Photo | Wikimedia Commons
Wes Jeans Trio with The Red Clay Strays
Thursday, June 15, 8 p.m.
The Listening Room of Mobile, 78 St. Francis St., www.thelisteningroommobile.com
Tickets: $20 artist donation (reservations encouraged)
The Listening Room of Mobile is noteworthy for providing the Azalea City with live music performances in a cozy setting. The venue’s intimate nature allows artists to create a closer social and musical bond with their audience. Many assume “listening room” shows consist of performances by purist singer-songwriters armed with only an acoustic guitar, but in recent months, owner Jim Pennington has proved full bands have just as much to offer the setting.
The talent lined up for this performance may be a perfect opportunity to witness a facet of Pennington’s unique vision. The evening will begin with a set from one of Skate Mountain Records’ newest additions to its roster, The Red Clay Strays. This band will serve up their Southern-fried mélange of homegrown rock and classically influenced country delivered with electrifying charisma. Next, a familiar face will take the stage, one that has been mysteriously missing for a very long time — Wes Jeans.
Several years ago, Jeans used his fiery Texas blues and regular visits to Mobile to establish a zealous fan base. Locals fell in love with his work on the guitar and on the stage. This Lone Star State musician’s superior work on the fretboard earned him consistent shows at venues such as The Temple and Bluegill. Locals also saw Jeans open at the Saenger Theatre for artists including Buddy Guy and B.B. King, who once told Jeans he was “going places.”
Jeans’ career began when he was 15. After playing guitar just nine months, he entered the International Jimi Hendrix Competition and placed second. He also earned the praise of Hendrix’s father, Al, who personally told Jeans he played with the same passion as his son.
“I always said that losing that deal and coming in second was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Jeans said. “Instead of getting a big head and being all like, ‘I was great and won this deal,’ it made me try harder. I learned that there is always somebody better than you. So you’ve got to practice and work harder and get better at your craft.”
Jeans began touring and supplying steady releases. Along the way, Guitar Player magazine held a poll asking readers to rate 2004’s “Top Young Gun Guitar Players.” Once again, Jeans came in second, between Derek Trucks and Johnny Lang. But Jeans was the only independent artist in the poll’s top 10.
As his reputation continued to grow, Jeans seemed to disappear from the road. But his disappearance was the result of an honorable and worthy decision to concentrate on another important project in his life.
“I had kids,” he explained. “Once my kids were born, I joined into a different band and was playing regionally here in Texas and Louisiana and Oklahoma and Arkansas. It was anywhere that I could get to with a day’s drive. I could do the gigs and come back and not be away from my babies. I even ended up playing in two different country bands, which is out of character for me.”
Jeans also embarked on other endeavors that allowed him to balance family with work, opening a recording studio and a music school. During the day he instructed young guitarists in method and by night he manned the studio console. While this new regimen allowed him to spend time with his children, Jeans admits he never got comfortable with being off the road.
“I had never gone to the same job at the same place every day,” he said. “It didn’t take long for me to get cabin fever …”
When it seemed his life as a Texas blues guitarist was finished, Jeans’ career took another sudden turn that resulted from two events: a divorce, and the realization that his children were no longer “babies.” The guitarist decided it was time to reignite his blazing Texas blues with the reformation of the Wes Jeans Trio and the organization of his first extensive tour in many years.
After years as a hired gun for other musicians’ projects, Jeans admits he is already feeling the satisfaction of being in creative control. For Jeans, the reformation of his namesake project is a chance to continue forward with a dream that was put aside.
“I feel real comfortable doing my own thing,” Jeans said. “I sing, play and do whatever I want to do. I don’t have to worry about anybody else or whatever. I’m really excited about that.”
Jeans is already in talks with Los Angeles-based indie label Cleopatra Records, discussing a variety of options for the potential release of his next album. While he could not provide many details, Jeans did say he already has a track list for this album. Ultimately, he wants to record 15 tracks and choose 11 for an upcoming release. After the album hits, Jeans will redirect his attention to overseas prospects. European countries have always had a fascination with American-born genres such as jazz and blues. Jeans hopes to capitalize on Europe’s love of American sounds. The guitarist will spend a great deal of time in Europe promoting this new album, then return home and see if it has spread through the states.
“I’ll tour through Europe and stay over there and play as many big festivals as we can and spread the word over there,” Jeans said. “Hopefully by the time I come back home, the album will have gained enough traction here.”