An Interview with The Bones of JR Jones

One-man band Jonathan Linaberry stomps down South to play this year’s Savannah Stopover as The Bones of JR Jones. His sound weaves through roots-inspired gritty folk, soulful blues and a touch of gospel. Playing as many instruments as possible at one time, Linaberry and his host of demons will get you stomping along with them.

CisternYard Radio’s Alex Peeples sat down with Linaberry to talk all things folk, traditional and modern.

AP: Can you tell us what the audience can expect at Savannah Stopover?

JR: I would describe it as a stripped down, soulful version of my studio recordings, which gravitate between rock, foot stompers and melancholy folk songs.

AP: This is the second year in a row you’ve done Stopover, so what did you think of it last time?

JR: It was great, I loved it. Everyone that runs it was kind and there to help out, it was such a treat to be a part of an event that’s just streamlined and logistically thought out. All of the music was great, I saw two of my favorite performers last year, which really made it special for me. I can’t wait to go back.

AP: You’re from New York originally, but you make music that is southern, Appalachian sounding. Do you have any other connection to the South that influences the music, or is it just things you’ve heard over time that you’ve liked and applied to your music?

JR: It’s definitely things I’ve heard over time. Growing up, living in southern Pennsylvania, and at the time I didn’t really care for the music at around 10 years old, being driven around by my grandparents and forced to listen to old Hank Williams. As your musical taste matures, you kind of rediscover your roots, and my dad pushed that by reintroducing it to me when I was 18. At that point, I began to appreciate the soul and the heart behind a lot of that music.

AP: So what was your dad putting you onto? What were you listening to?

JR: At that time, I was listening to Blind Lemon Jefferson. I remember listening to him in my dorm room and he kinda opened my eyes and blew me away with what he was doing. Beyond that, I definitely branched out to the old classic blues, like Son House, RL Burnside and Mississippi Fred McDowell. I got into the realm of old folk, like Elizabeth Packer and the Carter Family, things like that. Just a lot of the standards that really stuck out to me then.

AP: That’s really cool. I think that folk music and the kind of stuff that you’re doing are in an interesting period right now, because of a lot of people have different ways of approaching it. Some people want to put a modern twist on it, while others are very much traditionalists. Do you have a philosophy or view point on whether or not folk and blues music needs to stay in the tradition that its been in, or if people need to keep trying to do new things with it?

JR: I try not to think about it too much. I think you can’t help but reference what has taken place before you, you have your interests and what has touched you. Whether you want to or not, it’s going to influence you. On the other side of that, though, music shifts whether its over time or with the social-political climate. Things take on a life of their own, and music reflects that. I do think that there has been a lot of interesting things happening in folk and blues throughout this time, and it is shifting. My opinion is that it isn’t always for the best, but I think it is just reflective of what’s happening. I think I can hear it in my music too, when I’m writing, for better or for worse. It’s definitely part of the shift.

AP: You brought up how the time a person finds themselves can impact what music they make, so do you think you have an artistic obligation to have a meaning to all of it, or do you see yourself as more of a storyteller and don’t focus on that kind of thing while writing?

JR: If there is an obligation, I think in some ways it is more second nature for me. I don’t usually set out to write a song, it’s definitely much more personal. Obviously, there’s some pretty political folk people, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, all those guys, to me they champion that attitude. Unfortunately, my creative ability doesn’t lend itself to that sort of writing. I write from a very personal place, and if I’m politically motivated at the moment, then it just happens to be a personal feeling. I don’t set out with an objective, if that makes sense.

AP: That totally makes sense. I’m kind of with you on that, it’s more about what you feel like doing. Of course I have to ask what things are looking like next. What’s in store for the Bones of JR Jones?

JR: It’s gonna be a busy Spring! I’m on the road for the next month or so, heading to the South. Leading into that, and months after that, I feel like my next six or seven months are in the can, as they say. It’ll be a busy two months.

AP: Alright, last question. Why should people come to see you at Savannah Stopover?

JR: Ah. Well, I would think it’s more of why shouldn’t they? I’m going to be back at the Jinx, which is a great bar, I love it to death. The sound is great, and I promise you, the performance will hopefully be a highlight for you.

Catch The Bones of JR Jones’s set at The Jinx on Friday at 11pm in downtown Savannah!

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