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INTRODUCING DENNIS JONES: LA BLUES YOU CAN ROCK TO

LA-based singer, songwriter and guitar slinger, Dennis Jones is heading to Australia for a few select dates including a prime spot at the Melbourne Guitar Show. Ahead of his Australian trip, Dennis spoke with Australian Musician editor Greg Phillips

Dennis Jones is the epitome of cool. Laid back and smooth by nature but put him on a stage and the energy level of the room instantly becomes electric. Sizzling hot guitar solos, soulful vocals and a high-octane brand of blues rock is what’s guaranteed. Dennis’s feet are firmly rooted in the past, yet his heart and soul are connected to the present. He writes songs that seamlessly blend the best of both worlds, presenting a unique and contemporary style of American rock and blues. You can hear Dennis’ powerful concoction of blues rock on any of his 6 recordings, including 2018’s fabulous live album WE3 Live.

Born and raised in the small town of Monkton, Maryland (population 4,856) Dennis had a humble but loving childhood, with parents who encouraged his music making, buying his first guitar at the age of 13. Inspired by the instrument, Dennis had developed his chops to the point that he was playing in bands just three years later. Soaking up the sounds of the family record collection, the songs of Hendrix, Dylan, Joplin, Mahalia Jackson, James Brown and Al Green, were all infused into his DNA.

“There was music on at my house all the time,” says Dennis. “My older brother was into Dylan and Hendrix, Joplin, more of a rock edge. My mum would play religious music on Sundays, so you’d hear Mahalia Jackson, gospel music. During the week between my father and everyone else in the house we were playing a lot of soul music, a lot of Motown. You’d hear James Brown and Al Green. I didn’t really think about much until later when I left home but there was a lot of music on all the time. Different blends and styles of music and that is probably why I was influenced to write the kind of things I do. I wanted to be a drummer. When I was 13, for Christmas I wanted drums but they refused to buy them for me because they thought they were too loud. My second choice was guitar, so I got a guitar and two years later I had a Marshall stack and all kinds of Ampeg amps in the house that were so loud they were kinda wishin’ they’d bought the drums!”

With a thirst to learn and an appreciation of music history, later Dennis developed his own musical tastes and gravitated to the licks of The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Zappa and Rory Gallagher. “I’d listen to anything on the radio … a lot of Rolling Stones, Keith Richards stuff, Hendrix. I was also a big Zappa fan in the 70s. I just loved Zappa’s quirky sense of humour and his time signatures were nothing like I’d heard before. I was into blues but didn’t really know it at the time because I was into this British stuff, Led Zeppelin, they were a big influence on me. Later on it was Rory Gallagher and a few other people but I did reverse engineering on the blues, I listened to rock and found out where they all got it from and realised it was a lot of old black music from New Orelans, the south in the states and Chicago as well.”

While stationed in Germany, serving his country in the military, Dennis not only had the opportunity to play small European clubs but also had the chance to experience performances by some of rock’s real legends live in concert such as Clapton, Dylan, Rory Gallagher and Rufus Thomas, even the Bon Scott-era AC/DC, gigs which inspired him further.

As his playing matured and his reputation grew, so too did the learning opportunities. He’s opened for the likes of Buddy Guy and Dick Dale and not only enjoyed a support spot with another of his music heroes Johnny Winter, but also got to spend some invaluable one on one time with Johnny in his trailer, picking his brain and devouring the wisdom. Similarly, Dennis was granted time with Robert Jr Lockwood (The only known guitarist to have learned to play directly from Robert Johnson) at a Blues Festival on Catalina Island, a meeting in which Lockwood reveled in the chance to give Jones his personal insight into the blues. George Benson was another great who took the time to chat with Dennis and offer some great career guidance.

Dennis Jones has always taken that sage advice with gratitude and applied it wisely to his own career. With a strong work ethic and a passion for music, Dennis has been able to travel the world, playing to appreciative audiences in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, France, Poland and Italy, not to mention the thousands of miles he travels each year to gigs in his own country… and those gigs keep getting bigger. In September this year, soon after his Australian tour, one of Jones’ first spots will be on the acclaimed Big Blues Bender bill in Las Vegas alongside Gov’t Mule, Robert Cray, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, Allman Betts Band and Tab Benoit to name a few.

