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”
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
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
“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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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
“ 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
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
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
“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
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
“(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
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
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
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 –
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)”.