Jay Meehan: Tennessee waltz
March 10, 2015
My meet-up with Tennessee singer-songwriter Ted Murray Jones began innocently enough via a text message from my longtime amigo, the legendary percussionist, cult movie star, and champion of "Little Fellers" everywhere, KW Turnbow — a Utah lad who now resides in Nashville.
K-Dub, as he is affectionately known in the vernacular, it seemed, had this close friend from the greater-Nashville music scene who was embedded with the Sundance Film Festival crowd in Park City, or so he thought, and he was wondering if I could maybe steer him toward a local haunt or two. Go figure!
Two things became quite evident as I began trading messages with the aforementioned Mr. Murray and hanging out with him up on the southeast slopes of Mt. Timpanogos at the Sundance Resort, which is where he had actually hunkered down for the duration of the festival.
The first, it soon became evident, was that Jones needed little, if any, assistance acquiring the lay of the land — any land, it would seem. By the time I arrived, he not only knew all the film buffs ensconced in Robert Redford’s arts and recreational space up the North Fork drainage but also all the skiers, snowshoers, and habitués of the Owl Bar, the Foundry Grill, The General Store, the Deli, and the Tree Room.
Then there was the "help," the festival volunteers plus the waiting staff and barkeeps and assorted concierge types that worked all the various venues. The way they flocked around him, you would have thought he signed their paychecks. I never did make it up to his hillside cabin. I can only imagine the treatment he got from the housekeeping crew.
He wore his celebrity comfortably, however, not unlike the smallish saddlebags in which resided many of the CDs he has recorded over time and which he would casually toss over his shoulder whenever he found himself in motion.
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Jones is known to his close cohorts as "Rags," a moniker shortened from "Raggedy Man," both his Appalachian Trail "through hiker" nick-name and the title of a James Whitcomb Riley poem he often recited at campsites along the way. As you can well imagine, what with his outgoing personality and all, Rags can "network" with the best of them.
When a friend and I, on a few occasions, shared a table with him, we acquired a certain prestige in his aesthetic community, a subtle stamp of approval, if you will — a "cachet," as it were.
All of this reminded me of the manner in which our mutual friend KW Turnbow also gets fondled by fans when he journeys west. Whether it’s a CowJazz Reunion in Utah or a Tarwater, Famous Motel Cowboy, or Braun Brothers Reunion in Idaho, or a Chris LeDoux Band gathering in Wyoming, K-Dub has never had trouble becoming the center of attention. It’s something about a musician’s aura, I suppose.
But back to those saddlebags and the musical fruits of Ted Murray Jones’ labors. Prior to putting his latest release under close audio inspection, I had Rags figured as the product of, over four adjacent centuries, an Appalachian Trail collision between Johnny Appleseed and Walt Whitman.
After spending a few hours engrossed in his recent CD "Life and the Hereafter," however, I began to sense that Pablo Neruda might well have also found himself involved in that very same smash-up. What I’m getting at, is that Rags, lyric-wise, has little trouble showing his vulnerable side. Love, from lost to yearned-for to contemplating-the-void-without, gets put through its paces in a quite frank and open manner.
"He goes around and around in his mind/He contemplates the edge of a razor/Take a deep look in his eyes/Get a taste of that lonesome flavor" from "Long Dry Spell" is just one example.
Then there are the high-quality musicians and vocalists he attracted to accompany him on this project. I know the old John Sebastian gospel that "Nashville cats play clean as country water, play wild as mountain dew, been playin’ since they’s babies, get work before they’re two," but jeez louise, how do you explain someone with the magical multi-instrumental chops of a Jeff Taylor.
Taylor, as anyone who caught the "Time Jumpers" at Deer Valley late last summer can attest, has taken instrumental virtuosity to a higher plateau. Vince Gill says he’s the best he’s ever been around. And, when coupled with the compositions and vocals of Ted Murray Jones, the feeling is as smooth as a slug of 94-proof Tennessee Sour Mash Single Barrel whiskey waltzing across your tongue.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.