Notes On New Orleans Bluesman Little Sonny Jones

Desire Street in New Orleans Upper 9th Ward is named for Désirée Gautier Montrieul who passed away in December of 1868, and is buried in St Louis Cemetery number 2. Her daddy owned the plantation that the famous street now runs through, but by the middle part of the 20th century the estate was long forgotten and the northern portion of the street became famous for two nightclubs: The Hideaway and Club Desire.

Johnny Jones performed at each venue, and it was at the Hideaway where his buddy Fats Domino gave him his ‘Little Sonny’ nickname in the late ’40s.

In November of 1952, the 21 year old Jones dropped a 10″ 78rpm disc on Specialty Records titled Is Everything Alright backed with Do You Really Love Me. Collectors can expect to pay nearly $30 for this slab.

The record didn’t gain any traction locally and it would be two years before Imperial Records would roll the dice on Jones by releasing Winehead Baby backed with Going To The Country.

I Got Booted with Tend To Your Business Blues as the b-side would follow but even with Dave Bartholomew in the producer’s chair and well-connected Imperial putting the records in local stores, Jones was denied a hit, and to be blunt it’s not hard to see why. These cuts are paint by numbers r&b, competent but not likely to send anyone running to the nearest record store.

That did not matter to Fats who kept Sonny employed by using him as an opening act for his concerts until 1961. After leaving the Fats Domino roadshow Jones joined up with the Lastie Brothers (Melvin and David) and performed with them til the late sixties.

Little Sonny Jones left show business at that point and went to work in the Domino’s Sugar Factory just down the river in Chalmette, Louisiana. After seven years of blue collar labor, Jones returned to the recording studio at the behest of Dutch record label Black Magic.

Jones must have called in every favor he had ever accrued as his backing-band was filled with all-stars like Clarence Ford, Dave “Fat Man” Williams, Dustin Adams and Frank Fields.

New Orleans R&B Gems was the result of their labors, and you can pick it up on the secondary market for around $10. Jones experienced a bit of a renaissance after the release of his comeback album, and went on to appear at New Orleans Jazz Fest several times before his untimely passing on December 17th, 1989.

For those who love to go deep in TV arcana there’s a scene in the show Treme in season 2 episode 8 where a strand of beads is flashed showing dice spelling out 12…17…89. Coincidence?

Little Sonny Jones was born on this day in 1931.

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Sources:
Gravesites of Southern Musicians: A Guide to Over 300 Jazz, Blues, Country …By Edward Amos
Hope & New Orleans: A History of Crescent City Street Names By Sally Asher
All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues edited by Vladimir Bogdanov

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