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Sweet Home: January 2010

| January 2, 2010 | 0 Comments

Flaunting The Blues

The blues flows through Fernando Jones‘ veins just as thickly as blood and, given the innate rhythms that stream from his Telecaster, perhaps more smoothly. Growing up on the South Side with Mississippi-born parents and a blues-playing brother, he was driven to pick up his sibling’s guitar and pluck a few blues chords at 4-years old. “I wanted to be like my brother,” says Jones. “Playing the blues looked cool. It sounded cool. It was fascinating to me to hear the sound come out of the amplifiers.”

Jones managed to carry that fascination throughout his life, becoming a blues musician, historian, educator, and author. His seminal Chicago blues text, I Was There When The Blues Was Red Hot, which examines the sociological importance of the blues, will be reissued with audio to mark the 20th anniversary of its publication next month. This month, Jones releases his fourth CD, American Blues Man (Mysoundworx), tours Memphis for club dates, and continues his load of seven lecture and blues-ensemble classes at Columbia College Chicago. Part troubadour, part renaissance man, Jones has erected a sturdy pathway to the blues for all who are interested in following.

“I’m one of the few people who have been in the blues all their lives just for the love of it,” says Jones. “I’m on a global mission to promote the blues. We have to make sure people know the history and respect it and value it.” Jones believes that blues awareness should start in childhood, so he created Blues Kids Of America in 1990. The program introduces blues history and instrumentation to elementary and high school students while also establishing literacy skills. He garnered a 2008 “Keeping The Blues Alive” award in the education category from the Blues Foundation for his efforts. “When I was a kid, I realized there weren’t any kids my age playing the blues,” recalls Jones. “I know how it feels to be young and not have anybody to play [music] with.”

That’s certainly not an issue now: Jones plays regular local and international gigs with his trio, playing guitar, bass, and harp as well as singing and composing. He pumps out traditional Chicago blues with a rockin’ edge and original songs. With Junior Wells as his godfather, Sugar Blue as his harp teacher, and the last to be mentored by Willie Dixon, Jones has little choice but to produce solid Chicago blues. The tunes on his latest album reflect his rarified blues foundation. “American Blues Man is almost a concept record,” he says. “I talk about what the blues is and my dad talks about his Mississippi blues experience. There’s some acoustic blues, contemporary blues, and rockin’ blues.”

Although he plays contemporary blues, Jones isn’t crazy about the lack of community he sees in many contemporary blues musicians. “Most of the musicians are so selfish, self-centered, and ego-maniacal, they want the music all to themselves and they feel the world owes them something,” he says. “The people from Muddy Waters’ generation, you still see all the people that they helped and the people who are still working because of the association. That mentorship and passing the torch along isn’t happening anymore.”

For his part, Jones makes sure his students benefit from his knowledge and understand the importance of giving back. “I’m training my students to keep it going, to love the craft, and love each other. They also have to help somebody,” he says. “My students are starting to make a name for themselves. Nate Graham is 19 and plays at all the local blues clubs. Paige Fernandez has a deal with Fender guitar and will play on “The Today Show” in a couple of months. They are seeing some success but they know that they have to reach back and show someone else the way.”

After expending so much energy spreading the blues gospel, Jones has formulated an interesting perspective on how the genre can remain relevant. “The playing field can be leveled if blues folk start to think like rappers,” he says. “The key is to be autonomous, producing our own music, distributing our own music. We have to take ownership in our craft and ourselves. It’s a business. No club has ever sat a musician down and said, ‘I got rich from you, here’s a few thousand.’ There is no allegiance; it’s a business and they want to sell product.”

Other Blues News: On January 16th, Blues University hosts the 20th annual Chicago Winter Blues Tour, featuring eight blues clubs including Rosa’s Lounge, Lee’s Unleaded Blues, and Checkerboard Lounge and 10 live bands for $45. Go to www.chicagobluestour.com for tickets . . . The International Blues Challenge kicks off in Memphis January 20th to 23rd for the world’s largest gathering of blues acts. Go to www.blues.org for info.

— Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

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Category: Columns, Monthly, Sweet Home

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