Monday, June 6, 2011

Des Moines Treasure: Del "Saxman" Jones

The first time I met Del "Saxman" Jones, I was a guest in his house. I knew a little about his incredible career... The time he spent touring with James Brown and the short stint he had playing saxophone with Tina Turner. I knew that he had written a song that was used in a Pepsi commercial, and I was aware that he had been inducted into the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame.

Del "Saxman" Jones
What I didn't know, was what to expect. I had approached Mr. Jones through email, asking him to meet me at a bar, which is what my normal protocol is when it comes to conducting personal interviews. I thought it was pretty neat that a musician of his stature made his home here in Des Moines, Iowa, and it kind of took me by surprise when he invited me to his house.

"It's where my office is," he said. "It's where I keep everything, and it will just be easier that way."

It made sense to me. It's not every day that one gets a chance to hang out in the house of an internationally respected musician. I phoned Cveckian, the Bigfoot Diaries tech guy and invited him to come along, and to bring his camera just in case a good photo opportunity presented itself. He agreed, and we met at the address Mr. Jones provided us. A few minutes later, we were inside, and it became obvious right away that this was viewed as a business venture on the part of the Saxman. We were led to his office, which was a treasure trove of photographs and old school R&B memorabilia. There were photos of Mr. Jones on the walls posing with various celebrities... Jean Claude Van Damme, Naomi Campbell, Chubby Checker, Isaac Hayes, Jackie Chan, Buddy Miles, Michael Brecker, Cindy Crawford, The Princess of Thailand, and several others. There were concert posters, backstage passes to various festivals and events, letters of gratitude from some of the largest hotel chains in the world (for instance: The Grand Hyatt of Hong Kong) thanking him for the times he played at their hotel, plus a multitude of other photographs and documents polarizing his extensive musical career. It reminded me of being at Planet Hollywood.

He sat in his easy chair behind his desk, and Cveckian and I sat across from him, and after I turned on the audio recorder, we started to ask questions. Now Del "Saxman" Jones is not a man short of words. I realized right away that there was no way that this was going to be a proper interview, where I ask a question, get an answer and write it down. I was simply overwhelmed with the length of Mr. Jones's answers. I had asked him how he got to become a saxophone player, and his response was way more than I could have hoped for. I heard about how he took the saxophone as a child through the urging of his father and, how he played all through each level of the public school system, how he didn't really want to play while in college at Drake University, but rather concentrate on wrestling. And while in high school as a junior he joined a funk band called New Establishment with a bunch of "older cats," some of who had played in Vegas and with The Platters, and how he had dropped out of school to travel to the south with these guys, and how eventually this band got screwed, and instead of playing at this high class venue as they were promised, they were basically put on hold, how he and his band mates were all but stranded in the south, living in an apartment together and not working. Then Bob Marchand (Shake Your Moneymaker) came by and asked them to play and tour with him, which essentially was the break that a young Del Jones needed, and it proved to be the starting point of his very illustrious career.

New Establishment (Del Jones on far right)
I realized at this juncture of our conversation that there was no way I was going to take the time to transcribe this entire interview as such. I simply wouldn't have the time. But I also realized that Del "Saxman" Jones had an incredible story to tell, and I felt honored to be sitting in his office hearing about it firsthand.

Del Jones allowed us to visit with him for about three and a half hours. He told us a little bit about when he toured with Bob Marchand and later, how he was asked to join James Brown's band from the band's manager. He wasn't even sure if the guy was legit. "But I gave him props," Del said. "Because you never know... He could be a friend of a friend, or an uncle or somebody." As it turned out it was James Brown's manager, and for the next two years, he toured the world with the Godfather of Soul. Del told us about how the penalty for making a mistake while performing with James Brown, who was a stickler for perfection, was at least fifty bucks. He relayed a great story about how, as a rookie, he missed the band bus on a gig to the Houston Astrodome, and had to snivel his way past the security at the show to join the band on stage for sound check. It literally took him going form gate to gate (He says that the Astrodome is 9 miles in diameter) to find somebody who would actually believe him enough to contact Danny Ray, who was the MC for the James Brown Show. Danny told the security guy to go ahead and let him in... "So," said Del, "I go back there right, and I see the guys snickering, they are like That damn rookie! So I got fined for missing the bus, I got fined for being late to the sound check, and there was another one... it came to like 400 and some odd bucks for that one little deal!"

