Johnny Jones

1956-1966: The Session Years

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A talented Tennessee blues/R&B guitarist who played with giants like Junior Wells, Freddie King, and Bobby "Blue" Bland, Johnny Jones never made a high-profile name for himself, in part because he wasn't a singer. He did record with some bands, however, and this 24-track compilation is almost equally divided between work he did as part of the Jimmy Beck Orchestra (in the 1950s) and the Imperial Seven (in the '60s). The lack of original release information (including dates) on this anthology makes it kind of hard to assess how good a job this CD does of functioning as an overview of Jones' work during the period, however. The liner notes aren't at all clear as to who the credited artist was on all of these cuts, and it's important to note that at least some of these were actually billed to entirely different acts upon their initial release, especially as the Jimmy Beck Orchestra was a studio group for the Calvert, Champion, and Cherokee labels. As for what's here, the Jimmy Beck Orchestra sides are just adequate '50s R&B with some flashes of rock & roll, with vocals variously taken by Gene Allison, Earl Gaines, Larry Birdsong, Charles Walker, and Christine Kittrell. Jones asserts himself more on the generally more impressive Imperial Seven sides, playing in a blues-rock style somewhat similar to Freddie King (especially on "Crazy About You Baby") on more modern-style tunes with a considerably more soulful grit. Again various singers -- including Earl Gaines (again), Rudy Greene, Levert Allison, Sam Baker, and even (as spoken narrator) famed Nashville DJ "John R" Richbourg" -- take vocals. There's a Jimi Hendrix connection to the Imperial Seven tracks in that Billy Cox, who played in Hendrix's bands in 1969 and 1970, is on bass, while Larry Lee, who briefly played in Hendrix's band with Cox in 1969, is on rhythm guitar. Indeed Jones sounds a bit like Hendrix does on the latter's pre-fame recordings -- bluesy and a little raw, and not as into a pure blues bag as some of his peers, though Jones of course wouldn't evolve like Hendrix did. The two final cuts are live instrumental recordings from the mid-'60s syndicated television show THE !!!! BEAT [sic].

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