The stage is my home
Tutu Jones is a Texas artist who has been keeping the Blues alive for over 40 years. Starting as a very young drummer, he played behind many famous artists. He then matured into a recording and touring artist, as a singer, songwriter and guitar player. Yours Truly was very pleased to enjoy his concerts, for the second time at the Skanevik Blues Festival, in Norway, July 2012. The promoter, Alf Warloe, made a great effort to balance the program between Rock’n’Roll and Blues, like it should be done at a modern festival. The Blues acts were represented by Tutu, Mud Morganfield, Shemekia Copeland, Larry McCray, along with other european, american and domestic artists. Coming to the festival for the second time, Tutu Jones successfully performed two shows, with a very competent american band. The open minded person he is, he agreed to give Jefferson Blues Magazine this exclusive interview.
KP – Would Texas Blues with Tutu Jones be a good heading for this article?
TJ – Well, they used so much Texas on me, Texas Blues this, Texas Blues that. Okay, let’s go to something else, to another headline, another word. I’m still looking for better things in the future. But the best feeling is to hit that stage. I feel more at home when I’m on the stage, then when I’m anywhere. That’s where I open up at, it’s my home. Yeah, the stage is my home. And they can see that. I don’t mind sharing the spotlight with somebody else, I love that. I don’t mean to step on anybody’s feet, or nothing. I’m not here to impress anybody, I play with love. I express myself through music, that’s how I get my message over.
KP – But Texas Blues is still your early influence?
TJ - My father, Johnny B. Jones, was my first influence. I looked up to him as to a giant. He was my first inspiration for playing the guitar. My daddy was a great guitar player in his own rights. He had been around Freddie King and all of them himself, things in that nature. As for descendant stuff, I was inspired by my mother too. She was a singer and a part time musician herself. I took what I learned from her as a singer. Some people are born with it, it’s a natural gift. Some other people are taught to do things, you have to teach them. I was born with it, it’s in my blood, like that.
KP – So, you made up your mind very early, to become a professional musician?
J - Yeah, at an early stage. I don’t like working and work don’t like me. Like I said, I was born into music, I love doing it, and it’s in my blood. I decided very early to become a musician. I first started my career with my family members. It was in 1969 or 1970. I was first playing drums with my family and my uncles; Curly ”Barefoot” Miller and L.C. Clark. Then playing with other bands, back at home, after I left my uncles.
KP – Was Gospel Music another influence for you?
TJ - My mother was a singer. That’s where that singing started from, when I heard my mama singing around the house. She played the Blues on the weekends. And the 45 records she played inspired me as well. My mama was a member of the Baptist Church, and my daddy was too. Little Milton and Freddie King also came from the Baptist Church tradition. It’s kind of natural for me to have that feel, I was born with it. The Gospel started it all back then
As the years went by I got inspired by Freddie King, Little Milton, Albert King, Albert Collins, George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, and other guitar players as well. I added Freddie to my developments, it started from there, all that singing and stuff. As the years went by, I was influenced by Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan and all of the greats.
I was influenced by them and I met some of them. I worked with some of them, down through the years. I worked with Little Milton, ZZ Hill, Johnny Taylor and I played with Freddie a little bit. So, it goes on, and on, and on. I started to develop my own style and taste, things in that nature. And I hooked up with R.L. Griffin and his Dallas City Superstars, back home in Texas. That’s how the big picture started coming in.
KP - So, you picked up early experiences by touring with the southern stars?
TJ - I did a lot of touring with ZZ Hill, R.L. Griffin, and I did some touring with “Little” Joe Blue. When I went out on my own I started opening shows for Bobby Bland, Clarence Carter and Denise LaSalle. Stevie Ray Vaughan was another of my biggest influences as well. He and his brother Jimmy Vaughan pretty much came from the same roots, sitting around watching Freddie King. Me and Jimmy still play shows together. I got the chance to meet a few guys out in Memphis, especially Willie “Poppa” Mitchell. He’s the one who wrote a lot of hit songs by Al Green, O.V. Wright and Ann Peebles. By being around “Poppa” Mitchell, who had been around so long, he showed me how to enjoy this. To write it, rejoin it and stuff like that.
