Tempo Blues Booking Agency  Past Tours

Joe Jonas Texas Bluesman
“I Was the One Who Was Drawn to the Clubs”

by Scott M. Bock, Living Blues Magazine January/February 2006

As he nears 70, Joe Jonas’ voice remains rich, crystal clear, and powerful. His years of gigging and the deep emotional charge that escapes though his music places him in that increasingly rare category of “must hear” vocalist.

Joe has been struggling to be heard almost since birth. His life wasn’t easy. His father’s brutal rule could have left him broken. And his early experience recalls the classic struggle between church and the devils music.

Still music was always in his life in one form or other – a grandfather that Joe heard about but never met played boogie-woogie; the family’s church was filled with singing; and there were many, many nightclubs to be discovered in his hometown of Beaumont, Texas.

In the end, the desire to become his own man drove him to sing and play a wide variety of instruments ranging from harmonica and piano to the congas. In the 1960’s so not to be confused with other artists, Joe decided to change his name from Jones to Jonas.

Joe played briefly with both Clifton Chenier and Clarence Garlow as a young man. He later recorded some 45s under his own name that received little or no distribution. As the years have gone by, he has chosen to work a day job while playing with local Texas bands when gigs are available.

His baritone voice is more Joe Turner than gutbucket blues and his harp playing tends toward loping Louisiana swam blues. It’s not conventional, but it works.

No national labels have ever sought him out but Joe perseveres and has released three CDs on local labels ands ells them from the stage. With a warm and commanding presence and a great memory for details, Joe enjoyed the chance to tell his story.


“I’m Joseph Jones. I grew up in Beaumont, Texas. That’s off of I-10 and 69, between Port Arthur and Houston. They called it the Golden Triangle.

In Beaumont, there was smoke – gas burnoff from the oil fields, the trucks runnin’ in and out of the oil stations, the ships coming in to the grain elevator. You almost have to paint (houses) twice a year because of the acid.”

“Spindletop was the first gusher that came in (oil), but we pay as high gas prices as anybody (laughs) but that’s where it came from.”

“I was just trying to maker a living. I didn’t know all of the (other musicians). I’d sit in (with bands) and decided to form my own operation. I started with a guitar player and did private parties.”

While in Dallas, Joe also got to know country star Ray Winkler. “I was working with Rolls Royce and the Wheels in the 60s after I married. I met Ray and there was so many Jones he suggested (I) change my name. So, I’m Joseph Jones, AKA Joe Jonas. This is the way my passport and everything comes. That’s how Jonas came in”.

Joe eventually spent some time in California where he got to work for a weekend playing piano with Pee Wee Crayton, Lowell Fulsom, and Jimmy McCracklin. He eventually took a job with General Electric in Oakland and worked a club there for about six months.

Now, thirty-nine, Joe was ready to try recording and hooked up with McCraklin who got him into a studio to record several of Joe’s songs including Blue Soul and Life Was Cold. Joe heard the tapes and was pleased with the results. He was soon injured badly on his job and left the masters with McCracklin who was owed money. The recordings went nowhere. Although Joe has been told that these 45s have been for sale on e-bay, he has never seen them.

Tragically, in 1983, Joe’s son in law shot Joe’s former wife, and several others before killing himself. Joe moved back to Dallas in order to provide some support for his daughter. He took a job with the City driving a special education bus.

While back in Dallas, he soon found himself playing music again with musicians he knew. The band worked together under several names – S.S.T for Supersonic Transport, the Soul Creators, and the Wailers.

With help from old friend, Ray Winkler, Joe released the CD, Hog Wild for the Blues in 1998. The following year, he fronted a band that played the notorious Huntsville Prison. The recording, Juke at the Joint was released in 2000. Joe still marvels at the experience since he spent six weeks in jail as a teenager for underage drinking in a nightclub – something he says he didn’t do. Joe recounts being jailed and shackled. Had it not been for some timely help from a kindly employer, he would have ended up on a van to Huntsville.

By 2002, a third recording, Blue Soul was released. On this CD, Joe rerecorded some of the music he worked on for McCracklin. The CD featured much of his own writing and one straight gospel tune that took him back to his childhood.

“I was in the outskirts in a shotgun house – a part of Beaumont called the Pear Orchard. I was born in 1937.”

“My dad (did) yard work and stuff like that. He finally got on with the railroad and he retired from Southern Pacific. Mom’s work was at home with the children”.

“She spoke French Cajun and Indian fluently. (My dad and his family) come out of Baton Rouge and the Elton area.”

“My grandfather was an old Indian – Glaston was his name. That was mother’s daddy. He was a medicine man. He would hobo the tracks. He’d come to Beaumont to stay as long as it took to make his medicine ad that would give mom and dad time to go and eat or visit some family while he would baby-sit us.”

