The fiercely independent Dennis Jones Band has become a monthly music staple in Santa Monica
By Michael Aushenker
Musically, it’s hard to be your own man in this world — especially playing the blues in 2014, with contemporary pop and rap dominating the charts.
Yet eclectic bluesman Dennis Jones not only survives but thrives.
“Blues is the roots of what I do. I had so many influences. Frank Zappa: his lyrics, his sense of humor. He did his own thing. I like making people laugh, making them cry,” said Jones, whose eponymous band plays Harvelle’s in Santa Monica once again on Saturday.
Dubbing themselves “a rockin’ blues power trio,” Dennis Jones Band has maintained a monthly residency at Harvelle’s for four years now. With drummer Michael Turner and bassist Sam Correa, Dennis Jones Band plays all over California and beyond, including a recent Pacific Northwest tour.
In addition to Zappa, Jones’ influences growing up included Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Carlos Santana. He also digs Kirk Fletcher, Guitar Shorty, Joe Bonamassa, Eric Johnson and Derek Trucks.
Vocally, Jones evinces shades of Hendrix. But the Baltimore-bred blues guitarist is loath to pay direct tribute to his heroes (save for an occasional cover), because what Jones loves best is performing his own compositions.
“Hot Sauce,” a musical mutt of blues, rock and country, delivers an offbeat thematic spin on Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man” that quickly segues from condiment to metaphor (“I’ll take the burger, take the fries / hot sauce brings tears to my eyes / wanna feel it burn, wanna feel it sting”).
“Superdeluxe” presents a guy who falls hard for a lady after a fling, only to be spurned when he pops the question: “You will be my wife someday / buy a house and a Chevrolet / having you is like a dream come true / You said no way / I ain’t gonna marry you / have some man tell me what I’m gonna do.”
“Sometimes I have a conversation with a friend of mine, I write an idea on a napkin, go home and I’ve got a song,” Jones said of his process. And unlike the cliché of turmoil informing creation, Jones, in a stable relationship for six years, added, “To tell you the truth, I’m way over chaos! I don’t want any drama in my life.”
Instead, “I like people to think. You almost can guess the next line sometimes [in a blues song]. I try to be more thought-provoking about the lyrics,” he continued of songs such as the ambiguous “Big Black Cat,” which “most people think it’s about a woman” but actually addresses the African-American struggle, and the slow-burning “Stray Bullet” (“You lie to my face now I’m lying on my back”) that plays with multiple meanings.
Jones, an L.A. resident who has opened for Los Lobos and the late Johnny Winter, draws from a diversity of influences that don’t always filter into his sound.
“Even if I don’t play like those guys,
[I like] their attitude,” he said.
Gigging is a constant hustle.
“I do this for a living; it’s not a part-time job. I have to go where the money is,” Jones said of the band balancing club dates with private parties in L.A.’s affluent areas. “It’s a tough business. A lot of people have stopped touring because after money spent on gas and rooms, you’re breaking even. I have the advantage of being around for a long time.”
At least commercially on the live circuit, originality can be an underrated commodity.
“All these tribute bands are killing right now,” Jones said of his greatest competition. While they do well monetarily due to song recognition, Jones isn’t swayed to deviate from his game plan.
“I get to play my own material. I’ve never seen anyone get famous playing other people’s material,” he said.
Jones, who played the Mammoth Blues Festival last weekend, praises Harvelle’s owner Cevic Clark for showcasing emerging, original talent.
Now with four albums under his belt and another pending, Jones remains his own man. Armed with a positivity he says is essential to being a working blues musician in 2014, Jones abides.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I can’t complain. I’m living my dream.”
The Dennis Jones Band takes the stage at 9 p.m. Saturday at Harvelle’s, 1432 4th St., Santa Monica. $10. 21+; two drink minimum. Call (310) 395-1676 or visit harvelles.com or dennisjonescentral.com.