Modern day Saxman
Finally after a couple of years, he left the James Brown band and picked up with Tina Turner. It was a whole new experience for Del who was used to the precision and structure of the James Brown entourage. "Little did I know the drama that was going on behind the scenes," said Del with a chuckle, referring to the Tina Turner camp. "Ike (Turner) liked to carry guns... During practice one time, Ike and the guitar player were discussing a chord. But Ike wants to be right and this guy was telling him, 'No it's a B,' then it turned into a 'fuck you, no fuck you'... It started getting like that. And Ike stood up, pulled out that gun and said, 'What else you got to say?'... The guy got quiet. 'As a matter of fact, you are done.' And out the door he went. I'm like 'Oh no. That's not good... I don't like this.'"

Del said that he lasted six months with the Tina Turner camp before he quit and headed back to central Iowa where he formed his own band with local musicians in Des Moines. It never really panned out for him, so he moved out to Las Vegas joined up with Split Decision. With this fresh new group, he did stints on Dick Clark's American Grandstand and the Don Cornelius cult production, Soul Train. They did tours with bands like War, The Commodores, and Cameo, to name a few. Del spent ten years with this band, and only moved on when he was given the opportunity to play with the C.C. Ryders Band. Though he had no way of knowing it then, this would lay the foundation for Final Mix, the band that the Saxman formed and is playing with currently. This new band, The C.C. Ryders, was formed exclusively to play at the world-class Grand Hyatt Hong Kong Hotel for the grand opening of JJ's Nightclub, the crown jewel of Hyatt's flagship entertainment center. It became a very popular spot on Hong Kong's nightclub scene, and it became an instant destination for locals and tourists alike.

Grand Hyatt Hong Kong
Only the world's elite could afford to party at JJ's. It cost thirty dollars just to get into the door. "Drinks started around ten bucks," Said Del. "House champagne was $170 a bottle. Dom Perignon was $230.... Christal was $220... Louis the XVI was $125 a shot... So it was all high end... But people would buy it like it aint nothing."

What started out as a 6 month commitment for the C.C. Ryders turned into a 10 year run at the Hong Kong Hyatt. Eventually all good things must come to an end, and with the changes in international trends, Del Jones decided to come back to Iowa and take another attempt at doing something with the local musicians that Des Moines provided. This time, it proved to be a successful venture. With his internationally acclaimed status, Del was able to accumulate the best musicians Des Moines had to offer for his type of show, and he put together the appropriately named Final Mix Band.

Final Mix, who along with Del includes Pa Cha Vang, Travis Hawkins, Brian Goodner, Brian Daye, and Maxx G. Flipping, has been a staple on the Des Moines music scene since 1999. It's high energy show features pop music and motown, with a heavy dose of sexual funk. At a recent show in Pleasant Hill, there were no less than 9 ladies on the stage shaking their asses at the command of the band. This of course was a delight to us men who were in attendance, and I was amazed at the hypnotic power the band seemed to have over these middle aged women. The energy was so intense, that when the band finally took a break, it was like a vaccuum had come in and sucked the life out of the room. And while I will be the first to admit that the music they play is not from my genre of choice, I will say that you would have to dig pretty deep to find a group of more talented musicians playing together with a sound as tight. You add in the fact that Pa Cha Vang, the bands' female vocalist, is a about the cutest little thing on the circuit, and you have a little something that will appeal to everyone.

The Final Mix Band
The band just released a new DVD called FINAL MIX BAND LIVE, and you should be able to get it from the Saxman himself. It's good to have Del "Saxman" Jones here in Des Moines. His life is one of legend, and it's great that Des Moines can call him our own.

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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nor was it just the gals...the guys got equal time to shake it in the Hill - a little more Elvis and they woulda nailed it! Priceless. :D

Anonymous said...

Story about Musicial career of a dedicated musician from DM. Toured with the big names in many countries all over the world, experience in all levels of the music business and still going strong with his own group FINAL MIX BAND. Been called the hardest working full time Pro musician in town.

Julie Warren said...

I love to see this band every chance I get they have made me feel so welcome and like we are old close friends. I love to dance with Del Sr. ( Del Saxman Jones Father ) he is such a sweet man is 86 yrs old and can wear me out on the dance floor. If you have never seen them they are a must see..Pa Cha is only 18 yrs old and brings her unique style to this band. I urge anyone out there to go see this band they are awesome!! We Love you Final Mix!! your #1 Fan.

Kim said...

I also encourage you all to check out this band they are quite awesome great mixture of talent, and get to know the band they are very inviting love their audience and I am their No.2 fan Kim Colson, Waterloo Iowa