Eddie Jones
Eddie Jones and the Young Bucks with Jones' sister, Patti Hatchett, and his son, Duane Ganey, at Westminster Church, April 2022; courtesy of Hatchett

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It’s April 2022 and Eddie Jones and the Young Bucks are playing their annual show at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Southwest D.C. “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,” Jones wails while sitting on a stool, as he goes deep into a cover of Bill Withers’ 1972 gut-wrenching love song. 

There are plenty of locals who sing old-school R&B covers, but not many with Jones’ vocal range and ability to stretch out words. And not many who have been at it as long.

“And she’s always gone too long/ Anytime she goes away.” 

Jones, a D.C. R&B legend, may have been singing about missing a girl, but now, for his fans thinking about his rendition, the melancholy lyric could refer to the knowledge that Jones himself is gone. On Nov. 28, Jones died of cardiac arrest at his Northeast home at age 69. The show at Westminster, where he and his band had played once a year for 14 years, was his last with the Young Bucks. His death marks the end of an era for the District’s old-school R&B scene.

Newer residents may not have heard of Jones, but his music career spanned a continuum of African American music, from gospel to doo-wop, R&B to disco and beyond. Over the years, his voice and songs he covered captured the aspirations, struggles, and joys of Black America. In a way, he stood witness to the city’s history and social changes—living through various uprisings, the long-awaited election of Black mayors, an influx of luxury condos and mass gentrification, a Black president, and an insurrection on the Capitol. 

Backing up R&B and soul greats—including Wilson Pickett, Roberta Flack, Carla Thomas, and Bobby Womack—when they appeared in D.C., Jones upheld a stellar reputation as a musician who could play these artists’ extensive catalogs as they intended. Through his onstage confidence, built from performing in Black churches, clubs, and rented halls in a segregated and redlined city, Jones also represented a surviving example of the strength and tenacity of D.C.’s Chocolate City culture.

“Good singing is always appreciated,” Jones said in a 2020 interview with City Paper, referencing the changes he had seen over the decades in music, his passion for songs from multiple decades, and the types of locations where he performed. “If you see me down at Westminster, I give them what they come for, which is singing and I give them a variety, a musical history lesson.”

“What he was doing is a lost art,” Dr. Nick Johnson, a WPFW DJ, tells City Paper. “You don’t see performers do that today. He could take a song from 1955 or 1960 and make it relevant to today.”

The grandson of a minister and the son of a father who used to sing and win talent shows, Jones was involved in D.C.’s music scene since childhood. Growing up in Northeast’s Kenilworth Projects, he and his older brother, Earl, and sisters Ethel Jones and Precious Hatchett (also known as Patti, Jones’ nickname for her), comprised the Jones Gospel Five. According to Hatchett, who was born 18 months after Eddie and was considered his “twin,” the group started in 1962, when Eddie was about 10. He played bass until age 14, when he switched to lead guitar.

The Jones Gospel Five in 1967. Eddie was 14 years old. Eddie (l) Jane Jones, Bennie Wilder. Seated Precious aka Patti (l) Earl and Ethel; courtesy of Patti Hatchett

“I play [a right-handed guitar] upside down, that’s my secret,” Jones said in 2020. Referring to Jones’ left-handed, open-tuned style, Young Bucks bassist Les Campbell says, “the chords that he played were so full and unique that, to this day, I don’t know too many guitar players who sound like him.” 

The Jones Gospel Five toured the mid-Atlantic and Southeast, harmonizing together until 1980. They performed alongside gospel greats including James Cleveland, both the Blind Boys of Alabama and Blind Boys of Mississippi, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Shirley Caesar, and the Mighty Clouds of Joy, recalls Hatchett.

The family’s gospel path intersected with D.C.’s music and social history more than once. In 1968, the group performed at Resurrection City, shacks set up on the National Mall after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination to protest substandard housing for people living in poverty. The protest was part of King’s Poor People’s March and campaign to rid the nation of poverty.

In 2020, Jones recalled when the civil rights activists who organized Resurrection City invited the Jones Gospel Five to perform at an old union hall on New Jersey Avenue NW. More than 400 people attended. “We decided we were going to wear jeans suits instead of tuxedos, which is what we usually wore for major programs,” Jones said at the time. “We didn’t feel it was a tuxedo event.” Hatchett remembers her sister Ethel speaking to the crowd; by the end, the audience gave them a standing ovation. The memory of performing at that packed hall for two hours remained one of Jones’ lifelong highlights as a gospel singer.