KP – When did you become a recording artist?
TJ - I started to play drums with ZZ Hill, Little Milton, and so forth in 1979. I stayed about 3-4 years like that. Then I recorded some studio stuff as a drummer. I played drums as well, with bands in South East Dallas, as they called on me. And I did some studio sessions with Al “TNT” Braggs. He’s the one who wrote the hit song for Bobby ”Blue” Bland; ”Share your love with me”. I had a lot of good teachers out there. I worked with ”Little” Joe Blue as well, with my own band back home. In April1989, that’s when I left them and went on my own as a solo artist. Though I was born to play, I still picked up a lot of experience by just playing with them guys. So, I left from there and I’ve been on my own ever since. I’ve been on my solo career for 23 years now.
A guy by the name of Don O saw me playing in a place called Schooners back in north Dallas. He thought I had a whole lot of talent for playing the guitar and stuff. So he said; ”Man you got to be on your own, you need to be recorded. Have you ever been recorded”? I told him that I did sessions with Al Braggs, who was a writing producer. ”I’ve been recording, but not as a solo artist.” He said that he had a friend over in London, UK, who would love to sign me. A few months went by and Don kept on coming by, hearing me play. Finally, in late 1993, he comes out to a gig one night and tells me that he had talked with John Stedman. John called me up in January 1994 and asked me, would I produce and write my own album? That’s how I did my first solo album, with John Stedman and his JSP Records.
It went off from there to Rounder Records, I got a deal for 2 albums; ”Blue Texas Soul” in 1996 and ”Staying Power” in 1998. Later on, I met Doc Blues Records in 2003-04, something like that. I did a live album with them. I also did a live album with U.P. Wilson.
These days now, I got my own record label, and my own publishing, called Soul Tone Records. It’s a new independent label, we just begun to get it going, and we’ve got ways to go with it. It’s named ”Inside Out” and the production is sold at CD Baby, the internet ad. cdbaby.com. I write my own tunes and produce them. And I’m looking forward to produce and write for other people too, as time goes by. I’m working on another new album now, but I don’t know when it’s going to be released. I’m putting it together, you will hear more from me in the future. You can find my past recordings on Concord Records / JSP Records / Doc Blues Records. I’ve been doing a lot of live DVD’s, that someday I hope I’ll get the chance to release in the future. Now my past works is featuring on other Blues and R&B CD compilation boxes. My own ones, with Little Milton, Freddie King, ZZ Hill, Junior Parker, Denise LaSalle and others. My work has been reproductions on different compilations now.
Photo: Krister Palais
KP – When were you ready for touring in Europe?
TJ - I’ve been coming back and forward to Europe for about 14 or 15 years now. My first European tour was back in 1994. I was experienced by touring with ZZ Hill and Little Milton before that, back home. Yeah, it’s been good, I’m still out here, touring from time to time. I don’t get over here in Europe as much as I want to, but I got plans to keep coming. That’s why I love coming back to Scandinavia, there’s something special about it, and they love me here. It’s been a great journey, some ups and downs. But you can’t be a headliner everyday and all day. They should give me more spots about headlining. Some places I do headline, but they are giving all opportunities to the ones who don’t deserve it. I work my ass off when I hit the stage.
Look at all those local bands, out here playing for free. They make it hard for guys like me to come out here and get paid for it. We do get mistreated by the way they’re doing it. They come by and don’t ask for no pay. It hurts us in many ways. People in the music business need to stop taking real artists for granted. They miss out with someone they should have been helping. And when we come asking for our fees, they turn us down, filling your own spot with a local band, who’s playing for free. I do this for love, not just for the money, but this is not a hobby. My hobbies are shooting pool, watching sports on TV or go to the movies. I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes, but I want peace and love in my life, in my music. This is a job, but I love my job!