“He dug herbs, roots and, being the Indian part of our family, the head of the family, that’s what he did. He was part Choctaw.”

“My grandfather on my dad’s side is where I think I got my musical abilities from. I found out that he was a barrelhouse piano player. He played through Louisiana and Mississippi.”

“Of eight living children, I was the one who was drawn to the clubs. (But) my dad kept me depressed or suppressed – whatever you want to call it – from the music. My dad tried to beat the music out of me – or the devil – whatever you want to call it. At 12 or 13 I was workin’ in the clubs. I think I was 16 when I went on my first trip from Louisiana to Lamont, Texas with Clifton Chenier.” (Laughs)

Joe’s father didn’t know that when he was away working for the railroad, Joe’s mother would send Joe out to make money sorely needed by the family. The experience gave him a taste of the street and club life.

“My mom would make popcorn balls, she would make individual pies, she used to parch peanuts, and a nigger in a blanket. That was another form of potato pie. Momma made crescent shaped potato pies with sweet potato in the middle and they called that nigger in a blanket. And where I was going to sell them was on the streets.”

“We had reached our (credit) limit at the local grocery store. We couldn’t get anything else and we needed money. My brothers and sisters were older than I was but she would trust me to go out on the streets at night.”

“I would go around the clubs, I’d walk the streets and over to the military school. I had little accounts for people who didn’t have enough money. I’d write the name down and come back next time and get the money and bring it to momma.

I did this for two years and I don’t know if daddy ever knew it because he would tear my ass up about being out at night.”

Meanwhile, church was at the center of Joe’s family life. “We were Southern Baptists – blue collar church people. It was the Starlight Baptist Church. On Sunday, we were in church from 8 until noon; go home, eat, and come back again until 6 or 7 that evening. But everyday you had something to do at church.”

The recurring theme of Joe’s father limiting Joe’s life to church and home began to wear thin early for Joe. To this day, he gets emotional when he talks about the pain he felt as he tried to explore sports and music.

“Daddy didn’t want us to play sports. I had a scholarship in football. The coach came to the house and said, “Mr. Jones, I want to talk wit you about your son. He’s good in sports and I got a scholarship for him.” My dad said, “Well if you want him to go and play sports, you raise him.” That’s the kind of man my dad was.”

“(When) I found out I wasn’t going to play football, I joined the band. I was 15. I was bass tuba, second trombone and upright bass in the band. He found out I was doing that and that was a no-no.”

“So I starting singing in the choral group. I figured out then that that was it. I wanted what I wanted and it wasn’t a sin, and it wasn’t denying him his glory.”

“My auntie had a piano – the one that raised my dad. She owned a restaurant – made barbeque links – and I’d stay around there and help her. I’d mix the fixing for the links and stuff and go to the market and help her so I could play on the piano. That was in the late 50s.”

“She had a baby grand in there and I would wear myself out. I was playing boogie-woogie. I got it by ear.”

“I had a piano in my house but I had to play the church music. We didn’t (even) have 45s, didn’t have a record player. All we had was an old radio. My dad didn’t want none of that in the house.”

“I prayed for mother’s mission group whenever they’d come to the house. Whenever she would leave home, the piano was locked. I couldn’t play it. The neighbors on both sides would tell her when she came home.”

“(But), there was a guy in school by the name of Roosevelt Dixon and he played piano. He and I decided to get to his house. His mother was a single woman raising him and when she would go to work, we would get in there on the piano. So we got 12 songs down real good.”

“Then (Roosevelt) said what we were going to do after church. “ We gonna walk around Buford street to Irving street.” We walked around one part of the street where the Raven club was and that was the hottest club on the south side of town in Beaumont. Go around the back and peep in the hole and just watch. We was having a ball. It had a nice stage – a big stage about three feet high.”

From that night on, Joe snuck out with his friend regularly on weekends and heard all kinds of music in this area. His sister would let him in through a window when he returned home.

The black side of town was the south side of Beaumont and music was played in segregated clubs. At fifteen, Joe remembers seeing Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker, Ray Charles, Johnny Ace, and Clyde McPhatter. Joe says there were many other artists he can no longer remember.

“One weekend we went around and this place was packed. No band. I don’t know what happened, why the band didn’t show.”

“ It was M.C. Carter who owned the club. We knew his sons and we asked him, “Can we go in and play for the people?” He say, “You not of age.” We said, “We just going to be on the stage. We not going to drink nothing.” So he let us in and behold, we held the joint.

“I was singing. Roosevelt was playing the piano and I had my harmonica. We done about 12 songs. If we had to, we’d do ‘em over again. We didn’t know anything about taking a break. He’d come up and say, “That’s enough for now.”

A cousin taught Joe how to play harmonica when he was nine. He began with nursery rhymes and, although Joe struggled to learn to play the instrument, he stuck with it and it’s the instrument he has chosen to continue to play today.