But Jones didn’t limit himself to religious music. According to former interviews, Jones’ mother let the siblings listen to both rock and roll and R&B, including soulful crooners of the 1950s such as Sam Cooke and Brook Benton.

Over the years, the Jones family helped inspire audiences—all their neighbors knew them in their Kenilworth community, says Hatchett. “Some of the rougher guys in the neighborhood used to knock on the door when they heard us rehearsing and we would let the men in.” Eventually they got to know the family. Hatchett recalls one man who stopped hanging out on the streets after watching rehearsals for a while, and became a deacon at the local Shiloh Baptist Church. “Years later,” she says, “we saw him and he said, ‘I’m glad God found me through y’all.’”

The gospel group also attracted neighborhood musicians. “The Jones Gospel Five and the Young Bucks used to rehearse on the porch part of their house,” says Campbell, referring to the time before he joined the Young Bucks and was just another neighbor. “We could hear them practicing. I met [Young Bucks drummer] Jack first and then the family, and started jamming with them. We didn’t think they would ask us to play with them out at shows because we were so young, but they did.” 

But the Young Bucks were not always a band that practiced at Jones’ home, especially because they existed well before he joined the group in 1966. Pianist Earl Simpson started the band, which played jazz, blues, and R&B covers, years earlier in 1955. Two years before Jones sang with the Jones Gospel Five at Resurrection City, Simpson recruited the savvy 14-year-old guitarist and singer to the Young Bucks. The group’s repertoire of older standards like “How High the Moon” and polished, jazzy hits by the likes of Nat King Cole and Ray Charles further expanded Jones’ playing skills and musical knowledge. “Earl saw the potential in me, in music—he took me under his wing and wanted more for me,” Jones recalled in his 2020 City Paper interview. 

“Earl taught Eddie to be a leader in music, to organize the band,” says Hatchett. And it’s exactly what Jones did when he took control of the Young Bucks when Simpson retired. Jones led the band from the late 1970s until his death. 

Jones and the Young Bucks played regularly in the late ’60s and ’70s—the heyday of Black nightlife in the city. The group played Black-owned bars throughout D.C., such as Rocky’s, the Orbit Lounge, and Mr. Kelly’s. Other nights, the Bucks played private cabarets in rented halls or outdoor gigs at segregated Black summer resorts like Carr’s Beach near Annapolis. “There was never a shortage of places to play,” Jones previously recalled. “When I first started, you had something like two or three clubs on every block.” 

Known as “the Beach” by locals, Carr’s Beach was the site of many performances for Black audiences by leading Black artists during Jim Crow. Everyone from Sarah Vaughan and The Temptations to Ike and Tina Turner played there. It was at the Beach where Jones and the Young Bucks opened for Wilson Pickett in 1969, a gig where Pickett’s treatment of a band member forever seared into Jones how not to mentor his group.

During sound check, Pickett’s bass player struggled; knowing Pickett’s repertoire, Jones volunteered to show the bassist how to play the songs. When the musician continued to falter, Pickett harangued and fired him, giving Jones the role instead. “He was a hard person,” Jones said in 2020. “Pickett didn’t have to ridicule him like that. The guy was trying.”

Jones remained bothered by Pickett’s ridicule and for decades he was dedicated to doing the opposite. If one of his own musicians hit a bad note while performing, Jones would let it go or compensate to encourage that musician—just as his mentor, Earl Simpson, did for him.

Jones made a major impact on Pickett as well: He began using the Young Bucks as a backup band whenever he came through D.C. Eventually, as word spread and the band’s reputation grew, other prominent singers began to do the same, including Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, David Ruffin, Clarence Carter, and ZZ Hill. In 1975, Jones began a long music relationship with Bobby Womack, which echoed his start with Pickett. He saw Womack perform at the long gone Casino Royale in Northwest and noticed he didn’t have a bass player setting up. Jones approached him to ask how the show would work without bass.

“I got a keyboard player who can run left hand,” Womack responded, referring to playing bass rhythms. “That’s not the same as a bass player,” Jones recalled retorting, picking up the bass and beginning to play one Womack song after another. Womack marveled at Jones’ skill and left-handed playing, just like his own.

