Friday, June 8, 2012
“I started playing because I got grounded,” says Wes.
MARSHALL Of all the great musical talent available to us in East Texas, and there is a lot, the list gets considerably shorter when you start looking at long-running professional musicians – the men and women who, night after night, year after year, hit the road touring and take their own brand and style of music to the masses. On that list has to be the name of Wes Jeans.
Born and raised in Marshall, Texas, Wes comes by his musical talent honestly. His dad was a career firefighter, but he was also a drummer. His uncles are guitar players, and he says, “My sister plays just about everything.” Wes wasn’t one of those kids that started playing music because his family played. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Wes loved baseball and was considered to be quite the athlete until an eye injury affected his vision. It was about that time he found himself learning and playing the guitar. His reason had less to do with the musical background of his family and more to do with him being a 14-year-old teenage boy.
“I started playing because I got grounded,” says Wes. Confined to his room and bored, he took a guitar from his closet. While listening to the radio, he began playing chords. It wasn’t long until he left his room proclaiming to his parents he had learned the intro to “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream. They were pleased, reminded him he was grounded and sent him back to his room. From that moment on, he was a guitar man.
Wes Jeans is a self-taught guitar player and musician. Relentless in his desire to learn, four months after picking up that guitar he and some friends started their own band. Wes studied, learned and developed his own unique style and brand of music by following the lead of some of the greatest guitarists: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and ZZ Top. He refers to them as “the power trio.”
In 1996, Wes entered the International Jimi Hendrix Competition in Austin. Over 1500 young guitar players and enthusiasts submitted audio and videos, each hoping to be recognized as the best in the world. In time, finalists were narrowed down to ten and were invited to perform before the Hendrix family and former band members. At age 16, Wes Jeans finished 2nd in the overall competition. Afterwards, Al Hendrix, the father of Jimi Hendrix said to Wes, “In my eyes, you won because you played straight from the heart like Jimi.”
In 2000, Hands On, his debut album, was released. Recorded in 1999, Wes used Al Green’s band as the rhythm section and found it to be well-received. This first release climbed to #2 on the National Blues Sales Chart. This young Texas guitar player was quickly getting the reputation for shows full of energy, and pounding guitar licks were making his mark. He was 17 years old. By 2003, Wes was getting national recognition. In 2004, Guitar Player Magazine published the results of a reader survey where they were looking for the Young Gun Guitar Players in America. Wes was proclaimed as #3 in the nation along with Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Wes continued to stay busy with the 2006 release of his second CD, Forest of the Pine. In 2009, fans got to experience his live album, Live at Music City Texas, which was recorded to a packed house at the famous Music City Texas Theatre in Linden. Since then, Wes has released 2 DVDs and appeared on another “10 or 12 CDs.” He still has much more to come.
“I’ve got this new project, and I’m really excited about it,” Wes said. Having been working with a new band since January, he believes he now has the perfect mix. “I’ve been doing this blues/rock thing for years and years.” While there is no denying his love for the genre, he is quick to point out that “music is changing constantly,” and he is going to make some changes with his music as well. His bass player, Syd Hydro, has been with Wes for 13 years and says, “He’s my rock.” Johnny Lenix plays the drums and sings. He came from the band Kul and sounds “exactly like Sly Stone with a Lenny Kravitz style.” Adding a female voice to the band is Kayla Reeves, a great talent who has spent the last two years touring with the Trans Siberian Orchestra (TSO).
The new band has new songs as well as a new set list. “75% of our live stuff is original, but people still want to hear cover songs as well,” Wes says. “The band has an infusion of a lot of different styles from different places, mixing our own influences into our music. It’s going to be a blues, funk, soul, R&B, and we are going to call it rock and roll.” With several new songs already written, Wes is hoping to release his new CD, Blood, Sweat & Years, before the end of the year but quickly points out their grueling tour schedule. During the next few months, they are performing in several cities throughout Tennessee, North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.
Always happy to return home, Wes Jeans is excited to be appearing at Charlie’s BackYard Bar in Marshall on June 16. It will be his first show there since New Year’s Eve. “Charlie’s is my favorite venue in the Ark-La-Tex. Most places sink money into all the other stuff and skimp on the PA and stuff for the band. Rudy went about it the right way. All the musicians I know who have played it love it.” The stage setup and configuration can easily impact a bands performance, and Charlie’s has “plenty of stage, a nice green room and a great sound guy.”
Now at age 31, he has been playing professionally for 17 years. Music is such a huge part of his life. He says jokingly, “I never had a real job, ever. I’ve played music professionally since I was 15.” He is quick to tell you that it is not all fun and good times. “Most people just see the 90 minutes of glory when we are on stage.” The fans are what keep him working and paying the bills. When they are on stage, Wes and his band give everything for a great show. What those fans don’t see is the “14 hours of driving, the setting up and tearing down and everything that goes into us being there for that show.”
It’s obvious that Wes was meant for the stage. That was never more obvious than when we were doing photos. He put that guitar in his hand, and I think for a moment he forgot I was even there. His hands immediately went to working the strings and, though not plugged into an amp, Wes was in his own world. His reputation for both talent and work ethic has enabled him to play and perform with many of the other great guitarists as well. People such as B.B. King, Jimmie Vaughan, David Lee Roth, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and many more.
Of course, this only really works with a good support system, and Wes certainly has that. In past years, his wife Kristal served as his road manager and took care of merchandising. They have been together for 10 years and have a young son, Warren, who is now 2½. When not playing or on the road, he loves to spend time with his family and also has a fondness for rebuilding and racing Corvettes. He recalls when, “My phone was full of pictures of motors, cars and guitars.” He laughs telling me, “It’s full now of pictures of Kristal and my son.” But there are still the guitars. Musicians collect instruments the way photographers collect cameras, so I asked Wes how many he owned. Quick to laugh, he said, “I don’t know; I really don’t know,” but followed up with, “Probably not as many as people think.” He does have some favorites, and when you attend one of his shows you will surely see at least one of them: a ‘56 Strat, a ‘60 Strat, a ‘67 Gibson V and a ‘58 Les Paul. A smile came over his face as he recalled a memory: “Man, I hung wallpaper with my mom, mowed yards – anything to earn money to buy my first Strat.” While he does love his guitars, they are not simply showpieces. The wear on them is obvious. He smiles as he proclaims, “I can love on it and make it sound sweet but a lot of times I do attack it.”
Coming home is always a good time for Wes when spending time with family, seeing old friends and making new ones. “When I’m home, I try to make it out to Telegraph Park in Marshall to play with local musicians. I like to jam and hang out with everybody.” He likes positive people. “Negativity is like a cancer, it spreads from one person to the next.”
There is no denying the man’s talent. With a guitar in his hands, all he needs is 60 seconds to convince you of that. Is it possible that his real success is the combination of that talent, his seemingly constant positive attitude and the fact the guy is humble? He’s living his dream and having fun but seemingly has never taken his success too seriously. The guy drives the van to shows. He carries his own equipment on and off of the stage and takes the time to talk with anyone that wants to talk to him. I asked him why. Smiling, he looked at me and said, “I do it because I love it. It makes me feel good, and I play because I love playing.”
For more information about Wes Jeans, where you can see a live show, photos and samples of his music, go to www.wesjeans.com