By the time he succumbed to a heart attack in 1971 Curtis Jones was a sad, embittered man who – rightly I would say – viewed himself as the forgotten man of the blues, watching from the sidelines while others from his era were greeted with far more enthusiasm and fame. His passing was greeted with little fanfare and in a final indignity his grave was unceremoniously sold eight years later because no one had paid for its upkeep.
The intervening years have done nothing to raise to Jones’ profile; his records have not been well represented on the reissue market and mention of his music to fellow blues fans is often greeted with indifference. To put it frankly his records are considered “boring” by most blues fans. The very qualities which made him popular among the black record buying public of the 1930′s and 1940′s were not exactly the qualities white enthusiasts prized. His talents were perhaps too subtle for the new white audience: his deep, unfussy piano playing was very much in the service of the song and decidedly unshowy, he was an expressive singer with a high, tight tenor with a way of putting across a song that really connected with the audience and he was an exceptional, imaginative lyricist. As Tony Russell wrote, somewhat uncharitably, in the Penguin Guide To Blues: “…Over the next four years [1937-1941] Jones turned out dozens of blues-and-trouble compositions, sung in the bleak Texas manner of men like Black Boy Shine to tidy, unexciting piano accompaniments.”Closer to the mark was Paul Oliver who in the notes to In London wrote: “He is the bluesman’s blues singer. All that he plays and sings is blues, but it cannot be lightly asserted that he represents the blues of Texas, where he was born, or of the West where he worked for some years. His is not merely ‘Chicago blues’, though he lived there for a quarter of a century. And how does one type a blues singer who has made Paris, France, his home?”Our story picks up in Europe where Jones settled in the early 1960′s after almost twenty years without stepping into a studio, outside of a couple of 1953 sides for Parrot. Before packing his bags for Europe he waxed a pair of fine stateside comeback records; Trouble Blues (Bluesville, 1960) and Lonesome Bedroom Blues (Delmark, 1962) which found his talents undimmed by the passage of time. Over in Europe he would record two more superb albums; In London (Decca, 1963) and Now Resident In Europe (Blue Horizon, 1968) reissued, remastered and rounded out with unissued sides as Curtis Jones: The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions. It was Mike Vernon who we have to thank for both sessions as he writes in the excellent liner notes: “To be totally honest, Curtis Jones represented a bygone era and his particular style and sound was not at one with the current trends and developments in the blues world at the time. …It should be remembered that I, in particular, had been the only producer who had the courage to record him – not once, but twice. Most others might well have not taken the risk, if the truth were to be told.”