“Not only did he get a bass player, but he got backup singers that night—my brother and my brother-in-law,” Jones recalled in the 2020 interview. “He was blown away and gave me $200, which was big money back then.” Whenever Womack returned to D.C., Jones would sit in with his band.

“Eddie played with so many big names, but he never got a big ego about it,” says Hatchett.

Despite his abilities, Jones was never concerned with being a famous musician, Hatchett added. He didn’t write original songs and he always had a day job while performing as a local musician. Like (and thanks to) Simpson, Jones worked at the Department of Labor for nearly two decades. 

Jones was a union member since the mid-’70s, so the union often invited the Young Bucks to perform at events in the Department of Labor’s auditorium. These shows further developed Jones’ confidence and solidified the band’s reputation in the community. 

Jones was proud of his work as a union employee, where he advocated for workers who faced mistreatment or other matters and helped resolve workplace issues. Jones modeled himself after Simpson (who passed bylaws to protect DoL employees), but never sought attention for his efforts. He often combined music with his job by performing for agency assemblies, programs, retirement parties, and holiday events until he left the agency in 1993.

Before his death, Jones credited a gig at the Department of Labor’s Great Hall for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day tribute in the early 1980s as his most touching memory as a musician. That year, WKYS DJ Candy Shannon MCed the event with keynote speaker D.C. Del. and pastor Walter Fauntroy; then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry attended the event. And, just before the show was to begin, Simpson surprised Jones by asking him to sing. Not ready, he decided to reach for his roots, performing the gospel song “One Day at a Time” for which he received a standing ovation. The crowd called him back and Jones played for 20 more minutes. Later, Fauntroy told Jones, “I thought I could sing but no way in the world am I coming behind you.” 

“That was one of the highlights of my life,” Jones said in 2020. “I wasn’t originally planning to go on and I was totally unprepared. But from that I learned you don’t have to follow the script.” 

Beginning in the 1980s, the Young Bucks were booked less and less as music styles changed. Go-go was taking over in some Black-owned clubs while gentrification was closing many others and scattering Black residents further out into the suburbs. The band members took jobs with other groups, but continued to play as the Young Bucks when they could get gigs.

In the 1990s, Jones joined the Legendary Orioles, a group known for their vocal harmony covers of 1950s doo-wop classics. Jones sang on several albums and together they performed live on and off throughout the rest of his life, including an appearance at the Sylvan Theatre on July 4 one year. 

The Legendary Orioles at Eddie Jones’ last performance on Oct. 8, 2022, at Leisure World; courtesy of Patti Hatchett

Changes spread across the city. Venues such as Faces on Georgia Avenue NW, where the Young Bucks played in the early ’90s, became a CVS, Gwen’s Majestic on H Street NE—another Young Bucks stage—closed in the 2000s. The audience for Jones’ style of R&B aged; other local artists such as Lil Margie of the Jewels and Eddie Daye died. 

For those who grew older with Jones, and a small number of younger folks who discovered him later, Eddie Jones and the Young Bucks’ annual gigs at Westminster—often with his siblings onstage with him—proved to be a reunion, and a reminder of D.C.’s once-thriving R&B scene. Jones “always stated what makes the Young Bucks unique was our three- to four-part harmonies,” guitarist Emmit Queen of the Young Bucks says. “When Eddie would sing a song he would know the history behind [it] and how the lyrics would tell a story.” 

Up until his death, Jones sang with two choruses every fourth Sunday at his Temple Hills church. On occasion, Jones also sang vocal harmony standards with members of the Legendary Orioles at the senior living complex Leisure World in Silver Spring.

“Eddie’s priorities were very important to him,” Hatchett, who sings in one of the aforementioned choruses, says. “They were God first, family second, and music third. Eddie tried to help everybody and he put everything into his music career, which wasn’t just a way to entertain, but to really befriend people.”

“You meet few people who are as kind hearted, and as generous with their time as Eddie was,” says WPFW’s Johnson. “He always had time for people at Westminster, he always had time for a last photograph with a person in the audience.” 

Jones was going to be there till the very end, Johnson adds, giving a music history lesson on gospel, soul, and R&B for whoever wanted to meet a local legend.

A memorial service for Eddie Jones starts at 10 a.m. on Jan. 13 at Maryland Gospel Assembly, followed by a service at Interment Heritage Cemetery in Waldorf. A gofundme has been set up to assist with funding.