(Originally published in the June 2013 MBS Newsletter)
As told to Mark E. Caldwell
Jack Rowell, Jr. is a Memphis born and raised musician with a history of performing with Pinetop Perkins, George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Sam Moore, Delbert McClinton, Willie Cobb, B.B. Cunningham and many others before pursuing his solo career. I recently sat down with Jack at El Toro Loco before one of his weekly TriplThret gigs to talk about his story as a Bluesman. First, Jack is one of the nicest guys you can meet. He’s a soulful person that genuinely cares about his family, friends and fellow musicians. If someone is in need, he doesn’t hesitate to help. Help can come by holding charitable shows to raise needed money. Coming July 4, 2013 Jack is playing at ‘Blues for a Cause- A Helping Hand’, Blues Benefit and Music Festival in Pine Bluff, AR. All proceeds go to help ‘Blues For A Cause’ beneficiaries, including cancer patients.
Growing Up and the Early Career Years
At age 12, his first instrument played was the drums. Several months later he switched to the guitar. A band he wanted to play in had a drummer, but they needed a guitar player. Jack bought his first guitar then. Jack’s father, a Blues enthusiast, played a big role in his interest in the Blues. Jack recalls growing up listening to his father’s records, including Albert King, B.B. King, Freddie King, Ray Charles, and others. “While all the other guys were out there cutting into the popular music then, I was at home listening to the Blues.” It was these records, especially early B.B. King, and John Lee Hooker’s ‘Boogie Chillen’ that influenced him to play Blues music. At age 14, Jack wrote his first song. Along with B.B. King and Eric Clapton, Jack credits guitarist Lyn Vernon with helping shape his guitar playing style. Jack’s professional career started at age 15 with partner Jimi Jamison (in the band ‘The Debuts’) when they signed a record deal with Atco Records, Division of Atlantic. They played together for 10+ years. They toured with The Buckinghams, Mitch Ryder and Roy Orbison. For 5½ years Jack later played guitar for Ace Cannon. He also played guitar for Joyce Cobb for 14 years.
Jack says some of the most memorable times in his career include recording and working with Ace Cannon, ‘Chips’ Moman (The Highwaymen II), Pinetop Perkins, Rufus Thomas, Joyce Cobb & Ruby Wilson. Jack has always favored the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, AR. He says the festival and the Sonny Boy Blues Society has always welcomed him and has been very supportive. He first played the Sin City Festival there at age 15. It was held in a field on back of a flatbed truck in front of several thousand fans. The festival in part later grew into the King Biscuit Blues Festival which is considered one of the nation’s foremost Blues festivals. Back then, Jack’s band included Deborah Jo ‘JoJo’ Billingsley. Later after the band toured Europe she went to work for ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’ as a backup singer. She was released from the band the week before their fatal plane crash in October 1977. Jack told her “God had his hand on your life.”
After playing and recording with other artists, Jack formed TriplThret in 2000. The formation of the ‘Jack Rowell Jr. Band’ followed in 2010. Some of the band members include longtime musician friends Bob Horn, Leo Goff, Mark Ross, and Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms. TriplThret is: Jack Rowell, Jr (guitar & vocals), Leo Goff (bass & vocals), Mark Ross (keyboards & vocals) and Cedric Keel (drums & vocals). The ‘Jack Rowell, Jr. Band’ is: Jack Rowell, Jr, (guitar & vocals), Teri ‘Sweet T’ Rowell (vocals), Doug McMinn (drums), Bill Marshall (drums), Cedric Keel (drums), Mark Ross (keyboard & vocals), Leo Goff (bass & vocals), Steve Cobb (bass), Bob Horn (guitar), and Robert ‘Nighthawk’ Tooms (harp & keyboard). Jack is very proud of the weekly ‘The Thrill’ Blues Jam he’s hosted since 2010. The jam has grown into a reunion and brotherhood of Memphis musicians from the 1960’s to the present. “The Jam is a family of musicians coming together.” The Thursday evening jam has been held at local venues the East End Grill, T.J. Mulligans, and now takes place at Neil’s Grille & Bar on Quince Rd. Jack invites past & present musicians he knows or has worked with. You never know who may show up to play. Some of Memphis’ best talent can be seen at the jam.
Although Jack is primarily a Blues singer and guitarist, he plays bass guitar on occasion. Jack has several guitars he likes to play. This includes a 1957 reissue Gold Top Les Paul, a St. Blues guitar he bought from actor Steven Segal, and a 25th anniversary Taylor acoustic. A 1962 Stratocaster is his favorite. If Jack has a say at his gigs, he insists the venue not charge a cover for the fans attending. He prefers to let his fans to see him without a charge. He knows his fans attending will more than make up the difference with their patronage during the show.
Jack has a very busy weekly schedule. Every Wednesday ‘TriplThret’ plays at El Toro Loco (Kirby Pkwy). On Thursdays, the ‘Jack Rowell Jr.’ Band hosts the ‘The Thrill’ Blues Jam at Neil’s. The Jack Rowell Jr. Band is also the new house band at the Jerry Lee Lewis Cafe & Honky Tonk (Beale Street) every Friday & Saturday evening. On Sunday evenings you can find Jack hosting Live Band Karaoke at Southland Gaming & Racing (West Memphis, AR). He’s been doing this show for three years. Some upcoming shows in 2013 include the Norwegian Blues Tour (August) and the Friday night show at the King Biscuit Blues Festival (Helena, AR) in October
2013 Awards and Accolades
For the year 2013, the ‘Jack Rowell Jr. Band’ has received much acclaim and has been awarded the following:
- ‘Beale Street Blues Kings Award’
- ‘Beale Street Merchants Association Award’
- Sonny Boy Blues Society entry into the International Blues Challenge
- Sonny Boy Blues Society entry for 2013 Blues Music Awards ‘Best Self-Produced CD’
In 2012, the CD ‘Sleeping With The Blues’ was released. All songs were written by Jack except for one song he co-wrote with his wife Teri ‘Sweet T’ Rowell. Musicians on the recording include: Jack Rowell, Jr, Teri ‘Sweet T’ Rowell, Doug McMinn, Bill Marshall, Cedric Keel, Mark Ross, Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms, Leo Goff, Steve Cobb, and Bob Horn. The CD was engineered by Leo Goff, III; Mixed by Jack Holder, and mastered at Ardent Recording Studios by Larry & Kevin Nix.
A new record is in the works for release later in 2013. The songs are going to be more traditional Blues songs. Most have been written already. The recording is planned at the Boo Mitchell Recording Studio (old Willie Mitchell studio) here in Memphis. Some of the musicians recording there include Al Green & John Mayer. Boz Scaggs recently recorded his new ‘Memphis’ CD there.
I asked Jack what he likes about Memphis. He replied “True Memphis musicians are born with a natural, special feel for music. It’s different than anywhere else in the world. They can travel worldwide and they’re accepted so well because of their natural ability to feel the music. It can’t be taught, you’re born with it. I’m very thankful I was born and raised here where all the earthy soul & blues music has come from. Being a part of it is just awesome.”
Jack also thanks the Memphis Blues Society for all of the help and support provided to him.
© 2013, All rights reserved, Mark E. Caldwell