Brothers will be strutting stuff at the Three Tuns
THE soul bug first bit sax player Stevie Jones when he was a teenager. While his schoolmates were listening to
THE soul bug first bit sax player Stevie Jones when he was a teenager. While his schoolmates were listening to Nineties bands like Oasis and Blur, he was rifling through his dad’s vintage vinyl collection and playing Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Now, after 10 years’ playing as a session musician, the 34-year-old from Friday Street has fulfilled his dream by setting up a jazz funk band, Brother Strut, who will play one of their first gigs at the Three Tuns as part of the Henley Jazz and Blues Week later this month.
For Jones, playing live music is an acquired skill and a passion — and he is quick to point out that Brother Strut is the complete antidote to TV reality shows like The Voice and the X Factor.
He said: “There’s a huge element of narcissism now — of wanting attention more than wanting to be the best you can be as a musician. Those TV shows are only interested in telling a story and the music, the art, takes second place to that.
“Artists like Bob Dylan or Marvin Gaye used to write about relevant cultural issues. Most modern pop songs are really about nothing because it’s a safe thing to sell. It’s the McDonald’s of music and there’s a lot of that. There are still people writing and recording great songs but you have to look harder to find them.”
Stevie launched the band in April this year by getting together with five other top session musicians at Metropolis Studios in London.
That first session was so successful they recorded 11 tracks for their album and produced a film clip which they launched on Facebook. They now have 5,500 fans on the social networking site.
While Jones himself has played with soul singer Elkie Brooks since 2004, his bandmates’ credits read like a Who’s Who of the rock world. Between them they have played with Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Madonna, Elton John, Sting, George Michael, Robbie Williams, Tina Turner, Christina Aguilera and Amy Winehouse.
On November 17, Jones will be joined by two other members of Brother Strut — Frankie Tontoh on drums and guitarist Otha Smith — with guest vocalist Sam Turner for a free gig at the Three Tuns in Henley’s Market Place.
The night is part of Brakspear’s Jazz and Blues Week, which takes place across eight Henley pubs and nine others in surrounding villages.
Stevie said: “Officially, it’s not our first gig — it’s just some of us getting together for a sweaty and informal backroom jam.
“It will be fun in its own way though. None of us are going to rehearse — it’s a case of just turning up and playing.
“In my opinion it’s going to be the most fun night of the whole week — but then I would say that!”
Jones’ love of music started as a young child, when his mother Janie encouraged him to take up the violin. But when his dad Grahame played him Grover Washington Jr’s 1975 jazz album Mister Magic his love of music moved into a different direction.
He said: “That album definitely planted the seed. I wanted to play the saxophone from then on, and that’s how it ended up after some persistence and annoying my parents.
“I remember one summer I started teaching myself a few things and then I started lessons with a guy called Otto Zalepnik. He would teach me for far longer than he was being paid for and was a massive influence, so I named one of the songs on the album after him.”
Jones grew up in Sandhurst and during his teenage years he continued exploring his dad’s music collection and became a fan of Fifties rock ‘n’ roll.
From there, he discovered soul artists like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye, all of whom he still counts among his favourites.
He said: “I didn’t listen to mainstream music when I was growing up. I was more into the records that my dad owned.
“I’ve always loved music that dates back to before I was born because it feels more ‘real’. You needed to have musical ability so you had to have grown up playing in bands, working the crowds and learning your craft that way.
“I love pretty much all of the black American music from the Sixties and the early Seventies — which doesn’t seem appropriate for a white guy from Henley!”
His parents took him regularly to the Blues Tavern in Farnham, which was run by former Moody Blues and Wings guitarist Denny Laine. Here, he watched musicians like Ringo Starr’s son Zak Starkey and The Who’s late bassist John Entwistle jamming together.
He said: “I remember we’d go down there on Tuesday nights when I was young. Denny lived there in a caravan round the back of the bar. It was absolutely incredible, a real hotbed of musical talent, but I didn’t fully appreciate that at the time.”
Jones moved to Newcastle to study music production and marketing and came to Henley in 2000 when he started a marketing job at the Henley Business School, then called Henley Management College. Two years later he hired a manager to help launch his music career and in 2004 he was invited to play saxophone for Elkie Brooks. He has played with her every year since then. The singer, now 68, still keeps a busy schedule almost 40 years after the release of her first LP Rich Man’s Woman. Jones will play for her on the Paul O’Grady Show next month.
Stevie said: “I just think she is phenomenal. In terms of vocal talent there are very few people anywhere near as good as she is.”
As well as playing sax and keyboards, Jones is a successful songwriter. He wrote two songs for Kim Wilde’s album Snapshots in 2011, and he has written most of the songs on Brother Strut’s debut album, The First Strut Is The Deepest.
Henley singer Megan Henwood co-wrote four of the songs with him, and also contributed guest vocals to one track, as did John James Newman, who has a recording studio in the town and regularly performs at Magoos in Hart Street.
Jones said: “Megan and I have been writing together for about four years so I wanted to bring her on board for this.
“She is such an amazing songwriter and I hope she will stay with us for the next album.”
Having collectively worked with so many celebrities, he said there was plenty of gossip between him and his bandmates.
“We had a night like that when we had our first photo session at the Three Tuns,” he said.
“We were all swapping stories of the famous people we’d worked with and I’m sure there will be plenty more when we’re out on the road.
“I’m afraid I won’t be spilling the beans, though. There aren’t any anecdotes I’d care to repeat!”
First Strut Is The Deepest, which costs £9.99, will be available on Amazon from November 18. Find out more at www.brotherstrut.com and visit www.henleystandard.co.uk to watch the band in action.
Meanwhile, to catch them playing live check out their free jam session at the Three Tuns in Market Place on Sunday, November 17.