Interview: Dean Jones (Dog on Fleas)

Dean_Rhys_2_lowres.jpgDean Jones is a busy man. Member of the great and earthy kids band Dog On Fleas, he's also got a solo career in his own right (witness the excellent lullaby disk Napper's Delight), produces others' disks (the upcoming album from Uncle Rock), and sometimes plays with the Felice Brothers. (He also sometimes plays "John Lemon" to his son's Paul McCartney -- see picture to left.)

In spite of Jones' many obligations, he still had time to answer a few questions about his musical background, what it was like to record his new album Rock Paper Scissors with the Felice Brothers, and his favorite instruments.

Zooglobble: What are your earliest musical memories? What are your memories of learning to play and sing music?
Dean Jones: I come from a pretty musical family. There was always someone playing the piano, and I remember fighting for my chance to make some noise on it. My Mom used to sing to me when I was little, and sometimes now I hear some random song and a memory floods back to me of her singing it to me.

My brother (11 years older) was my biggest musical influence. He played a lot of boogie woogie on the piano, as well as the Beatles, the Band, and that kind of thing. I used to hide in the closet when he got home from school and listen to him play. We listened to a lot of great music around the house too, from the Esso Trinidad Steel Band to Bach to Ella Fitzgerald. My brother took me to see Ella and she kissed me on the cheek!

When did you decide to become a musician?

I think I always wanted to be a musician, but at times I tried not to be. That was impossible. I quit touring for a while back when the clubs were so smoky, and we had a couple of car accidents in the band I was in. But then I realized that there are SO MANY OTHER KINDS OF GIGS AND AUDIENCES!

With Dog on Fleas, did you have a particular musical philosophy you and the band were expressing?
I've had a bunch of bands over the years, a couple of them with John Hughes, the Fleas' bass player/singer. All of these bands have felt similar in their approach to making music. I feel like the philosophy is: here we are in this room, let's create something. The Fleas have changed members over the years, but everyone involved has always been gung ho to try anything. I get inspired to write songs by the people I'm playing with, like the way Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus have drawn on the strengths of their musicians. Also, we are just enthralled by kids!! I think we are mostly interested in the transfer of energy; recieving that joyous kid energy and hopefully giving back something to inspire them and maybe make them dance too.

How did you meet and come to play with the Felice Brothers, and how did the idea of "Rock Paper Scissors" the album come about?
I met the brothers through my friend Peter Buettner a few years ago. He called me up to do some recording with them, and I think we've played on all their records since then. I have such a great time recording with them because they are just looking for something raw and sincere, and they don't care about playing all the right notes. I was driving one day last year, listening to their latest CD and a little light went off in my head. I had some songs that I had been writing that just seemed so right for them to play. And once it came into my head I wrote about 30 more songs!!

Was recording "Rock Paper Scissors" as much a party as it sounds like on disk?
It was pretty darn fun. We did 2 days of recording in their chicken coop/studio. There are 3 doors to the studio, and it was tough to get everybody in the room at the same time, because one or another of them was always disappearing, and then somebody else would go to find them, and... A comedy of errors.

But they were so fun to record with, and willing to try anything. I lost my voice early on the first day, because it was loud and rowdy!!! I had to resing most of it later. I also recorded a bunch of songs for the record with a band called Earmight. We've been playing together for years and years, usually way out jazz improv stuff. We drank expensive wine and ate exotic foods to capture a different feel from the Felice Brothers sessions.

Dean_Rhys_2_lowres.jpgIs the entire Woodstock musical community as supportive as it sounds like the kids music contingent is?
Well, I guess I don't consider myself quite in Woodstock. We are nearby, and somewhat connected, but this whole Hudson Valley is quite a scene. Yeah, I think I could get on the phone, or e-mail right now and get about 50 great musicians to do a parade in my town, just on a whim. There are so many creative people in many mediums who are happy to help other artists realize their visions. There's probably some mean, nasty people too, but who needs 'em?

What is your favorite musical instrument?
Trombone is my favorite to play. But I have so many favorites. I really love the sound of the imzad, a one-stringed fiddle from North Africa, and all its brother and sister instruments.

What's next for you?
I'm finishing recording Uncle Rock's new CD, which is lots of fun, and due early next year. I'm going to record John Hughes' first solo CD. He's such a genius, but this CD is probably not for kids. I am working on some videos for the new CD. I'm writing music for a shadow/multi-media show by the Cave Dogs. (check out my new video for "Isthmus be the Pirate Waltz" by Cave Dog Jim Fossett) And I have an idea to collaborate with some of my writerly friends and a brass band I play with; music with stories, kind of along the lines of Laurie Anderson, or Marvin Pontiac.