The King's man

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

In 1973, King was in town and found Jones playing at the original Red Jacket on Maple in a band with a frontman even Jones doesn't remember; could have been anybody, whoever would pay the bills. King, by then signed to Leon Russell's Shelter Records label, sat in with Jones and offered him a job one more time, which Jones gladly took. "It beat what I was doing at the time," Jones says. Jones would stay with King--and record with him, appearing on one track on the all-star blowout Larger than Life--for a few years, though he would never tour overseas with King. Once, he had contracted pneumonia; more often, he would just beg off the road, if only because he had grown tired of King's taunts and, surprisingly, his music.

By then, Jones had become enamored of jazz-rock, bands like Tower of Power and Rare Earth, who had been tourmates of King's for a while; back then, white rockers often adopted black bluesman as their heroes-of-the-moment, treating them less as idols than as creaky icons who could loan out their cred. But Jones was hooked on their fusion sound, and he became convinced the blues was too small a sound to contain his ambitions. By the time Jones had decided to rejoin King in 1976, the bluesmaster was on his death bed, and he would die later that year.

"I always had to wonder about how Freddie felt about me, because he would tease me all the time," Jones recalls. "Looking back, I should be grateful for the things that he did for me. He didn't have to come pick me up and take me to shows and introduce me to all those people, like Muddy Waters. I mean, Muddy shook my hand and spent a little time talking to me, telling me, 'I can tell you're a guitar player.' It was amazing, now that I realize what it was."

Jones would try his hand in funk-rock bands--landing in one, The Creators, who had a deal with RCA Records for about 13 seconds--and ended up playing with Johnnie "Disco Lady" Taylor for a while, but in 1987 he moved to Los Angeles to play with Katie Webster, who had a deal with Alligator Records. But Jones was unhappy in L.A. and wanted to move back; he stayed only at the insistence of harpist Charlie Musselwhite, perhaps the last of the great Chicago harmonica-blowing bluesmen, who was then living in San Francisco. Theirs was a partnership that would last several years and a few albums.

But Jr. Boy wanted to come home, and when he did, he fell in with the regulars at R.L. Griffin's Arandas Club in South Dallas, where the house band--named the Lowlifers by Jones, though some guys in the band might argue with that--tore it up till Griffin decided he was good and ready to take the stage. In time, he'd hook up with John Steadman, who would release Jones' debut I Need Time on his tiny JSP label until Rounder picked it up for distribution and signed Jones to a multidisc deal.

The result is two albums as polished and powerful as a shiny 1977 Cadillac fresh from the used-car lot; you'd never know it belonged to someone else unless you checked the registration. They're the perfect kind of blues records for the late 1990s, two steps forward and only one backward--they keeps moving even as they looks over their shoulder.

"I've tried to be a different guitar player over the years," Jones says. "Being around Freddie a lot, I sounded a lot like him--a lot of his licks--and I was trying hard not to sound like him. It wasn't that I wanted to be my own self, but it wasn't the style I wanted at the time. Whatever you hear is what you become. But when it came around to really finding myself, I realized I had to be true to myself. Whatever comes out of here"--he touches his chest--"is who I am."

Andrew "Jr. Boy" Jones performs June 17 at The Bone and June 27 at Muddy Waters.

When the 'bullet hits the bone
Band breakups are getting mighty formal these days: The second one in as many weeks came through the fax, this time bearing the bad news that Beth Clardy has decided it's time to bite the rubberbullet and leave the band she and Earl Harvin co-founded five long years ago--or was it six? Even Clardy doesn't recall. It was not a decision she considered lightly. In an interview last week, Clardy said she has been thinking about doing her own thing for more than a year now; it was then that she first hooked up with Josh Doherty (formerly of Earl, better known as the Li'l Toadies) and began writing songs and contemplating the future.

She had grown frustrated with rubberbullet's status as an on-again-way-off-again band, subject to Harvin's demanding schedule with his own jazz band and his touring and recording stints with Seal. But it all came to a head a few weeks ago, when Clardy and Harvin had a sitdown and the singer-songwriter expressed her desires to move on.

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