‘Where I go to worship’
Seth Lee Jones releases a new live EP recorded at The Colony
Seth Lee Jones is a pretty unassuming guitar hero. He drives a pickup truck nicknamed “Old Shoe” and builds beautiful custom guitars for a living. He dons a green and white trucker cap and often plays like his hands are on fire. After years of playing lead guitar for talented songwriters like Jacob Tovar and Paul Benjaman, Jones is releasing his first album on Horton Records, a six-song live EP, Seth Lee Jones: Live at The Colony.
Jones’ trio includes Bo Halford on bass, and Matt Teegarden on the drums. The rhythm section is fiery but focused, and Jones’ electric guitar takes up a surprising amount of the negative space on these tracks. The balance works, mostly due to the vicious edges of Jones’ unique guitar tone. He’s playing the blues, but it’s a blues informed by Red Dirt and early Mississippi Delta Blues.
Jones points to his mom, the fine arts facilitator for a head start program in West Tulsa, as his inspiration for picking up guitar in the first place.
“She was doing guitar lessons at her program. That’s really what drove me into it, watching her recount all of the Motown stuff,” Jones said. “All of this stuff she wanted to show to these kids that didn't know anything but the radio. Also the piano was super lame. I was like 12 or 13. I played piano before and then I went to a music store, and I watched a guy play that opening line to that Yes song, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” I was like, ‘Man! That’s fucking cool! I want to do that!’
This album is drawn from the soundscape of 40s and 50s blues. “When I moved out to LA, that shit wasn’t cool. Everybody was like, ‘Stevie Ray is not cool.’ When I moved back, I started to revisit it. About six years ago, when I started playing for Jacob Tovar, I got to listening to the old country stuff and that kind of spurred learning to use the bender on my guitar for some of the country sounds. I started trying to incorporate that into the blues numbers, having some of that bender and pedal steel licks in there.”
Jones is inspired by voices like Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Ray Charles, and an idiosyncratic group of local heroes whose memory still lives in the Colony’s walls. Steve Pryor is a recurring presence on this EP, which features songs covered by the late guitarist, whom Jones got to know a few years before he died.
“I came back in the mid-2000s and I went to the Colony. It was a smoking bar still, and I saw him play. It blew my mind,” Jones said. “I was like, ‘How the fuck is this guy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I’ve never seen anything like that in Los Angeles?’ It was like a spiritual experience. He did it with conviction and he did it like there was nobody there.”
Moments of giddiness and grief pour out of Jones’ smoky baritone voice, often punctuated by the teeth-rattling strokes of his guitar. His telecaster squawks with emotion. He coaxes crazy animal noises out of it. His notes often emulate the warm pleading tone of a human voice, or even the creaky squeal of other instruments and imaginary machines.
There’s a recurring “you” on this record. Sometimes this “you” eases Jones’ pain, but sometimes it’s attached to bitterness—stark emotion, colored by loss.
“I lost my mother to cancer three years ago, and I went through a divorce. Then my mentor that I was studying under for building acoustics died within two weeks of my mother,” Jones said. “I don’t feel like I really got the emotion in the vocal part of what I do till all that stuff happened to me.”
While that loss animates much of Jones’ new EP, he ultimately credits these six songs to his bar family at the Colony.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without the Colony. Especially Jared Tyler and Travis Fite, and Ken Madewell who helped make this EP,” Jones said. “Jared pushed me to do this record. Anything that’s happened with my music is because of folks I met at the Colony, like Rachel [La Vonne] and KB, and Paul Benjaman. That’s why I didn’t want a picture of my band on our album cover. We’re not very photogenic. I wanted a picture of my work truck in front of the Colony. Where I go to worship. That’s church for me.”
Seth Lee Jones EP Release
w/ Paul Benjaman and Jake Lynn
Friday, Oct. 5, 9 p.m., $5
The Colony, colonytulsa.com