The King's man

"Jr. Boy" Jones played with them all--now, he plays for himself

Andrew "Jr. Boy" Jones has long been a hero of mine, but until last week, I had never heard his name. He can be heard playing on a handful of the greatest songs ever recorded in and released from this city; he was, for two years, a member of one of Dallas' greatest, if forgotten, bands. The songs to which he lent his guitar will live forever even if no one knows they exist: "You Just Got to Understand" is one, a feisty rave-up that recalls the best of the music coming from Stax/Volt during the time; "Don't Be So Mean"--a taunting, gritty, lowdown soul-brother groove--is another. The best-known of the lot is a little something-something called "T.C.B. or T.Y.A.," dug up recently for the six-disc soulfest Beg, Shout & Scream!, where it sits in between tracks by such immortals as Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, and James Brown.

In the late 1960s, Bobby Patterson and the Mustangs recorded for insurance salesman John Abdnor's Abnak/Jetstar labels. They were making sweet soul music at the corner of Ross and Olive, becoming the truest kind of legends--men whose names have been relinquished to the small-type footnotes of history, whose accomplishments have been forgotten by all but the most loyal and obsessive of fetishists. And Andrew Jones was one of those Mustangs, and along with Patterson and Bobby Simpson and Ronald Brewster and other men long off the stage and out of sight, he tore it up and turned it out with a nasty brand of soul that often came this close to becoming rock and roll.

"It was a special time for me," Jones says now, sitting in Daddy Jack's in Deep Ellum--right across the street from The Bone, where, painted on the wall, is a sign advertising a performance by the very same Jr. Boy Jones on June 17. "A lot what we did back then still influences me today--the sound, the energy, the discipline. It was an important time."

But it was not the only time for Jr. Boy Jones; he's not one of those guys coasting on well-preserved memories of erstwhile accomplishments. His stint with the Mustangs is just a small portion of the resume, a few seconds in a lifetime. He will be 50 this year, and though one blues magazine recently referred to Jones as an "up-and-coming modern blues guitarist," his is a story that begins with a stint backing up Texas blues immortal Freddie King when he was just a teenager; includes cameos by B.B. King, Muddy Waters, blues harpist Charlie Musselwhite, and soul stirrer Johnnie Taylor; and continues with last week's release of Jones' second album as a frontman, Watch What You Say.

He's no up-and-comer at all, nor is he a weary veteran on last legs. Andrew "Jr. Boy" Jones is just a terrific blues guitarist who shared stages with myths and remained very much a mortal, one more unsung Dallas-born journeyman who remained in town for most of his life and, as such, stayed just inches out of the spotlight. Until the release of 1997's I Need Time--his debut on Rounder Records' Bullseye Blues division, his first record as a frontman--Jones was one of those guys hidden in the fine-print credits, a backup to so many better-known bluesmen.

But don't be fooled by the late start: Jones is an old-school purist who's the sum of all his experience and influences but still very much his own man. He's a revivalist and a revisionist all at once, his sound clean and wide open but prone to take some fierce turns without any warning. Listening to Watch What You Say, with its strip-tease organ and Jones' elegant way of bending a string till it sings, you're reminded of B.B. King without the Hollywood polish, Jimmie Vaughan with even more room to breathe, T-Bone Walker with a capricious sense of humor.

"But I hear music the way Freddie did it," Jones says, embracing his mentor. "It might be smoother or prettier, but basically, it's him. It's not on purpose. It's just the vocabulary. When you play tunes from your heart, you're not hearing any certain person. You're just hearing a sound."

Jones was raised in the projects of East Dallas, where he moved at the age of 7 shortly after his parents divorced. His neighborhood was the stomping grounds for such soulmen as Al "TNT" Braggs and a kid named Bobby Patterson and so many other musicians; he can remember seeing men walking through the neighborhood carrying their guitar cases, on the way to a gig or a friend's house for a little back-porch jam session. The way Jones recalls it, it seems almost quaint, romantic: musical paradise in the projects.

"Guys would sit around playing old electric stuff and Bobby Bland stuff, you name it," he says. "I would hear music all the time." Jones' mother had been a singer herself in the 1940s; she performed with Adolphus Sneed and his band the Southern Swingsters, who were pretty much the house band in Corpus Christi during the early 1950s, playing to crowds of thousands at the Coconut Grove on the pier. It was Sneed who got Jr. Boy, so named by his aunt, playing guitar when he was still a little kid. But, Jones says now, his love for guitar went far beyond Sneed's encouragement.

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