By Jim Schutze
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"I always had a fascination with guitars," he recalls. "I don't know why, but I used to watch Ernest Tubb and all those country-and-western guys. Actually, I heard a lot of music around the house too, because my mom would play a lot of Jimmy Reed and Brook Benton and a lot of good music. And she sang around the house all the time. Her singing days were over, but she still liked to belt it out. She's still trying to belt out 'St. Louis Blues,' and she's 81."
Jones played a little guitar in high school, jamming with friends and older guys at local dives in South Dallas; he'd get paid in pocket change and potato chips. All that would change when he was 16, sitting in his mother's living room one afternoon and playing guitar when a knock came at the door. Sleepy Clemons, a sax player who lived up the street from the Jones' home, asked Andrew's mother if he could take her boy to South Dallas; Clemons didn't even say why, just that there was somebody her little guitar-player ought to meet.
"We ended going over to where the band was, and this guy introduced me to the band, and I ended up rehearsing with them," Jones recalls. "I was kinda quiet back in those days. I had butterflies, and Freddie King came in while we were rehearsing. He said, 'Who's that over there?' And Sleepy said, 'Freddie, that's Jr. Boy.' And he said, 'Oh, yeah? You mean little boy, doncha?'" Jones laughs. "That done lightened the load.
"And he saw my guitar, this little Kingston she bought at this pawn shop, and he said, 'What's that you got there?' I told him it was my guitar, and he said, 'Let me see it?' I took it to him, and he put on this big thumb pick and this metal finger pick, and, man, he went to playin' and pullin' on the strings, and there were strings poppin' all over the place. As you can imagine, my eyes were wide open, and when he gave the guitar back to me, he said, 'Aw, man, this is Mickey Mouse.' Scared me, man. Scared me."
Jones joined Clemons in a band called Thunderbirds and ended up playing with King on the weekends; they would tour Texas and Oklahoma, playing every palace and shithouse between here and nowhere. But his mother never much cared for her little boy hanging around with all the King's men; too much drinking and carousing for her tastes, and she was scared her son would be ruined by men more than twice his age.
"I couldn't hang," Jones recalls of those days. "It was an eye-opening experience. I was comin' right out of my mom's living room into something like that. But the guys looked after me. It was cool. It was a valuable situation for me to be in, because I learned a lot. But it was not a situation my mom preferred. She just went along with it. It was almost like being an adult."
During those days, King and his band kept an apartment on Fourth Avenue in South Dallas; it was there King held court with so many of the blues greats who would stop through town--Lowell Fulson, Big Joe Turner, and Oak Cliff's own Aaron "T-Bone" Walker among them. They would hang at King's pad, drinking and playing away the long afternoons before they had to get back to the clubs or the studio; it was an idyllic lifestyle for a child who got to drink the blues straight from the bottle.
"The first time I met B.B. King, I was with Freddie," Jones recalls. "He took me backstage and introduced him, and I remember B.B. and Freddie talking once about bringing the blues into the mainstream. B.B. said that." Theirs would be a tenuous partnership, at best: Andrew would learn much from Freddie, but the cost was being subjected, day in and night out, to King's constant teasing. He made fun of his age, his being a mama's boy; King was by then a recording star, having scored a hit with "Hideaway" in 1961, and he found endless pleasure in giving grief to a teenager who wanted to be just like him.
Jones would end up leaving King and joining Patterson when Bobby started putting together his Mustangs; most of the guys were friends of Patterson's from Sherman, but he had seen Jones play in a local club and was impressed enough with his style and savvy to sign him up. Mom was once more wary of the setup, but Patterson convinced her it was a safer situation than touring with King; after all, John Abdnor was going to put Andrew on salary, pay him to make music, and keep him out of trouble.
The Mustangs would score only one regional hit, "T.C.B. or T.Y.A.," in 1969; Jones would play with Bobby for just 18 months before the whole setup "self-destructed," in Jones' words, out of frustration and disappointment. After a contract dispute with Abdnor, famous for holding tightly to his bands and money, Jones would spend much of the early '70s playing in various pick-up bands.