Jinx Jones on playing in Denver in the '80s and performing with Roy Buchanan and Chuck Berry
A veteran of the Denver music scene of the '80s who's been living in California since 1989, rockabilly guitarist Jinx Jones has performed with Chuck Berry and Roy Buchanan and his chops can even be heard on En Vogue's hit "Free Your Mind." As a leader, Jones has four albums under his belt, including his most recent effort, Rip and Run, which showcases his fiery picking skills. In advance of his show this weekend at Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret, we spoke with Jones about his time in Denver, how he got into rockabilly and playing with Berry, Buchanan and Solomon Burke.
Westword: Can you tell me about playing in Denver during the '80s?
Jinx Jones: I grew up and went to high school there. I started playing in nightclubs right after high school. I went out on the road with a band and ended up in Houston for a couple of years. Then I ended up in L.A., and then I came back to Denver after that. I actually played in Lannie Garrett's band for a little while.
Then I had a band in Denver in the early '80s called Jinx Jones and the Jaguars. Like a lot of people do, we all got together and said, "Hey let's move to Hollywood and make it big," and so that's what we did. I think that was in 1982. We did some shows around the Los Angeles area, and that band kind of just dissolved a few months after we got out there. Things were not really going as well as we had expected, and we were dead broke.
After that band dissolved, I got together with some other guys when I was living out there, and we formed a rockabilly band called the Tel Rays in the summer of 1982. That band ended up touring and playing in Denver. I ended up moving back to Denver in 1984, and then I had a band in Denver called Jinx Jones and Friends. We did the local club circuit.
It was a really cool time to be in Denver because, back then, there was a big original music scene and more importantly a big original music audience. Not only did you have places that would allow you to play original music or encourage you to play original music, you had an enthusiastic audience that was open to hearing things they hadn't heard before. So it was a really cool time.
It was a great way to kind of craft your songwriting and things like that. You could write a song, learn it with your band and go out and try it on a live audience. And some of them would work, and some of them wouldn't. But you had an audience that was open to you being creative, which I thought was really cool. That was one of the things about the '80s in the club scene in Denver that was very special about it.
Was there a big rockabilly scene here in the '80s?
It was kind of interesting because you had a few bands that did rockabilly. When I was first playing in that band the Tel Rays, we came out and were actually playing in Denver a lot. We were kind of covering the whole Southwest, but we'd play in Denver a lot. But it wasn't so much like a rockabilly scene per se like it is in some places today, where you have head to toe vintage clothing, you know, absolutely living that lifestyle every day of the week. It was more of a scene, for example, where you'd have shows where there'd be a rockabilly band, a new wave band and there'd be a metal band. You'd have a variety of different things so people were open to just about anything.
That's another thing that was great about the scene back then was that it wasn't just exclusively a rockabilly show. It wasn't just those exclusive die-hard rockabilly enthusiasts that would go to it. Conversely, if you had kind of a goth band, only those kind of people would go. You had kind of cross-pollination of everybody. People were more into the fact that it was creative, it was new and a little unconventional. I think it was later on after the '80s and on into the '90s and into this century where things became more compartmentalized.
What was it about rockabilly that initially got you into it? I know you're a big jazz fan as well.
That's a good question. When I was a kid I was playing the rock music that everyone was listening to at the time, and then I really got heavily into R&B and soul music. And then I'd always been really interested in jazz. The thing that I think was cool about rockabilly when I first heard it, you know, being a guitar player, and it's a guitar player's music, the guitar is way out front. Even the classic rockabilly records from the 1950s, the guitar was mixed way out front, so the guitar has a very vital role in the music.
I think as I've gotten older, the thing that keeps me really liking that style of music is that you really can integrate country, you can integrate jazz and you can integrate a lot of things into it, and it still works. I mean, you can't really say that about a lot of other genres of music. So I think that's the thing that really appeals to me a lot and it's kind of a fun kind of music. It kind of touches on Western swing; it touches on classic country; it kind of touches on jazz.
The people that were really playing that style of music back in the 1950s... the stuff that they had learned their craft on was primarily jazz and big band jazz and that kind of stuff. So when you hear the guitar player Cliff Gallup, who played with Gene Vincent, for example, you listen to his playing, and this guy really knows his way around the guitar quite well. It's the same level as a top jazz player in the same era.
You kind of throw a few things into the mix, especially on "Rip and Run."
I'll tell you a funny story about that song. The title of that song... I was watching the TV series The Wire, and there's this scene where the character named Omar is in a courtroom testifying, and the judge says, "Sir, what is your profession?" And he goes, "Oh, you know, I rip and run." I'm watching that, I said, "Man, that's a great title!"
That's how a lot of songs that I write come about. I'll hear something in a conversation with other people or something like that and I'll think, "God, that's a great title." And that kind of sets the tone for what the song should sound like. That was a good example of that. With "Rip and Run," I was trying to create sort of a hybrid surf/spaghetti western song. Basically, once I had the title I was off and running after that.
I know you'd performed with Chuck Berry, Roy Buchanan and Solomon Burke. How did you get those gigs, and what kind of experiences did you come away with playing legends like them?
Well, each one of them was different. Roy Buchanan was certainly the most positive, most inspirational, the biggest learning experience of any well-known artist I've played with. It was probably because the guy was just so dammed good. He was so good, and I think part of that was that he had a great deal of confidence, and it was very easy to work with him. He wasn't uptight. He was the most easy-going guy in the world.
I was a young guy in my twenties, and he was so encouraging to me, and if I'd ask him a question... I think back at it now and he must have said, "God, this kid's bugging me with all these questions." But he was really cool. And another thing I learned from working with him -- because I did a lot of shows with Roy Buchanan -- and he cared about the people that came to see him play. He would sit after a show for hours, and anyone who wanted to come back to the dressing room and say hi and shake his hand and chat with him a bit, he would do that. You can't say that about a lot of people. He was very, very inspirational.
My fondest memory of Solomon Burke was how late he would show up to gigs. We would be on stage playing his introduction number, and there'd be an emcee announcing him, and he's still not in the building yet. But he was really cool. The guy was a legend when I played with him.
The first time I played with Chuck Berry was in Houston. I played with about once a year for about nine years. He would use different regional bands as traveled cross-country. He never had his own band. It was a different experience. Chuck was kind of aloof. A lot of people who have played behind Chuck Berry have written about him, including people like Bruce Springsteen, who backed him up, back in the -- I don't know -- in the early '70s or something like that.
But it's pretty much the same story. He'd come out... He'd get people that were diehard Chuck Berry fans who had all his records and everything like that. You know, some of the nights he'd be good, and some of the nights he'd be bad. There were a lot of fond memories of playing with him.
One of the best things was when he'd go into his duck walk and the histrionics that he'd do... I was right there on the stage with him, so I'd look at the look in his eye when he'd be doing it, and it was kind of a cross, being really cool and being really scary. But it was a great experience. I really got a lot out of it. He'd always give me a lot of guitar solos and stuff during his shows and that was pretty cool.
What do you have in store for your show at Lannie's?
Well, it is a holiday show so there will probably be a few Christmas songs, but I will say they're probably not the traditional ones. They're probably a little more irreverent. It's not going to be like a religious show. There will be a few Christmas rock and roll and rockabilly songs thrown in, but it's pretty much the same show I do out here with my band from the four CDs I have out. A lot of my original songs, a few just fun ripping rockabilly tunes and it's going to be a pretty cool show.
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