Not only is Jones an exhilarating guitar player, he also knows his instruments inside out … quite literally!
“The main guitars I use are Fender Strats,” he tells me. “I have some that are off the shelf but every guitar I have, I have altered in some way. Ever since I was a teenager I have always been tearing guitars apart and putting them back together in certain ways that I like them. And now that I have the ability to do it even better, I’m just buying necks and bodies and pickups, down to the pots and cables I use. I have got really good at it. I have made some for friends and sold a few as well. I really love the process of building guitars. Just being able to tweak it a certain way and knowing the values of a 500k pot, a 200k pot and how different the sound is, making the guitar darker or brighter, I really enjoy all that. I have a new hardtail that I built recently and I have never played hardtails before but I love this guitar. You can hear everything, good or bad, you’re going to hear it come out and I love that about that guitar. It’s not my number one yet but it is inching up there because I really love playing it.”

Naturally, Dennis is keen to nerd out on the array of gear that will be on display at the Melbourne Guitar Show but is more focused on delivering an intoxicating performance on the Saturday afternoon of he show. “Oh man, just being able to play my music … my original songs will be wonderful … I still do a few covers in my show because people expect it but I just want to introduce people to what I do and hope they like it. Also just the chance to meet some other musicians and network and you know, if anyone is coming through California, maybe I can help them out too. I just want to get my foot in the door so I can come back in a much bigger way next time.”

Jones’ August tour won’t be his first trip to Australia, he was here as a tourist in 1999 and has always wanted to return to play his music.
“I came to Australia with a girl I was dating in December 1999. I was there for a whole month and I stayed with her and her family in Melbourne. We went to the William Ricketts Reserve and that was pretty amazing. I went to the beaches, your beaches are amazing. I was in Sydney in early 2000 for the fireworks on the bridge by the Opera House. Let me tell you, you Aussies know how to party! The hospitality was amazing, the people I met were so friendly and I did take my guitar with me so I had a chance to play at a Melbourne Blues Society night. I got a chance to sit in and play and they invited me back the following night and it was a lot of fun. It’s always a place I have wanted to go back to. The quality of musicians there blew me away.”

The most recent album from Dennis Jones has been a live record titled WE3 Live, which was released in 2018. It’s a great starting point for those wanting to get a feel for his music.
“It was a one-off performance,” he explains about the recording. “We’d just done a few really good shows in Canada and were on our way home. It was the last show of the tour and the guy who owns this club has a band and they play there all the time. He had a full Pro Tools studio set up on the side of the stage. Everything is miked and he asked if it was ok to record us that night. I said as long as I get a copy of it, no problem. About a month later, he sent me the tapes. I was planning on recording a live album anyway, I was going to rent a club out. I took the tapes to my engineer and we put them up on the computer in the studio and we were both blown away by how good it sounded, it was done really well. I had to do a few little fixes here and there on the audience sounds because he didn’t really have a mic in the audience but I tried to make it as authentic as possible without changing anything of the music. There were some songs I didn’t want, others I did so I put it all together. We had a lot of material to choose from and I released it. I was surprised by it but I just thought, this is the way we sound so I may as well do it. It was a good show and it all came out well.”

Dennis is currently working on new material that he’s excited about and plans to record a new studio album next year. In the meantime, he’s preparing to bring his exciting brand of blues-rock to Australia. And the grand plan?
“I think the grand plan is to conquer the world man,” Dennis says enthusiastically of his long term plans. “I just want to continue to do what I do, build a fan base and write music. I wouldn’t mind becoming a household name in what I do in blues rock. I love being a songwriter. I love the guitar but without a good song it doesn’t mean much. I have seen a lot of great guitar players play and no disrespect to them but unless your songs are good, nobody is going to remember you. When people leave the clubs singing your songs, they have a melody in their head, that means way more to me than a great guitar solo. I do love guitar and solos and every aspect of it but I like to be able to write what I consider to be a good song. Basically I want to continue to play around the world and become more well known in places like Australia and Europe and even the United States too. I want to expand what I am doing and give people joy with my music, that’s my main goal.”

Saturday Aug 3rd, 2019
Melbourne Guitar Show, Caulfield Racecourse
https://australianmusician.com.au/melbourne-guitar-show/tickets/

Friday August 9th, 2019
The Fyrefly, St.Kilda
https://www.fyreflystkilda.com.au/shows/2019/7/2/dennis-smith-band-usa-

Sunday August 11th, 2019
Hepburn Palais, Hepburn Springs. 2pm show
https://palais-hepburn.oztix.com.au/outlet/event/374c1570-0103-4c4b-a74f-40c6cc83b3c4?Event=104674

http://www.dennisjonescentral.com/