KP – Watching you working on stage, you perform as the perfect bandleader.
TJ - It’s just in me. You got born leaders and you got followers. You take Michael Jackson, for example, he was a born leader. I’m just a born leader too. Some people appreciate it, some people don’t. That’s the way it goes. I can get along with anybody. I leave all racism and all that out, I’m nothing into that. I always believed in keeping a mind open, that’s when you can learn. I don’t care how great they are, how good they are. I still got to keep my mind open for learning. Because, if you close it down, you cannot learn nothing. I always tell my musicians to not get so cocky. I try not to get cocky myself. I keep my mind open for different things, because you’ll learn something new everyday. So, it’s been a good ride, and I’m still in here, it ain’t over with yet!
KP – You’ve got a very good band, is it your regular band?
TJ – Oh yeah! The keyboard player, Ruf Rufner, plays with me on a regular basis. Russell Jackson, the bass player, he used to play with B.B. King. The drummer, Derrick D’Mare Martin, he plays with Little Richard from time to time. When I’m touring I use different musicians from different parts of the world. I fly them in, we meet up and so, things of that nature. But I got a steady band at home back in Texas that I use as well. They tour with me pretty much in the US. Like I said; who ever you’re working for, you have to keep in mind and focused on who you are doing the thing with. These musicians are qualified, they have been around, they understand. It’s not so hard to get some over to them, they are experienced. Who ever you’re working for, you have to keep in mind and focused on who you are doing the thing with. These musicians are qualified, they have been around, they understand. It’s not so hard to get some over to them, they are experienced. I just ask them to watch me, no matter how good they are. When you got guys like that, having the taste for it, it can be easy for you.
KP – You got this special blend with Blues and Soul Music on your shows.
TJ - Yeah! I mix it up. Otis Redding was one of my biggest influences. He and Johnny Taylor, of the soul singers. When I saw them, I thought they were the greatest artists, Sam Cooke as well. Coming from that school, you can’t miss it. Me and Johnny Taylor’s son Floyd Taylor are teaming up to do some things. So, I got the chance to meet some of the past artist’s children as well. I pay tribute to some of the greatest who are gone now. It’s up to us to keep the tradition going. They got to start recognizing the great talents that they do have. It’s about time now, don’t wait until I get 75 years old, to start for me to headline. Let me do it while I’m still young, not when I’m dead. In other words, show me the love now, give me the spot where I belong. I don’t have any disrespect for nobody out there, it’s nothing like that. But show me some respect now, they need to give it to us right now. That would help me to work more, I would appreciate it even more. Like I said, they wait until late in life to give us our credits. I love all of my fans, who ever they might be. I don’t care what color they are. Whatever, I make no difference.
KP – I believe that you contribute to the so called movement; ”Keeping the Blues alive”?
TJ – Some people need to realize that Blues is the real music. I’m not downing my Rap generation. But Blues, Country & Western and Gospel, that’s where it all comes from, that’s the foundation. We need to go back and see where it all started from. Whether it is good Blues, or sad Blues. You got all the shades of Blues, it doesn’t have to be a down and out blues. It can be a joyful blues too. Everybody has got a different feel about it, a different song about it. But is it the real thing? It’s got to be real, it’s the only way the Blues comes across. It got to be heard and developed, to its full course. It got to come from the heart, come from experiences, or from being around experience. We all have the Blues, we are all going through changes in life, with our relationships. When your woman is putting you down for a day or two, and won’t love you. When you’re trying to pay a car note, you got the blues. Whether you’re young or old, some kind of way, it’s still there.
