A month away
from summertime, Madrid is brimming with beauty. The sky could not be a more
intense blue, the sun makes everything shine big and bright: the cars (both the
old and the new, it matters not), the old buildings, the myriad of green hues rustling
in the trees, the flowers sassily looking down on us from the balconies
overlooking the streets, the tanned shoulders of the local girls laid bare (at
We are in a small street in the central neighbourhood of Salamanca, one of the capital's most "select". We have a date with Carvin Jones, his band (Mike Califano on bass and Gianpaolo Feola on drums, his faithful brothers in arms for 8 years now) and his Spanish manager, Álvaro Vidal, along to make everything that bit easier. We had arranged to meet in a hotel in the late morning, but Carvin needs a bite to eat before running off to do a sound check at the Sala Clamores where tonight "Sold Out" will in all likelihood be hung on its doors, as is always the case when Carvin sets foot in Spain.
The Taberna Picote, right in front of the small hotel, welcomes us, its owner ushering us to a quiet corner. There we sit, a melting pot of Italians, Americans and Spaniards, all of us hungry. We, for some musical sustenance from the man that Eric Clapton himself defined as one of the best blues guitarists of the moment - a big, black 6' 6" mountain of a man with a deep voice who at the moment is only hungry for two things – to devour two orders of fried chicken wings one after the other, and to get up on the stage to do his thing.
Out of the limelight, Carvin Jones is shier than we expected, especially at the beginning of our chat. However, he soon warms to the tales he tells us of his beginnings in Arizona and making it in the United Kingdom some 15 or 16 years ago. There, he began to be known as "The King of the Strings": "I wasn't bad, I was good and felt important", he remembers. As the interview moves on, he loosens up, talking a lot about what it means for him to go on stage. Every time he plugs in his amp in front of the audience, an imagined look from his guitar promises another unforgettable night, although he has lost count of the thousands of times that he has strutted his stuff up on the stage: seeing the people, playing, improvising, trying to show his public what it is to have a bluesman's soul...
GUITARS EXCHANGE: You started playing when you were 8…why the guitar? Was it the sound or the admiration for someone in particular who pushed you to plug in and play?
Carvin Jones (C.J.): I saw B.B. King on television…I said “Wow, I must play the guitar!”
G.E.: Could you define the ‘Carvin Jones Sound’ in three words? How do you get that?
C.J.: Tone…control…soul: that’s what you need.
G.E.: Can you give us some tricks for the ‘perfect’ blues sound?
C.J.: A Fender amplifier and a Fender Stratocaster, that’s all you need. In reality, every real bluesman has to have had some blues in his life, this is the truth. Unless you've had some blues in your life, it's very difficult to get some blues out of your soul.
G.E.: Tell us something about your personal creative process.
C.J.: Every moment is important ‘cause you never know when it comes…
G.E.: How important are the lyrics and the vocals in your songs?
C.J.: Lyrics are very important…many people understand English.
G.E.: You have played thousands of gigs over the last few years…what do you feel when you are in front of the crowd? Where do you get the satisfaction from, before or after a show?
C.J.: I feel like “I’m going to crash this audience…I’m going to ‘kill’ the audience”. I must feel that they love Carvin Jones when the night is over. Not looking for love…I want them to know that I’m a force to be reckoned with.
G.E.: What is the emotion that a recording session in the studio has and a live show hasn't?
C.J.: I’m happy to be in the studio because there I can create what I would do in my live shows.
G.E.: Talking about feelings, what’s the route? Do you look for them while you’re playing or is it that you’ve already got them inside and let them get out?
C.J.: I let them come out…
G.E.: How many guitars do you have?
C.J.: I have 22 guitars. Many Strats…17, one Telecaster and some acoustics.
G.E.: Which is the oldest one you have?
C.J.: ’62 Stratocaster. When I travel around the world on tour, the ’62 Strat is the only guitar I have. The other 21 are at home…maybe my son is playing them, he plays Fender also.
G.E.: Do you still buy guitars? If so, where?
C.J.: I stopped…I’ve got too many. I bought them all around the world…in little shops. Some new, some second hand guitars…the used guitars for me are always better: it’s like a pair of shoes that have been worn in.
G.E.: Do you now have the ‘perfect’ guitar or are you looking for something else?
C.J.: I have it: it’s my black and white ’62 Strat. Actually, it was given to me by a friend of mine in northern England 15 years ago. I think also of the ‘new Carvin Jones Signature Guitar’, my dream…a Strat, of course - black body, black pickguard and gold everywhere: mechanics, pickups…
G.E.: You always have a Strat in your hand… Is there a place or a particular situation for ‘acoustic moments’ in your life? Which ones?
C.J.: I have a Fender acoustic and an Ibanez acoustic. I play a lot at home…not too much live.
G.E.: We saw Hendrix with a Strat, of course, but also with a Gibson SG, a Les Paul, a Flying V… what if your Strat is burning and you have to choose another brand and model and go on stage…which one?
C.J.: A Fender Telecaster…like Albert Collins.
G.E.: When you were a child, the guitar kept you out of trouble because you were always playing at home…what does guitar playing mean to you now?
C.J.: The guitar still keeps me out of trouble…
G.E.: How important is practicing everyday?
C.J.: Every day and every night…it’s important, it's the only thing we can do.
G.E.: Speaking in percentage, how does improvisation count for in a live show?
