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Author Topic: Jab Jones Biographical Info  (Read 965 times)

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Offline arlotone

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Jab Jones Biographical Info
« on: March 18, 2022, 02:08:48 PM »
Jab Jones, on jug, piano and vocals, was a key member of the Memphis Jug Band. He played and sang on more than half of their recordings from 1928 to 1934, including lead vocals on "Lindberg Hop," "On the Road Again" and "Whitewash Station." His jug playing on "Memphis Shakedown" is an outstanding example of that instrument. He even alternates between piano and jug on "Jazzbo Stomp."

Besides his work with the Memphis Jug Band, Jones made a few solo records as Jab Jones and His Jug Band and Poor Jab, and was a third of the Three J's Jug Band with John Estes and James "Yank" Rachell, playing piano on classic records like "Diving Duck Blues" and "Milk Cow Blues" ("Leavin' Trunk").

I've been scouring for info about Jones, and would like to share what I've found. Maybe someone has additional info to add to this.

I initially assumed Jab was a nickname and that Jones had a "real" first name starting with J, because at least one of the Memphis Jug Band record labels credits "J. B. Jones." However, when I started searching, I found several Joneses with a real first or middle name of Jab. I was able to discard several unconnected people, but am left with two Jab Joneses who fit the bill, and might be the same person.

The first candidate was listed in the 1935 Memphis City Directory as Jab Jones, with a wife named Anna, at 282 Gayoso St. This is just a block from Fourth and Beale, where Will Shade and Furry Lewis would later live. I know this is the right Jones because Bengt Olsson mentioned his address in Memphis Blues. Actually, Olsson said 28 Gayoso, but I believe that was a simple transcription error, because 28 Gayoso is almost at the river. Neither address appeared in the 1930 or 1940 census, and Jab didn't appear with Anna in the city directory any other year, but I think the address is close enough to call this a positive match.

The second candidate has a full name of Hillard Jab Jones, and left a larger historical footprint. He was born July 11, 1897 in Okolona, Mississippi. His WWI draft card says 1896, but his WWII draft card and other documents say 1897 (he was an unlucky age to have to register for both wars).

In the 1920 census, enumerated on Jan. 22, he was going by Hillard Jones and was farming in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi with his wife Agnes, who was born around 1902. But a Hillard Jones also appeared in the 1920 Memphis city directory, as a boarder. The trail went cold until 1935, when Jab Jones appeared with Anna on Gayoso, then after another gap, the same name appeared several times in 1939-42 with Julia, at Memphis addresses very near that first 1920 address. But in the 1940 census, he reported that he had been living with Julia in Stoneville, Mississippi in 1935. His job on these documents was listed as "laborer," in one case specifying "road construction."

If all these data points are the same person, that means he moved to Memphis in 1920, moved back to Mississippi in 1935, and again to Memphis in the late 1930s, and had three different partners in that time. While not unreasonable for a 20-year time period, the documents I found captured two instances where he was in different places with different partners in the same year. In any case, the documents have enough info in common to show they are the same person.

The trail went cold again until Jones showed up in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1950. He was listed in that year's city directory as Hillard Jones, and in that year's census as Jab Jones, at the same address. That's it until 1979, when a Hillard Jab Jones died on June 12 and was buried with a gravestone dated 1897-1979. Olsson said that Jones resettled in St. Louis, and the name and birth date fits perfectly with the man from Mississippi. The only thing missing is an official document that definitely links the info about Hillard Jab Jones 1897-1979 to the one record of Jab Jones the musician on Gayoso Street.

Regarding the anecdotal evidence from Olsson, he also said Jones was from Northern Mississippi, which fits the info I found, and was born around 1880, which does not. I found no records of a potential candidate who was that old, and that would have made him 20 years older than the other core members of the Memphis Jug Band. Furthermore, Olsson said that he died in St. Louis "shortly after World War II," but I found no potential matches who died there in that time frame. Olsson's sources could have been right about the location but wrong about the time. Will Shade said in his 1960 interview with Dick Allen that Jones left the band after an argument, and Olsson said he left Memphis after he "fell into trouble," so it's possible he didn't keep in touch and his old friends incorrectly heard or assumed he had died.

If Jones did live until 1979, that not only means Olsson could have interviewed him himself for his 1970 book, it also means he could have participated in the folk revival with his Three J's bandmates. And it makes Will Shade's comment to Samuel Charters in his 1956 interview -- "All those boys are dead; I'm the onliest one living at the present" -- even more poignant.

The gravestone I found says "Hilliard J. Jones," but that's the only place I found that spelling. The WWII draft card was signed "Hillard Jab Jones," apparently by Jones himself, so I would take that as the authoritative source.

The last sign of any of the three wives was an Agnes Jones in Choctaw County, Alabama, in 1930, with a 1-year old son (not Jab's if they separated in 1920). Her age and place of birth matches, but otherwise I don't know if this was the same woman.

There was another Hillard Jones born the same year, but that one was born and died in Tennessee and was white. And there was another Jab Jones who died the same year, but that one was born in Tennessee and died in Michigan and was about 10 years younger.

I haven't found any photos of Jab Jones. Has anyone seen a promo photo for the Three J's, who recorded in 1929-30?

US Census, 1920, 1940 and 1950
WWI draft registration card, 1918
WWII draft registration card, 1942
Memphis city directory, 1920, 1935, 1939 and 1942
East St. Louis city directory, 1950
Social Security Death Index, 1979, Hilliard J Jones 1897-1979

« Last Edit: April 05, 2022, 10:41:44 PM by arlotone »

Offline btasoundsradio

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Re: Jab Jones Biographical Info
« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2023, 02:29:44 AM »
Jab's piano playing with Sleepy John Estes is some of the most simple, yet emotionally effective I've ever heard. It fits perfectly with the rest of the players and compliments John's vocals excellently.
Charlie is the Father, Son is the Son, Willie is the Holy Ghost

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