Photo by Alex V. Cook
The "Mayor of Jonesville"
As Jack Jones takes the stage with the Jones Boys’ Hall of Fame Band at the Jones Boys’ Hall of Fame in Denham Springs, my friend Ben Bell and I are a little transfixed by the cut of his jacket.
“What do you call that?” asks Ben. “Is that a vest cut?”
“There’s a name for it but it escapes me,” I reply. “But I bet that thing never wrinkles.”
Ben fronts his own country band, The Stardust Boys, and is himself decked out in a spectacularly embroidered black western shirt. I am feeling a little under-dressed for the scene.
Ben and Jack take different tacks on country music. The Stardust Boys take a cerebral run through country identity, playing lovingly crafted heartbreaker originals and re-contextualized countrified covers like Elton John’s “Honky Cat.”
The Jones Boys are professional crowd pleasers, opening with Merle Haggard’s “It’s Been a Great Afternoon.” Ben is not only great company but also a country music encyclopedia, naming most songs in the first couple of bars. No one in the room, or on Earth, needs help identifying “Margaritaville.” We start taking bets on how long it takes “Brown Eyed Girl” to come around.
I can be a snob, I recognize that, but I also recognize that the rest of the world is freed from a criteria-based enjoyment matrix. They like the songs they like, which is a pretty air-tight system when you think about it. One of the Hall of Fame girls brought around a tray of tequila shots just as the pondering got deep. Just in time.
Ben nods at the door as a group of middle-aged women dressed to the nines come in. The less polite might insert a cougar joke here. The band kicks into “Brown Eyed Girl” and we wonder if the women conjured the song or vice versa. Whichever; it was like clockwork.
The Hall of Fame is meticulously thought out. The walls are covered in autographed photos of country stars. Buck Owens grins back at me right next to where I’m sitting while Ben sits near a startling pre-beard Hank Williams Jr. Ozzy Osbourne rests near the Stattler brothers in this tidy gridwork of starry-eyed fandom. I’m particularly taken with a red-sequined blazer worn by Ronnie Milsaps at the 1977 Country Music Association awards. Turns out I’m really into country music menswear. Maybe I need to invest in at least some boots and fulfill my Nashville sartorial longings. A couple rhinestones in my life couldn’t hurt.
The couple at the next table inform me that Jones has been collecting this stuff for years, that his dad was in the scaffolding business which worked the big country shows. It is a stunning manifestation of a dream. It’s well-lit, tidy, friendly. His logo is slyly everywhere. Jack Jones might be a branding genius. Ben and I agree that we could easily see ourselves hanging out here.
At the end of the first set, it’s time for the Hall of Fame Girls to put down their trays of Jell-O shots and take their spot on the bar. Luke Bryan’s “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” blares out of the sound system, and they do. There’s a congenial, even polite flirtation to it. There are no catcalls, no one yelling at the dancers. One gets the feeling that maybe the patrons of the club have watched these girls grow up or know them from church. It’s kinda sweet; maybe even wholesome in its way.
The bartender asks that I not take pictures of the Hall of Fame girls while they dance on the bar, lest the Internet get the wrong idea about what kind of place this is. But what kind of place is it? The fame referenced is not Jones’ but for that of the stars he admires. He’s got a good band with him, a couple of singers and guitar pickers and a pedal steel working through loving renditions of songs written by the pictures on the walls. “George Strait,” says Ben. I thought he maybe was pointing out an autograph on the wall, but he meant the song the band was playing.
The first time I heard the Jones Boys’ Hall of Fame Band was when they played on the back of a flatbed truck during one of the Baton Rouge Mardi Gras parades, tossing out twangy hits like they were beads and party cups—commonplace but, for the moment of the throwing, precious. I like the idea of having one’s own Hall of Fame, a place in which to frame one’s dreams, even if it is in a corner of a strip mall. Why not name your band after yourself and your dreams and then name the bar and the waitresses that too?
The girls shimmy their way off the bar and we see Jack Jones handshaking and jawboning across the bar like he’s the mayor, which, here, he kind of is. He makes a beeline to Ben and says, “That is some shirt you got on!” I tell him Ben is a country singer too and Jones nods, “I knew it when I saw him walk in the door.” I ask what his jacket is called and he proudly, instinctually turns to show is the impeccable stitching. “This is what you call a bolero jacket.” I decide at that moment that when I’m a star, I’m going to wear one of those.
Details. Details. Details.
The Jones Boys’ Hall of Fame
7775 Magnolia Beach Road, Suite A
Denham Springs, La. (225) 369-2403
Ben Bell and the Stardust Boys are working on a new album tentatively titled The Matador. Find them on Facebook for details.