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John Paul Jones On Old Time Music


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John Paul Jones On Old Time Music


Mojo.com "I’d almost forgotten how much fun music can be!” laughs Led Zeppelin multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones, recounting the recording of Uncle Earl’s ebullient second album Waterloo, Tennessee. Produced by Jones in Nashville and released in March of this year prior to Zeppelin’s recent resurrection, the album is the culmination of a three-year relationship that Jones has enjoyed with the rising female four-piece following an initial meeting with the band’s fiddle player Rayna Gellert at the Colorado roots festival Rocky Grass in 2004.

“After I met Rayna at Rocky Grass I checked out the band’s web site and bought their first album (She Waits For Night),” says Jones. “A few days later I got a call asking whether I wanted to produce them. It was a great coincidence!”

While working with Uncle Earl – or ‘the G’Earls’ as they’re known by their fans - has provided Jones with the opportunity to work with a band he clearly loves, it has also allowed him to celebrate his longstanding love of American roots music as a whole…

So when did you first get into bluegrass?

To be honest, it all goes back quite a way to the Zeppelin days. We were always fascinated with American music and I think we also realized that there was a connection between traditional music that was made in England and in America. So when we were on the road in America that’s what I started to check out. Someone gave me a Dillards album and then I got deeper into it.

Since the Zep days you’ve worked with a variety of artists – from the Butthole Surfers to Diamanda Galas, R.E.M. to The Datsuns – but what drew you to the new bluegrass scene?

There’s a great sense of freedom within that scene. I’d been playing a lot of festivals in Europe and then I heard a lot of music by people like Del McCoury and Gillian Welch, and I’d got more and more into it. Then I went to Merlefest in 2004 and I was amazed how much great music I found there. It was just people playing for the sake of playing. Working with Uncle Earl was an extension of that.

As a renowned disciplinarian with studio experience that dates back five decades, how did you approach the recording of Waterloo, Tennessee?

To be honest, I didn’t need to be a disciplinarian because the G’Earls already knew what they were doing. If I’m honest, it was more of a case of getting the vibe together, which we did at [banjo virtuoso] Bela Fleck’s house before we went into the actual studio. They’re such good musicians that I just worked with them on marshalling the material and the arrangements, and then I captured them performing.

It can’t have been as simple as that surely? Was there no clash of cultures?

To be really honest it was that simple. We just ended up laughing so much and playing a lot too! That’s what’s so great about the whole scene. It just requires the simplest of excuses for everyone to get their instruments out and to play. That’s what we did and a lot of the record was recorded with the G’Earls playing as they would do normally. I did help them at times with a few arrangements but that’s all. What made it really great, too, was the fact that we had an engineer [David Sinko] who was really fantastic and who made everyone feel at ease.

Can we take it that you enjoyed the experience?

Absolutely. It was great fun from start to finish and I think you can tell that on the record. There are moments that are funny and others that are just very emotional.

So – Zep not withstanding – what’s next for you?

I’m enjoying myself in terms of playing so I’m not sure what’s next but there is the possibility of a solo record but we shall have to see what comes up.

Interview: Phil Alexander

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