It’s almost a cliche at this point to call any unknown performer a “lost treasure” or whatever worn-out label you prefer to use. The shelves of musical history are overflowing with material by recording artists — a very loose term, in some cases — who committed some tunes to tape, be it in their basement or in a professional setting. A small percentage of these folks actually had something pressed on wax and released to the public, and a minuscule amount of those people actually got somebody outside of their zip code to buy their record.
In this day and age, with the countless number of releases hawking newly discovered tapes or reissues of singers you’ve never heard of, it’s understandable to think that there’s nothing left to get excited about. Surely all the good stuff is already out there, and if you hear one more so-called critic try to tell you otherwise, you’ll be unable to restrain yourself from smacking them upside the head with your well-thumbed copy of the Rolling Stone Guide to Anything That Anybody Should Own.
At the risk of getting a concussion, I’m going to try and convince you that there is actually one more soul artist you’ve never heard of who is worth checking out, and her name is Jeanette Jones.
Not much is known about Ms. Jones. She was discovered by Leo Kulka, the owner of Golden State Recorders when, in 1965, the Voices of Victory choir in San Francisco recorded a Gospel album in his studio. Jones was the featured vocalist on five of the eight tracks they recorded, and it was obvious to Kulka that she had a voice that truly was a gift from the man upstairs.
It took a couple of years, but he finally persuaded Jones to record some secular material. She recorded a handful of tracks in 1968, but Kulka couldn’t stir up any interest for a label to release anything. In 1969, she recorded a few more songs, which resulted in Kulka finally releasing a single on his own label in the hopes that a bigger label would pick up the record and distribute it. The record finally got some national exposure in 1971, but as is often the case, there wasn’t much push behind it and the record faded away.
While waiting for a major player to express interest in Jones’ single, Kulka got her involved with a project known as the Mill Valley Bunch. Guitarist Mike Bloomfield — best known as a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the Electric Flag — spent many a night with various other performers jamming in the Golden State Recorders studio. Kulka suggested they record an album, and the Mill Valley Bunch was born. Kulka offered Jones’ vocal services, resulting in her appearance on two tracks, although only one of them actually appeared on the album when it came out a year or two later.
After singing on two publishing demos in 1974, Jones disappeared from the radar, and nobody seems to know what became of her. Kulka claimed that she had contacted him years later and implied that she had fallen on hard times, but since she never resurfaced to speak on her own behalf, who can say for sure? Even the scant amount of photographs that exist of Jeanette Jones look like they were all taken at the same session. This lady is a true enigma.
All we’re left with is the music. Aside from her gospel material, only three songs featuring her voice were released while she was an active recording artist. The beginning of the 21st Century gave us all two reasons to be grateful: Y2K didn’t kill us and unreleased Jeanette Jones performances began a slow trickle out of the vaults courtesy of the Kent label. This all culminated in 2016 when they released a vinyl album containing all 12 of her solo recordings.
Upon first listen to any of these songs, it’s painfully obvious that the lady was a talented vocalist. Some of the 1968 recordings were in more of a pop vein rather than soul, specifically in their arrangements. Think of a soundless Aretha Franklin and more Lou Rawls, but don’t be deterred by that comparison. All that means is her initial recordings were more like soul music for grown-ups.
All of her initial recordings demonstrate the solid gospel sound she possessed. It’s easy to see why Kulka tried to expose her to a wider audience. It’s also clear why he finally took matters into his own hands and released “The Thought of You” on his own label in 1969. Despite the cheesy spoken introduction — which isn’t even Jones’ voice — the song features the usual superb vocal performance over a lovely arrangement with strings. It’s an aural delight.
The two 1974 publishing demos should have been released as a single, hands down, admittedly with maybe a touch-up or two on the arrangements. Both tracks have a contemporary sound that holds up as well as any R&B hit from that year.
“You’d Be Good For Me” is a funky uptempo track, and “What Have You Got To Gain By Losing Me” is a slower song that’s literally so close to perfect, it almost brings tears to my eyes that it took 26 years for it to see the light of day.
Overall, these 12 tracks are well worth owning. If you didn’t purchase the Kent LP in 2016, you can now get them all on Playback’s Jeanette Jones compilation Dreams All Come True. If you were enlightened enough to buy the Kent LP, you need to know that the Playback label has taken matters a step forward with their recent compilation. Aside from including the dozen solo recordings, they include her performance from the Mill Valley Bunch album plus an additional unreleased track from the same session that features Ms. Jones.
To round it off, they also included the five Voices of Victory recordings that initially got Jones noticed along with another recording they made a couple of years later, all of which feature her as lead vocalist. These have more of a basic gospel sound with a piano and choir and may be more for the completist, but they round out Ms. Jones’ aural history nicely. It’s an added bonus to hear her singing with a choir.
It should be noted that most of the material sounds like it was taken from master tapes, but some of the Voices of Victory recordings sound a little rough. Given that they only pressed around 100 copies of the album and the master tape for those performances is certainly long gone, it’s understandable that they aren’t quite up to par in an audiophile sense, but they cleaned up the recordings as best as they could. Alec Palao’s liner notes do justice in telling what little is known about Jones.
Is Jeanette Jones worth all the hoopla? Absolutely! This is a great release that I’ll be going back to again and again. This is a legitimate “what if” situation in regards to how her life, our lives, and the record charts would be so radically different had fate led her down a different path.
Get your copy of Jeanette Jones’ Dreams All Come True via Amazon!