Harp playing led to a surprise meeting with Sonny Boy Williamson (Alec Miller).
“Sonny Boy, he came through back in the 40s. He was at the Raven. Something happened to his harmonicas and I think M.C. told him I know a boy that blow harmonica. And they brought him to our house on Sherman Street. They knocked on the door and daddy answered the door and he wanted to know if he could borrow one. So daddy called me and asked me, “Did I want to loan that man a harmonica?” I said, “Yes, but can I go?” He said, “No”.”

“(Sonny Boy said), “Ill give you some money and I’ll bring it back”. I think it was three dollars and I never got it back and I didn’t get to hear him play (laughs)”.

“(Around this time) I had to get a job. I had to go to work, come home at 7 in the morning, get changed, get ready and go to school. (So) I quit school in 11th grade.”

“And I got into something that could have taken me to a hanging tree or tar or whatever. It was romantic. It wasn’t robbing or stealing. I’ll just put it like that. So (my family) engineered a way to get me out of town.”

“I went to Elton (Louisiana) and stayed on the farm and helped with sugarcane, corn, watermelon, hogs, whatever. I decided I wasn’t going to stay in Louisiana. I wanted to play music and I went back to the shotgun house on Sherman Street.”

Joe quickly put together a band with Roosevelt Dixon. They worked Pappy’s Showland in Beaumont and a few small clubs between Beaumont and Part Arthur.

“We was doing boogie-woogie; we was doing Fats Domino, Smokey Robinson; we was doing B.B. King and Charles Brown we could hear. And I was the vocalist.”

“There was a man in town had a showboat on the Naches River and that’s where I got to start really playing with Clifton (Chenier). Clifton would come to play the showboat and I would play harmonica and I built and old tub bass. And we worked that showboat for about a month until it sank. We would go about 20 miles down the Naches River and then come back.”

“I think Washboard Sam played drums back then. I think Cleveland (Chenier) was with him one weekend. My dad let me go from Baton Rouge to Lamont, Texas.”

“Clifton – to me – was the stature of a man, “cause I was young. I was skinny. Clifton told you, “This is what we’re going to do. This is the way it’s going to be.”
Clifton was a well respected man by everybody that I knew.”

“(After Clifton) I got in with Clarence Garlow – singing and blowing harmonica. He played guitar. He had a lot of comic about him – his speech and how he carried himself. He would really get the people into what he was doing. He had radio shows down in Beaumont that he did.”

Joe’s work in his own band of brief experience with Chenier and Garlow likely sealed his fate as a bluesman. By the age of 20, Joe found himself in Dallas where he knew no one had no money. In his two years there, he survived by picking up odd jobs and singing in at a club where the owner would give him dinner after he sang.

Joe moved back and forth between Dallas and Beaumont. He married and had children but the marriage was difficult from the start. He worked as a bus boy, did construction, and found gigs in Dallas. For one extended period, his gigs consisted of Joe singing and playing congas solo.

Joe was gaining notice and was invited to play gigs in England and Germany and was part of a few harmonica rumbles set up by Texas-based record labels. He also appeared on the CD, Last of the Texas Bluesmen for Top Cat Records.

Joe began having trouble with his right leg in 1995 and left his job. After going through knee replacement surgery, he decided to focus on his music full-time. He spent months writing songs and worked with a band called Best kept Secret. His work with the band lasted until 2004. He hasn’t fronted a regular band since.

“I’m available for front jobs. I’m not going to take on the responsibility of taking on a group. If somebody need a front line person – any kind of material, pay me for what I do. I do blues, ballads, I can do jazz. This is the first time I’ve been able to focus on my music in my life from the time I left my home town.”

Though he has played everything from piano, congas, trombone, guitar, bass, and harmonica, he has settled on singing and playing harmonica. With another knee replacement and another brief time off, Joe found himself playing the 2005 King Biscuit Festival and an acoustic gig in Massachusetts with Dallas friend, Hash Brown.

These days, Joe looks stylish with his new carved and painted cane and a ponytail that his kids told him he wouldn’t be able to grow. “I’ve been the clean head man since the 60’s. Something told me to do a ponytail.”

Joe is looking forward to more traveling. He’s working on new songs and he says he has a boxful he’d like to record. “I have lots of lyrics. My ideas are something anybody could relate to. I try and do things that are truthful in my lyrics. A lot of things you do in life make you reflect and remember and that comes into your being. A lot of it comes when I’m laying up sleeping – words, melodies.”

As he wrapped up his Boston show, several friendly women stopped by to visit. Joe politely responded to their questions and turned down the offer of a nightcap. He then decided he wanted to make a last comment for the record. “I’m not married and I’m not looking (laughs)”.
Joe Jonas