Ten years ago, when Ayron Jones and his group were first breaking in their take-no-prisoners sound at dive bars around the Pacific Northwest, they’d sometimes get hassled because they didn’t look like, in his words, “a usual rock band”.
“In certain parts of the country, people don’t expect four black dudes to get up and rock,” Jones tells Classic Rock, on the phone from his home in Seattle. “They expect us to do hip-hop or R&B. But those gigs really made my career what it is today. I’ve learned how to walk into a room, feel out a crowd and give them what they want.
“Based on age, demographics or whatever, my set-list will take on an image that reflects the people I’m playing in front of. And that still helps when you’re trying to win a crowd over.”
The 35-year old guitarist and vocalist’s dual appeal – a mash-up of BB King-style bluesy fire and Stevie Wonder tender soul – has helped him win over audiences, whether opening for Guns N’ Roses or outlaw country artist Koe Wetzel. Oddly, it’s also endeared him to the French. Of the dates on his recent European tour, more than a third were in France, and he's returning in November.
“Yeah, we played a small show last year in Paris for, like, four-hundred people, and I think the whole country heard about it,” Jones says with a laugh. “I’m not sure why we’ve made such an impression there, but I think that for the French maybe it’s been a long time since they’ve seen an artist who can carry the guitar and sing and perform in the vein of Jimi Hendrix.”
Also on Jones’s busy itinerary were stops at major festivals, including Hellfest and Download.
“The best parts of the festivals are getting to be around your peers and your co-workers backstage,” he says. “Plus it’s one thing doing a theatre show in front of a thousand people, but suddenly to play for ten or twenty thousand people at a festival, that’s how you can really make an impact.”
Are there downsides to festivals?
“The worst part is that sometimes you don’t get to stick around and enjoy yourself. If it’s in the middle of a tour, you play, then an hour later you’re back in a van or plane to another city. Also, there’s the bathrooms at festivals [laughs]. They don’t have the standard stuff that you’re used to at home. But that’s an easy trade-off.”
Easy indeed, at the rate his star is rising. For a road dog like Jones, there have naturally been a few gigs from hell along the way – “We played for the Olympic Trials and we were in standing water. It was miserable, not to mention super-dangerous” – but far more sublime moments: “I opened for Jeff Beck and I’ll never forget how incredible it was. His style is so cool; he plays with his thumb. He’s one of the few artists who uses a whammy bar as an actual tool, not just an effect. He uses it to go in and out of notes. When you see him up close it’s just like: ‘Wow, what?’”
This year will be a busy one for Jones, with plans to start work on the followup to 2021’s acclaimed Child Of The State album. But first there’s a lot of touring to do.
“The audiences feel different now,” he says. “I think they’re hungrier, man. They want more. When you get music taken away from you for a year and a half, you realise that maybe you were taking music for granted. I think people are now more appreciative of the art that they’re experiencing than ever before."
Ayron Jones is currently on tour in North America (opens in new tab).