Few bands have waited so long to record a debut album as has Claude Jones, whose 14-song, cassette-only release should be ready in time for the band’s appearance Friday at the Biograph Theater in Georgetown. Of course, this will be only the group’s second performance since its farewell show on New Year’s Eve, 1971.
Formed in 1968, Jones played the local granola-rock circuit alongside such bands as Grin, Sageworth and Drums, Crank, and Sky Cobb. (Of those, Grin was the only one to record for a big label, although Sageworth singers Walter Egan and Annie McLoone both went on to major-league solo careers.) The band left behind only a 10-inch EP, but most of the musicians still perform in such occasional combos as the Garrett Park All-Stars (which “has almost everybody from the old band, except [singer Joe] Triplett,” says organist Mike Henley) and the Mystery Band (which does “a lot of ’40s swing and classic R&B”). The latter outfit “plays a half-dozen times a year at most,” says Henley, who explains that the band members these days devote themselves to such “real things” as teaching, computer programming, and (in Henley’s case) running a plant service.
The Biograph show will mark the debut of The Emergency Reunion—Home Video, which was taped at the April 1991 get-together of musicians and others who used to frequent the Emergency, a no-alcohol Georgetown venue that presented the alternative rock of its era. “The process of our getting together sort of galvanized us,” says Henley of the ’91 reunion, which led to the making of the low-budget album.
Steeped in country, soul, gospel, and folk, Claude Jones recalls The Band, Delaney and Bonnie, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Bob Dylan, the Workingman’s Dead, and similar acts of that down-home age. (After Jones pianist John Guernsey, the album’s second most-credited songwriter is Dylan, and there’s also a Dead cover.) Though its $1,600 budget barred any high-tech gimmickry, Henley says the band didn’t work at achieving a John Wesley Harding-era sound. “We were just trying to play our repertoire,” he explains. “Hopefully, with 20 years more experience under our belt.”
The band’s original incarnation, remembers Henley, was a trio doing “a psychedelic, Pink Floyd, early-Clapton kind of thing.” After the band members picked him up as a hitchhiker, the organist jammed with them. “I could see they were hurting for a singer—and I knew one.” That was Triplett, who had played with Henley in high-school bands and was later to front the Rosslyn Mountain Boys. Guernsey started to write songs for the band, and later joined. Soon, Claude Jones was a big band; eight musicians are credited on the album, although that includes guitarist Peter Blachly, who Henley says “quit to do yoga fairly early on.”
Blachly, perhaps inevitably, now lives in California, but the rest of the Joneses still reside in the greater Washington area, with a preponderance in Garrett Park and one “as far south as Warrenton.” “We’re too old in terms of jobs and family commitments to take the band on the road,” says Henley, but “I’d love it if we could get together to play occasionally and go in the studio occasionally.”
“We’re taking the currents where they take us,” says the organist, a plan that sounds as early-’70s as the honky-tonk version of “The Mighty Quinn” that opens the band’s album. “I’m just hoping that someone will want to hear us.”