Jon Paris

Biography by Richard Skelly

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New York City-based guitarist, bassist, singer/songwriter, and bandleader Jon Paris has long had a gift for singing and playing blues and blues-rock. He was raised in Milwaukee, a town famous for those…
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Artist Biography by Richard Skelly

Rock the Universe New York City-based guitarist, bassist, singer/songwriter, and bandleader Jon Paris has long had a gift for singing and playing blues and blues-rock. He was raised in Milwaukee, a town famous for those styles, and cut his teeth in a procession of area bands in the 1960s. But in recent years, Paris has branched out into jazz as well, through his long friendship with guitar legend and inventor Les Paul. Paul maintains a weekly residency at the Iridium jazz club in Manhattan, and for years before that, he performed a weekly residency at Fat Tuesday's, a now-closed jazz nightclub. Paris may be best known as a longtime sideman to Johnny Winter in his various trio groups during the 1980s and '90s, but in recent years Paris has launched his own successful solo career. He recorded Rock the Universe in 1996 for Fountainbleu Records and Blue Planet in 2004 for the New Jersey-based Blues Leaf Records label.

Paris began his performing career in high school, playing drums. By the time he had graduated from high school, Paris could play guitar, some bass, and harmonica, and found work filling in with various area bands, as Milwaukee had a vibrant club scene. Raised by parents who were both artists, Paris grew up thinking he'd be a commercial artist or a painter. But the music he heard on the radio in the '60s, by artists including Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, was all blues-based. He and his peers didn't realize right away that they were close to the blues center of the universe -- at least at that time -- Chicago, IL. Paris admitted it took British Invasion musicians like the Animals, the Rolling Stones, and Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac to turn Paris and his friends on to what was going on in Chicago. Soon, they turned their attention to the living blues musicians who were in Chicago who would come up to Milwaukee periodically to play. In his youth, Paris saw Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Big Walter "Shakey" Horton, Johnny Young, Big Joe Williams, and Magic Sam. Paris credits Magic Sam as a primary influence on his guitar playing. Paris and his various Milwaukee-area touring bands would play their own arrangements of classic blues by Muddy Waters, Little Walter Jacobs, Chuck Berry, and Eddie Cochran. Most notable among his many bands in Milwaukee before moving to New York City was a group he formed with Jim Solberg. Solberg later went on to tour with Luther Allison for many years and put out two albums under his own name in the 1990s.

Paris moved to New York City when he was in his early twenties, feeling as if he'd done everything and been everywhere on the Midwest club circuit. He followed his friend Stuffy Shmitt to New York, where Shmitt had secured a record deal. Paris began playing solo gigs and leading a blues jam at Broadway Charlie's, where he met Honeyboy Edwards, Sugar Blue, and the Uptown Horns in the mid-'70s. After that club closed, Paris moved his blues jam to Tin Palace, on the Bowery, not far from the legendary CBGB. There, he befriended Robert Gordon, who would come in with Link Wray. Gordon and Wray later contacted Paris about a European tour, in which Paris would play bass and Anton Fig would play drums. Paris toured Europe with Gordon and Wray in 1977 and 1978, when Gordon had a hit with "Red Hot." Paris found himself immersed in all the great rockabilly music that had been recorded years before by the likes of Gene Vincent, Johnny Burnette, and Elvis Presley with Scotty Moore.

After getting off the road from tours with Wray and Gordon, Paris met Johnny Winter in a club in Manhattan where Louisiana Red was playing. (Red was briefly married to folk-blues singer Odetta.) Paris explained to Winter that he played both bass and guitar and wrote his own songs. Paris gave Winter his number and a few days later Winter called, looking for a bass player for an upcoming U.S. tour. Fortunately for Paris, the long residency he'd had with his trio at the Tin Palace on the Bowery was ending, so he joined Winter on the road, playing bass and some harmonica. That continued up until about 1990. Paris has been pursuing his solo career since then, occasionally touring with the likes of George Thorogood and Mick Taylor. In his time in New York City, Paris has backed a short who's who in the world of blues and blues-rock, including Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, Hubert Sumlin, Elvin Bishop, Phoebe Snow, Percy Sledge, and Big Jay McNeely. His sessionography includes work with Johnny Winter, Bob Dylan, Ron Wood, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, and John Hiatt, and he's shared the stage with most of his heroes, from B.B. King to Freddie King to Luther Allison to John Mayall. In addition to the aforementioned releases under his own name, Paris can be heard on a slew of recordings by Johnny Winter.