C.J.: Improvisation is everything: you must be able to improvise always, if you want to be natural. But it also depends on the crowd, the feelings of the moment.
G.E.: In September 1966 Hendrix accepted to go to England with his manager –Chas Chandler– with one condition: to be introduced to Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. Presently, who are the guitarists you’d most like to jam with?
C.J.: I’d like play with Hendrix, with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King. Walter Trout…he's received a new liver. He’s a famous bluesman in the USA, about 60 years of age…he was very sick but he received a new liver and now is good again. Also with Bonamassa…he’s like the ‘Bill Gates’ of modern blues, but he is Rock and Roll also.
G.E.: You've reached such a high level in guitar playing that most guitarists throughout the world couldn't even dream of getting to: you are considered one of the 50 best blues guitarists in the world by Guitarist Magazine (the Bible!), and by big stars such as Albert Collins, Eric Clapton, Buddy Miles, etc., who have heaped praise on you and your style… Is there any way left for you to improve your skills? In which ways are you experimenting? New gear, new techniques?
C.J.: You must try to get better with your heart…and stay happy. This is the most important thing. And healthy, of course: I’ve never drunk or smoked in my life.
G.E.: What about your influences?
C.J.: You will never guess my musical influences. Of course BB King, Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan but… I’m gonna tell you something that will shock you… Eminem and 50cent… the swagger, the way they move: really tough! It’s the business! My last 4 concerts that I have seen were all Eminem and 50cent. You know, it’s important, as an entertainer, that you must have confidence on the stage. And also, somebody who was a big influence in my musical career: Hulk Hogan! His charisma is incredible…I learn many things about personality by looking at him. That’s why the Carvin Jones Band are famous, for their personality. You will see what I mean tonight, with guitar playing…I step off the stage. I’d like to rip my t-shirt off, but I'd need to do some gym before…[laughs]
G.E.: Which LP would you take with you on a trip to the moon?
C.J.: I’m going to shock you again… Prince’s Purple Rain. It’s possible that we play Purple Rain tonight.
G.E.: Your next steps? Your hidden dream?
C.J.: I want to continue…to continue, that’s all. There’s no future, just to continue.
We let Carvin wash his hands after putting away all that fried chicken in readiness for the handing over of a Lite Ash Fender Stratocaster for him to sign (which he does after stroking it's frets, like someone stroking an ancient, golden, magic lantern full of wishes to come true) and exchange a few words with Gianpaolo Feola, his amazing Neapolitan drummer. He tells us of the relationship that he has with Jones, who he met nearly ten years ago. "Kindred spirits and a love of music" are the ingredients that he believes make this power-trio so successful. "If you believe in yourself and work at it day after day, you can make a living from music". "Where do I see myself in 20 years? I don't know...I focus on every day doing my job well, playing and putting on a good show, so that the people have a good time and feel that paying and coming to see and hear us has been worth it".
They have toured around Europe on many occasions over the last 8 years, night after night, their music booming out of countless bars and clubs, although the time when they played in front of American troops destined for Iraq in 2012 was an unforgettable experience. More than anything, he remembers the happy faces in the sea of identically-dressed young men, who for a couple of hours could forget how far they were away from home, in the middle of a conflict that every day threatened to put an end to their lives, their dreams, their tomorrows.
Gianpaolo tells us that Carvin talks too much and is somewhat unpunctual but that he is a great artist and untiring worker, especially when going on tour. The guitarist likes nothing more than getting up on the stage, however small it may be, and plugging in his '62 Stratocaster, the one with the B-string without its tuning peg threatening to fall to pieces, and open the gates to the river of rock and blues that is coursing through his veins, bursting to get out.
That evening we go to the concert. The ever-attentive Álvaro Vidal has reserved us a privileged table at the Sala Clamores, which is packed-out. We enjoy a long hour of blues, but to us it is over far too quickly: Carvin is a beast playing live. He was born for these audiences. Up on the Madrilenian club's modest stage, the guitarist doesn't stand out for his imposing stature, but for the natural ability with which he plays the six strings...
With a SRV-style hat on his head and a sequin-studded jacket on his back, he never takes the smile off his face for a moment. A man whose wish has come true, a man who right now feels like Hulk Hogan, Eminem and 50 cent, Carvin has pure blues energy pouring out of his '62 Strat, his Fender amp, his body. He never takes his eyes off his captivated, enchanted audience. Everyone's hands are in the air – if a blues church existed, Jones would without doubt be one of its preachers. One that knows the names of his entire gathering, their desires and their sins.
As in all religions, there exists a hierarchy... and in this religion of blood, sweat and tears spilled onto the holy fret board of blues, there is a pope, a few cardinals and a handful of bishops. B.B. King, Clapton, Steve Ray Vaughan, Robert Johnson, Rory Gallagher, Peter Green, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Albert King... They are the clergy. But what we have here is something altogether different. Here we have the preacher man who has come to a small church in the suburbs, a man of the Word, maybe one of the best of his time, not out to convert the infidels or to find fault in anyone. Carvin is an honest preacher, not out to fool anyone, a simple man, who shows the way by example. The way of the blues, the way to the soul. Because without a soul, there is no blues.
Jones dedicates the last song on his setlist to us and before he screams off his last chords and solos, he asks us all, speaking into his microphone, booming out through the speakers: "You understand now? You understand?" Yes, Carvin – you have shown us the way: music, soul and heart, nailed into the woodwork of your '62 Stratocaster.