotify JW-Jones Sonic Departures
Official Promo Video
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