BY MIKE LEONARD
Guitarist TJ Jones laughs and says it only seemed like he was playing in half the bands in Bloomington in the 1970s and early-80s.
It was fairly intoxicating, he admits, to have been a member of the talent-laden Screaming Gypsy Bandits, to have toured with Bandits singer Caroline Peyton, to have gone from psychedelic jazz/rock in the Bandits to hard-core funk in the Minneapolis-based Ebony Rhythm Funk Campaign, and then to have returned to Bloomington to play lead guitar in the Ruthie Allen Band.
Flash-forward to the last 20 years and there he is — still — a player on the local music scene, cranking out hip-shaking rhythm and blues in The Dynamics. “I still enjoy it a lot. We still practice once a week, except when we don’t,” he says with a grin. “But we respect our audience. You don’t get respect for how long you’ve been playing. You get respect for being prepared.”
Jones, 61, says a big part of his training to be a professional musician came from membership in Indiana University’s Soul Revue. The Richmond, Indiana, native came to Bloomington in 1971 through the IU Groups Scholars Program for first-generation college students and was almost immediately recruited by Soul Revue founder Portia Maultsby. “The great thing about Soul Revue was that it was a class, not a band, and Portia focused on the professional aspect of being a musician.”
Getting married in 1984 and having a family grounded Jones at a perfect time, he says. “I married a woman who had two kids and suddenly having a biracial family is a big responsibility if you take it seriously, and I did.” Jones and his now ex-wife, Debi Spencer, went on to have four children together, and Jones went back to school, earned a degree in electronics, and stepped away from performing for a while to be a husband and a father. “Either I was going to change or I was going to be one of those toothless old blues players hanging out at the curb. Having a family saved me,” he says.
Jones has worked in the IU School of Informatics and Computing for nearly 25 years now. And the children, ages 22 to 36, are all adults who make their father proud. But. “When the last one left the nest, I hurried up and converted one of the bedrooms to a recording studio so they couldn’t move back in,” he says, mostly joking.