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How I Was Inspired To Play the Blues – by Singer Paul Jones 

Published on: 10 Aug, 2021
Updated on: 11 Aug, 2021

Paul Jones, bottom left, with the band. Picture by Judy Totton

By David Reading

Paul Jones and Georgie Fame – two legends of the blues and jazz scene for almost 60 years – will be sharing the stage at G Live on Thursday, November 4th.

Billed as an evening of rhythm ‘n’ blues nostalgia, the show will feature Paul Jones’s band the Manfreds with a line-up that includes original members Mike D’Abo, Tom McGuinness and Mike Hugg.

We put ten questions to Paul on a variety of topics – from his early inspirations, his memories as a performer and life during the pandemic.

Musicians sometimes say there was one record that proved to be an epiphany inspiring them to take up music. Was there one record that inspired you in such a way, and do you recall the effect it had on you when you first heard it?

Like thousands of others, I was inspired by Lonnie Donegan’s recording of “Rock Island Line” to do music as a hobby. But I was inspired to do it for a living by a recording called “Play On, Little Girl” by American bluesman T-Bone Walker, featuring a harmonica player called Junior Wells. I was in Plymouth, in a shop named Pete Russell’s Hot Record Store, and Pete played me the album “T-Bone Blues”. I bought it, and immediately went to a music shop and bought a harmonica. 

What was the first live performance you attended as a young man?

The first one I remember was hearing the great blues pianist Memphis Slim in a club in Paris. I must have been about 16

Your skill as a harmonica player is often praised. What made you take up the harmonica?

As I mentioned, my initial motivation was the Chicago bluesman Junior Wells. What made me keep at it was Brian Jones (of the Rolling Stones) explaining how to play blues on a diatonic harmonica. Hearing the great Little Walter was a further inspiration.

Looking back over the years, are there any particular memories as a performer and recording artist that stand out above the rest?

There was one very special night at G Live in Guildford. I had been raising money for charities at Cranleigh Arts Centre for about ten years, sometimes persuading people like Eric Clapton or Van Morrison to take part. But then we decided to go for a larger place to enable us to raise more money. The audience at G Live one night in early January 2018 gasped (and in some cases screamed) at the sight of Eric and Van Morrison and Tom Jones – all on the same stage on the same evening.

What would your Mastermind subject be?

Harmonica heroes, of course! The Mastermind people asked me to write them a set of questions about ‘blues harmonica’ practitioners, so I did. The contestant didn’t win. 

Approaching 80, do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?

Yes. I want to make an album I really like. 

People sometimes remark how amazingly young you look. And yet you must find life as a performer relentless and tiring. How do you cope?

I don’t find life as a performer relentless and tiring. When I do, I’ll stop and do something else. 

Playing with Georgie Fame must be a thrill for both of you. How did it transpire that you are now performing together?  

I don’t know if it’s as much of a thrill for him as it is for me, but I’ve admired him and loved his work since the 60s. For years I’ve been asking him to consider being our guest on one of our tours, and then he finally did, the year before last. He must have enjoyed it to be doing it again.

How have you coped during the pandemic?  

In the first lockdown, I did a great deal of work in the garden and my wife and I went for lots of walks. With all our gigs cancelled, I wasn’t doing any music, but I did do masses of online stuff for (almost) everyone who asked – and that was a lot of people!

I also set to work on a compilation album of my history in the blues. It’s still not ready for release. My wife and I have each had two vaccinations. Covid (or anything else that one might wish hadn’t happened) can be an unmitigated tragedy, and for anyone in that place I have only compassion.

But many of my friends tell me they have used the time to make changes, both minor and major. One even said that lockdown made him completely overhaul the way he lived. 

People who have a strong Faith have told me that their belief influences all areas of life. Could you tell me how your own Faith inspires you as a musician and performer?

Faith is trust. When I decided to trust in my own talent, intelligence or determination, I was skating on thin ice – and sometimes fell through. But those who have decided to trust in God know He will never leave us nor forsake us, and what we do is for His glory, not our own. 

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