Release date: November 1, 2019 By Robin Zimmerman
The name Jack Butler’s Jones might sound like a high-end golf course but it’s actually the name of an up-and-coming, down and dirty Chicago blues band who’ve hit a hole-in-one with their first, full-length CD release.
Their moniker is firmly rooted in the blues, too. Jack Butler was a heavy metal virtuoso in the eighties flick,Crossroads. This cult classic pays homage to Robert Johnson and touched the soul of Brad Alan Dennison, the band’s founding father, lead guitarist and vocalist.
Dennison said that, “I was so enthralled by the idea of being the devil’s guitar man. I mean what a job title! Even if the position itself is precarious at best. I began thinking about what music Jack Butler would listen to. What band would he be jonesin’ to hear? Who was Jack Butler’s Jones. Wait....there it is! Yes! Jack Butler’s Jones.”
Although Dennison hails from Pittsburgh, he and his bandmates are now fixtures on the Chicago music scene. They jammed in the back of Hambone’s Cadillac as part of his popular Thursday night blues party on WDCB radio. Jack Butler’s Jones recently released a video promoting the “Back 2 Chicago” track from the new CD. This CD was produced by none other than Chicago Blues Hall-of-Famer Dave Specter, which should further boost the band’s Chicago street cred.
In Pittsburgh, Dennison cut his teeth on old soul tunes like Jr. Walker’s “Shotgun” mixed in with some Beatles, Booker T and the Beach Boys. His diverse musical education continued via high school flirtations with both rap and rock culminating with an introduction to Prince and his fusion of musical styles.
Dennison went on to buy a drum set, co-found a Pittsburgh-based rock band only to drop the drums in favor of a guitar and discover the blues masters after being “blown away” by Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. After reaching back into their blues roots, he found a few favorites and rattled off names like Muddy, B.B. and Buddy. He added that “the players that really got me” and “really curled my toes were Albert Collins, Freddie King and early Jimmie Vaughan.”
After his brush with so many blues greats, Dennison “spun his wheels” before taking a bite out of the Big Apple. He acknowledged that “it wasn’t a musical fit for me” but he did value this experience that would lead to the birth of Jack Butler’s Jones.
Now that you’ve got the dossier on Dennison, it’s time to dish the dirt on the rest of the bandmates. As part of Dennison’s ongoing blues education, he took a class on “Intro to Chicago Blues” at the Old Town School of Folk Music, There, he happened upon guitarist Wes “Bumble Bee” McClain whose people hail from Muhlenberg, Kentucky. It turns out that little Kentucky county is a musical hotbed that’s home to the likes of Merle Travis, Don Everly and others. McClain came by the name of “Bumble Bee” by way of Dave Specter who likened his playing to the way he “stings the notes.” Playing the drums behind McClain is Mike Amandes. Dennison met this mainstay of the Chicago music scene via mutual friends and their musical styles clicked instantly.
Dennison said that “Mike never really played much blues and I think that’s what works so well.” He added, “I don’t write typical blues tunes and Mike doesn’t play typical blues beats. I love the rock, jazz and funk that he brings to my tunes.”
Notching another note on the band’s “meant to be” backstory is the fact that a Pittsburgh raised bass player practically fell into Dennison’s lap. After their original bass player was lured to the Left Coast, he received a Facebook message from Matt Augustine who attended the same high school as Dennison. Augustine signed on for a few gigs but is still jamming with the band three years later!
The group’s chemistry is apparent on every track of Jack Butler’s Jones maiden full-length CD concoction. Dennison penned seven of the nine songs on the CD in which he weaves in his work observations and life stories in a highly-listenable way with lyrics that really resonate!
This is obvious from the very first cut as Dennison’s gravel-ridden world-weary voice takes on “Get Back Blues” that opens with some nice swampy guitar punctuated by Augustine’s rock steady drumbeat. They settle into a slower groove with “Nothing Surprises Me Anymore” highlighted by Dennison’s razor-sharp observations on the twists and turns of life.
“Oh, Pretty Woman” is a funky take on A.C. Williams’ tune made famous by Albert King. Paul Gulezian and Marcus Rancucci come on to add some soulful swagger on trumpet and tenor sax respectively.
As a part-time bartender, Dennison gets rounds of riveting material while slinging drinks. This is apparent on “Audrey Belle” where he calls out a conniving woman. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Audrey Belle is Dennison’s dog’s name!
With big shouldered guitar riffs, “Back 2 Chicago” pays homage to a “woman in Chicago who knows how to treat a man.” The band also serves up a side of visual material with a video depicting this street-walkin’ woman. The band then struts right into Freddie King’s “Big Legged Woman” which showcases some premier piano work by local music teacher, Justin Wrzenski.
Jack Butler’s Jones has appeared at several noteworthy Chicago clubs including FitzGerald’s, Rosa’s and Kingston Mines. “Better Off Without You” finds the band in full-tilt jam mode and gives the listener a feel for the power of their live performances.
The romantic angst continues on the next track as “Too Young Woman” tackles the subject of a relationship age gap and finds Dennison “wondering through his whiskey” and wondering where his wandering woman is on any given night.
The final track, “Fishing Hole Blues” has a countryfied blues feel and plenty of innuendo-laden lyrical hooks. This provides a fitting finale to this forty-minute romp through a wide range of catchy blues-based musical styles and casts Jack Butler’s Jones as a band to watch in 2020.
For info: www.jbjblueschicago.com
To buy the music: https://jbjblues.bandcamp.com/