OkayPrayer: The Spirit Speaks Through The Jones Family Singers [Album Premiere + Interview]
The Jones Family Singers - The Spirit Speaks (Okayplayer Premiere)
“The roots of the “Hard Gospel” style of the Jones Family can be traced to the beginning of the 20th century, when slave songs became “shout songs.” After the Pentecostal movement of Holy Ghost soul possession was born on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906, churchgoers spoke in tongues, rolled in the aisles and clapped their hands in sanctified percussion. Musical instruments, once considered the tools of the devil, were used to punctuate the testimony and wild, foot-stomping dances broke out at will. This was the roots of rock “n’ roll.”
- Michael Corcoran, from the liner notes to The Spirit Speaks.
One hundred and eight years later, we are still figuring out what happened in that little church on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Many argue, as Michael Corcoran does, that along with Pentecostalism, rock n’ roll was born in that storefront church. Call it the Holy Spirit, call it energy, call it a good time. We can argue about what to call it, but we all recognize when it comes. As anyone with eyes to see can plainly witness, the Jones Family Singers got it. And we are lucky they share it outside of the walls of the church that claim them as their own. Their new record, The Spirit Speaks finds them branching out from the footstomping Pentecostal two-beat and into funk and soul. Like many gospel groups, this exploration comes with a mixture of trepidation and confidence. The combination creates a kind of joy that is hard to find in contemporary music. Okayplayer is proud to host the online debut of the new album with this full audio stream of The Spirit Speaks, due out April 1st, 2014 via Arts+Labor. Rev. Vince Anderson, musician, pastor and author of our semi-regular dirty gospel column, OkayPrayer, spoke with Bishop Fred Jones, and Fred Jones Jr. of the Jones Family Singers to introduce us to the singers behind the audible spirit. Stream the album below and scroll down to read their conversation.
Okayplayer: Is it springtime in Texas?
Bishop Fred Jones: For the most part. The weather changes day after day. In fact, not the next day, but the same day.
OKP: I really enjoyed the record. I hear a lot contemporary gospel influences, like Tye Tribbett or Deitrick Haddon, but with a more traditional sound and production. Where do you find yourself drawing from? What are your musical and production inspirations?
Fred Jones, Jr.: I listen to Mary Mary and Kirk Franklin but I also listen to a lot of old school quartets like the Mighty Clouds of Joy. What I try to do is fuse the two, try to get the best of both worlds and then bring my own style to it as well. The way I look at it, there is a variety of different people out there, and I’d like our music to reach all of them.
OKP: Can you tell us what Sunday mornings at Mount Zion Church of God In Christ in Markham, TX look like?
BFJ: Sunday Mornings at Mt. Zion Church are lively. A wild fire. An untamed fire. A spontaneous coming together. Everybody pitching in, feeling the spirit and happy to be in the mix. That all fuses together and makes for a live Pentecostal experience.
OKP: Beautiful. How long have you been there?
BFJ: I’ve been in that particular church for a little over 30 years.
OKP: Because of the family nature of your group, and the soul or r&b take on gospel, it’s hard to avoid the Staple Singers comparison. Like the Staple Singers, the Jones Family Singers perform in both clubs and churches. The Staple Singers received criticism for that. Have you encountered anything similar?
BFJ: Quite definitely! Much of the criticism came from within the church. Now,
the church is not mindful of its soul. The words that Jesus left on record were to “Go ye forth into all the world” and all the world consists of wherever the door is open, wherever you can play, wherever you can give out the Gospel message. You go and take it there. I feel that many church folk interpret Jesus’ words as to referring to somebody else, not them. We took it literal and as the door opens we go in. We don’t change the message. We might change how we do it, but the message stays the same.
OKP: When you play a club, what do your want you audience to leave with?
BFJ: We want the audience to leave knowing that they are cared for and that God has a purpose for them being here. We want them know that they are loved and there ’s brighter day coming.
OKP: It’s Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s birthday today as we speak. I’m interested in the extensive use of guitar in your record. Which in a lot of ways is an under-utilized instrument in Gospel music.
FJJ: Here, we go back to the traditional gospel quartets which are based on the guitar. Groups like the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Soul Stirrers--back in the day, that’s all they had. A guitar. We try to keep that tradition going while honoring what has come after that.
OKP: My favorite song on the record is “Bones in the Valley.”
BFJ: My Pastor wrote that one! We revamped it and gave it a new skip.
OKP: Though it draws from the old song "Dem’ Bones" and the biblical story of Ezekiel, it seems extremely personal. Can you tell us about that song and where is comes from.
BFJ: It was a sermon delivered one Sunday morning and then he started playing with the song. He didn’t want to just group bones together, he wanted to tell the story!
OKP: What’s next for the Jones Family Singers?
FJJ: We wanna keep reaching the world. Keep lifting up the name of Jesus. Keep reaching out.
BFJ: As for me, I ditto what my son said, and I would add, that I want to win a Grammy! I also want people to know that The Jones Family singers are regular, everyday, ordinary people. So when you see us treat us like that. Come up to us, talk to us, hug our neck, shake our hand. We you want to walk away from us feeling refreshed, revived and whole.
The right Reverend Vince Anderson is a soulman, musician and ordained minister. He brings his ministry of “Dirty Gospel” to the people every week with the renowned “Reverend Vince Anderson and his Love Choir” residency, which takes place every Monday night at Union Pool (and just happens to be one of Okayplayer’s favorite live residencies, ever). OkayPrayer is a new semi-regular space for him to preach about the wonders of Dirty Gospel online.