Marty Jones says he’s comfortable fronting bands, something he’s been doing for three decades — but he’s scared to death of playing by himself.
Jones, who’s led the roots and rockabilly groups the Great Unknowns and the Pork Boilin’ Poor Boys, respectively, says there’s nobody to hide behind when playing solo, which he’s occasionally done over the years but has started to focus on with the release of his brand-new solo album, Nothing to Cry About.
Jones jokes that part of the reason he’s afraid to play by himself is that he’s not that accomplished. “When you’ve got a group of talented people behind you, they help hide your shortcomings and cover any flubs or missed chords,” he says. “You don’t get that when you’re by yourself.”
But playing alone has given Jones a chance to delve into material that didn’t fit in with the bands he’s been in.
“My bands have always been rootsy and fun-loving, with a few weepers thrown in there — a niche of songs I’ve always written — and lighthearted stuff,” Jones says. “But I’ve had songs that didn’t quite fit for various reasons, that I never played.”
Jones, who’s worked promotions for Oskar Blues Brewery and Wynkoop Brewing, has been referred to as “the bard of beer songs,” but there aren’t any songs about hops and suds on Nothing to Cry About.
“It’s not like it’s any bold artistic statement, but it is the first for me,” Jones says. “It’s been a long time since I put out a recording that didn’t mention beer in some fashion. It’s a humble milestone for me.”
The songs on the new album are more personal, and making that kind of music is something Jones says he’s been trying to do for a long time.
“In many ways, I should not be singing countrified music,” Jones says. “I cut my teeth singing in blues bands in Virginia and rockabilly groups. My voice is more suited to something that leans a little closer to soul music or roots. The solo stuff has helped me in that quest. I haven’t found the sweet spot, but I do want to do material that’s a little more personal.”
On “I Don’t Want My Friends (Doing Heroin),” for instance, Jones mentions his former bandmate Jim Perry, who died from a heroin overdose thirty years ago. “If you’re an artist, you’re supposed to talk about the good and the bad,” Jones says. “So now I can do that, and I don’t have to check with my bandmates or worry about, ‘Hey, are you cool playing this?’”
Jones says that by not playing songs like “I Don’t Want My Friends (Doing Heroin),” he was being a “chicken” artist, and he didn’t want to be a chicken any longer. “I also want to have a good time,” he says, “but it feels good to write songs like that and to get them off your chest and not worry about what anybody thinks and just put them out. Because that’s what artists of any form are supposed to do.”
While the lyrics on Nothing to Cry About might be more personal, there’s still that humor from the guy who’s written such songs for his other bands as “You Kissed Me on the Mouth and I’ve Been Sick Ever Since” or “I Got Over You When You Got Under Him.”
“My music is for somebody who doesn’t take it too seriously and wants to laugh along the way,” he says.
“The Opening Act” is an older song that Jones wrote to serve as an icebreaker for his solo sets when he would open for bands like Slim Cessna’s Auto Club after moving to Denver from Virginia two decades ago.
That song includes the verse: “I’m the special guest who puts your patience to the test/With a bunch of songs you’ve never heard before/It ain’t me you paid to see, and that’s alright with me/In half an hour I’ll be out the door.”
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
“I have silly songs,” Jones says. “I seem to stretch from really silly songs to really sad songs and then optimistic songs in between. There was an art form somewhere in being able to put the two in the same set and on the same record. I haven’t figured that out, but that’s what I’m pursuing. There’s something to me that’s really satisfying about doing a terribly sad song and then a silly song about going bald. But I realize that limits me to a very small audience, and that’s okay, too.”
At 57 years old, going solo is a whole new thing for Jones, kind of like starting all over again. Well, that, and he says he wants to keep his status as a “Westword Music Showcase icon” alive in some fashion.
Says Jones: “I’m referring to myself not as a singer-songwriter, but as a songwriter-singer, with the emphasis on songs, and not so much singing.”
Marty Jones CD release
With the Railbenders, 8 p.m. Friday, March 10, Soiled Dove Underground, 7401 East First Avenue, $15-$20.