Keeping up with the Joneses

Dallas blues history according to two who lived it

It was there that he began to set himself apart. With a mastery of soul-blues, straight blues, and rock 'n' roll, Tutu was more versatile than your average jammer. Local blues maven Don O, who has parlayed his tenure as DJ on KNON's weekly "Best of the Blues" broadcast into a position of some influence in blues circles, gave Tutu his first write-up (in Jam magazine) and began dropping his name to cognoscenti. Soon afterward, no less a light than Bruce Iglauer of the Chicago label Alligator came to town to personally scope Tutu. Hearing him at a bar on Maple, Iglauer decreed Jones "not ready" (as did local label Topcat) and went back to Chicago.

That's like waving a "Go" flag at John Stedman, whose UK label JSP makes a specialty of recording bluesmen who are "not ready." When Stedman gets word regarding acts about whom Yank labels are dithering, he fires off a check to the artist for a self-produced album that JSP then issues.

Mere mention of this trusting tack causes an American label--who would spend more but want to ride herd on the production--to pale, but Stedman's faith in Tutu paid off. Not only did the guitarist bring his 1994 debut I'm For Real in on time and at budget, but the album received unanimous praise in blues mags. With JSP, Tutu was instantly overseas, and soon he had Euro-tours and UK blues fests under his belt.

Tutu was ready after all. To JSP's credit, the label allows its artists to take a better offer, should one come along. JSP let Tutu go when he got such an offer from Rounder/Bullseye, for whom he cut Blue Texas Soul in 1996.

Blue Texas Soul was one of the Handy nominees for Best Soul-Blues Album this year. (Handys aren't universally beloved in blues circles, and in fact were the subject of a Living Blues letters column slugfest almost as bloody as the magazine's ongoing can-whites-play-the-blues fray. The best way to look at them is as more Memphis tourism than real blues. But they're less disgusting than the Grammys and don't really hurt anyone.)

Andrew "Junior Boy" Jones is a few years older than Tutu. His earliest memories are of his Arlington Park childhood, which he wistfully recalls as happy and carefree until his parents separated. He and his mother moved to East Dallas.

The move "wasn't really a bad thing, because there's a lot of music history came out of there," says Andrew. "Bobby Patterson, Al 'TNT' Braggs and his brothers James and Floyd, and Lee Lamont, who had a hit out, 'Mommy Look The Man Is Crying.' There was an older guy lived next door who played guitar, and James Braggs and him used to sit together in the back yard and strum, which kind of inspired me to want to play. And I'd hear about Al Braggs, because he was tourin' with Bobby Bland all durin' that time. I was a kid, a young kid."

Before Andrew was born, his mother had sung with reedman Adolphus Sneed's Southern Swingsters combo. Sneed, who crops up in scads of Texas music stories, remained such a friend of the family that Andrew dubbed him "Uncle Sneed." He encouraged Andrew's musical bent and bought him an electric guitar.

Down the street lived another saxman, Sleepy Clemons, who heard Andrew practicing and stopped by to ask Ms. Jones if she'd let him rehearse with--and maybe join--the band he was in. She consented, so off went Andrew to join the Thunderbirds (which included bassist Finis Tasby, today of the L.A. blues scene). Andrew's first date with the band was a one-off backing Jimmy McCracklin, but their regular frontman was Freddie King. Their preferred place to hang was 4th Avenue, in South Dallas.

"This was the 'hood, man," laughs Andrew. "This was South Dallas, and it was a different culture than the one I'd been brought up in. It was guys drinkin' durin' the day, drinkin' wine and practicin' their instruments. Lotta girls runnin' in and out. When Lowell Fulson came to town, that's where he stayed. I met Lowell, met Big Joe Turner--big huge guy in his undershirt. Freddie King'd be there, hair all up in a rag 'cause the [hair-straightening] 'process' was the style back then. There were always places to play and people comin' through town. James Brown'd be at the Pussycat-A-Go-Go on Bexar, Ray Charles'd be at the Empire Room. Ike and Tina Turner stayed for long periods of time here back then. I was kind of in awe. See, my uncle's scene had been more conservative. His situation was big band and black tie. Well, this was blues and R&B."

With King and the Thunderbirds, Andrew played tank towns all over Texas and Oklahoma. King teased him relentlessly, and once gleefully scarfed down a sack lunch of ham sandwiches Ms. Jones had packed expressly for her son, but Andrew sensed that the big bluesman was keeping a close eye on him.

Andrew eventually jumped ship to join the Bobby Patterson's Mustangs. At the time the group was with Jetstar, the R&B wing of local label Abnak. Flush behind "Western Union" ('67) by the Five Americans, the label's main act, Abnak could fund what seemed to Andrew a cake deal.

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