People in the music business are getting all the Blues and things mixed up. They are taking hip-hop and start calling it R&B, things like that. Come on now, we used to have a place for it, but they’re taking it away from us. Why would they take away something we worked so hard for, and getting developed. And they start changing it! They can give me some hell, you know. I’m a black man, but I still feel good about it. Because I know that there’s going to be a turning point somewhere. I paid my dues, I’m still creditable. I stayed on highways and byways. I’ve slept in cars, when I couldn’t get a hotel room. A lot of them in younger generations, probably a lot younger than me. They don’t know where a due is paying, they don’t know what a due is. They just put their names so high on the mountains. Most of them haven’t even been down to see what it’s all about, paying the dues. My new CD “Inside out” will show you exactly where all shades of Blues are coming from, where it all comes from
KP – They got Blues festivals all over the world now. Even in China, India and the Middle East. Are there any other continents that you want to go to?
TJ - I want to go to China, Japan and things like that, if I’ll get that chance. I’ve had my opportunities to go, but I just didn’t make up my mind about going there. But I got records playing in Japan and China, I’ve got records playing all over the world. Some of my records are playing on TV specials. HBO specials, like “The mind of the married man”. My song “Just can’t leave your love alone”, from my “Staying Power” album. They used that for the theme song.
KP – Are there any highlights in your career, or anything additional, that you want to talk about?
TJ - I see the future and I don’t see it. Like I said, it’s not over yet. It’s too far for me to predict, but it looks bright. I believe that if I stay healthy enough and live to see it, the future is very bright for me. The only way it don’t look bright, is that they don’t open some doors for me. But I’ll keep on banging on them. I’m not hard to get alone with at all, it’s some of the people in the music business who make it hard. That’s why it makes some of us to just give up sometimes. But it’s not the artist all the time, like people say. It’s people in the business, the guys behind the desks. They rule the business and make it hard for us. And they want to blame it on the artist all the time. But it’s not us, it’s them! I’m the kind of guy, that if we make a deal, let’s do it. Don’t change on me, let’s do it and get it over with. I’m a straight up business man. If I tell you I’m coming, I am coming! If I ain’t, I’m man enough to tell you that I can’t do it. They always say that some artist is crazy, but it’s not the artist all the time. It’s the people in the business! And some people just don’t want to let the past go, for something new to develop. They have to let it go, or it won’t develop. We just need the people in the business to give us a chance! Cut out the bullshit and get the real people were they are supposed to be. Come forward and pay us, treat us right, and we don’t mind about getting out touring and sell records. We got mouths to feed, a family back at home. What happened in the past, it happened, but we got to go for the future
So, I just take day by day, step by step, with all the shows I do everywhere. It’s most about loving to play for the fans. If they want to come see me, I love to go and play for them! I got to keep my name alive. I’ve been out here over 40 years, and I’ve been playing since I was 3-4-5 years old. And I’ve been playing behind some of the greatest guys who brought this stuff here. It’s my turn, my time.
Me and Wayne Jackson from The Memphis Horns, we have become good friends. He’s playing on my “Inside out” CD. Just being around all them guys, who wrote a lot of hit songs, is like what I been waiting for a long time. And Wayne, he’s just been nominated for a Grammy Award, after all these years. Look at how many historical records these guys have been on. Andrew Love, the saxophone player, he barely got a chance to see the award before he died. They should have given it to him, soon after Stax Records closed down. They wait until you get old and grey. Come on, show me your love NOW!
I’ve been mentioned in some of the biggest history books. Guys have been writing about me in a lot of history books. Along with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Little Milton, my name is there, some kind of way. I do have a feeling that things will get better, but I don’t like to predict it. A lot of artists say they are great. They are not so great always, they just put their names out there. There are artists that they should be busy supporting, but they are not doing it. I should be a headliner all over the world somewhere. And sometimes I do, most of the time I headline
And I appreciate all the record companies who gave me a chance. Especially JSP with John Stedman, who was the first guy who gave me a break. Because I was trying to get a recording deal back at home. And a lot of guys were turning me away, though I had lots of talents. John Stedman was the guy who had the balls to sign me. So, I will always be grateful to him for that.
Text and photos by Krister Palais