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Exclusive Interview with Ben Jones

Billy Grima

About Ben Jones

Why country music ?
~ The great Louis Armstrong said, “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.” It all comes from the people and we filter it through our culture. I grew up hearing a lot of Southern music of all kinds….honky-tonk, bluegrass, gospel, traditional, rockabilly, blues, and rhythm and blues. When that music comes through me and my groove, well, if folks want to call it “country music”, then that’s cool. I just call it Southern music.

If everything would be possible (waking the dead included) , which two people should sing the ultimate country duet?
~ How about George Jones and Patsy Cline?? Two different styles but if they could have found a way to blend their remarkable voices, it would have been astonishing.

If you could start all over again, but you could only go for one of the following 3 careers what would it be and why: Actor, politician or singer?
~ Well, if I had to do only one thing I would go even crazier than I already am. I have dozens of interests and pursue them all. But I guess if somebody put an AK-47 to my head and insisted I do one thing, it would be singing. Politics is an important task, but it is difficult and frustrating. Acting is a passion of mine, but good roles are few and far between. Writing is something else I do a lot of, and I enjoy it. But singing always makes me feel great. That’s the simple reason God created music, I guess. It makes us feel better when we do it, and it makes us feel better when we hear really good music. I reckon I am a jack of all trades and a master of none. But I’m still workin’ on it….

Who would you like to write a song for you?
~ My friend David Olney down in Nashville is the equal of any songwriter, and he wrote “Redneck Boy in the Promised Land” for me. Dave has written songs for people like Emmy Lou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Del McCoury. I’m a big fan of Tom T. Hall’s writing, too.

Whisky wine beer or water?
~ Back in the day, I drank enough liquor to float the Atlantic fleet. So it was all of the above, and a lot of stuff you didn’t ask about. But these days it is Green tea with ginseng and honey, and it gets me where all that booze couldn’t. I gave up my rough and rowdy ways in 1977 and since then I’ve been swimming in gravy.

What do you consider the most important change in country music during your life and what are your thoughts about it?
~ Well, it has been a big change, but not a good one. A lot of the greatest country artists have been crowded out of the market by something which is called “hot young country” and is geared for “twenty-something” suburban kids. And these “artists” have managers and consultants who tell them how to dress, how to act, what to sing, how to sing it, and who they are going to sing it with. So it lacks authenticity, which is what country music has always been about. These bubblegum folks pretty much all sound alike and the guys wear ridiculous leather “cowboy” hats that no “good ol’ boy” would be caught dead with. And great American treasures like Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Loretta Lynn are hardly ever heard on the big stations anymore. So the biggest change recently has been the takeover of Nashville by the sensibilities and attitudes of Hollywood and New York. And most of this music really sucks.
So there are a whole lot of us hoping that this trend will reach a point of diminishing returns and will just diminish completely, so we can get back to the real stuff.

Describe the ultimate recording studio (not the technique but the facilities)
~ To me, the recording studio is all about the people and the atmosphere, the ambience and the attitude. If everybody is loose and happy and ready to make work into play, then usually the results are going to be good.

Johnny or June ?
~ Well, they were so important to each other that it is hard to separate them. She actually had the longer career, and it was very diverse. But Johnny was a force of nature, a major singer/songwriter of course, but also a man who was influential in a moral way, for he set a standard of ethical behavior in the way he did his business. And when Johnny sang, we heard the voice of hard earned gravitas. He had a powerful and positive presence.

Are you still nervous before going on stage and if so, do you use any “rituals” to calm you nerves.
~ When I was a young actor, I used to spit on the stage before a show, to establish the sort of perspective that says, “this ain’t brain surgery.” But after a few thousand performances, I realized that the stage is my home, and it is where I want to be. So rather than feeling nervous, I feel a great sense of comfort now.

What was the most memorable day in your musical career and tell us why.
~ It was a get-together of the whole “Dukes of Hazzard” cast on the stage of the Nashville Palace with an overflow crowd that was going crazy with joy and excitement.
“Cooter’s Garage Band” was cookin’, and I think we all agreed that it was one of those moments that as performers we live for and always want to happen again. It’s a rare thing when a standing ovation lasts through the entire performance!

Cooters in Nashville

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