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Wizz Jones

Wizz Jones, Newquay 1960
Wizz Jones, Newquay 1960
All the interviews we’ve published in Southern Rag so far have been with people from what could be termed the “second generation” of the folk revival – those who got interested during or as a result of the big folk boom of the mid-sixties and became major names during the seventies. The majority of folk clubs had turned, by the early ’70s, to largely British traditional music (except for those devoted to jokesters) and our interviewees have reflected that in their choice of music.

Cambridge Folk Festival’s 1980 booking of Rambling Jack Elliott (and indeed Lonnie Donegan, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and others) has re-kindled interest in the earlier days of the revival. There are few people around the scene who have steadfastly stuck to the areas of music which were fashionable then and first inspired them; Wizz Jones is probably the best, one of the most influential upon his contemporaries. All sorts of people from those days who’ve gone on to fame and fortune like Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Donovan, John Renbourn, Ralph McTell, and of course countless folk guitarists, have named him as an influence or inspiration. Over two decades since setting out as a musician, Wizz still does club bookings which are full of the joy of playing which marks an enthusiast, always a magical experience.

Sadly, the British folk scene which outwardly exhibits an almost manic spurning of commercialism and trends is just as susceptible to fashions as any other music world. So, for a decade Wizz has largely been making his fine music for European ears, to our loss. With all the oft-quoted signs of the ’80s heralding a return to more open ears in the folk world, let’s hope that we’ll be hearing a lot more of Wizz Jones in English clubs again.

The following interview with Wizz (and occasionally Sandy) Jones was conducted back in July before they set out on yet another summer continental tour – radio and TV in Germany, festivals in France – with the Southern Rag represented by Ian Anderson and Caroline Walker.

S.R. How did you first get involved with the embryo folk scene in the late ’50s?

W.J. I suppose first and foremost through the radio. Not so much listening to folk music but listening to all those European stations like Hilversum, Europe No.1, Voice Of America, which introduced me to music you didn’t hear, with exceptions like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s Hooting Blues which got in the charts and they used to play on Family Favourites in 1955 or something. I got into obscure music like jazz and country & western – it was trendy to like New Orleans traditional jazz anyway and this led in a way to things like Leadbelly and country music. That’s how I started.

S.R. I remember seeing an old photo on your wall of you, extremely young, playing in a group of some kind.

W.J. Well, as soon as I left school I got a job in a warehouse, and I was working with this guy who brought a guitar in one day. I’d bought Les Paul records, but I never knew what a guitar looked like – I only knew the sound and it got me interested. He took me to jazz clubs where I met people like Alexis Korner and that’s how I got to meet people like Jack [Elliott] and Derroll [Adams]. I was 18 then, and I had this little local group we called The Wranglers, which was playing stuff I’d heard on the radio on the skiffle programmes.

S.R. How important was that skiffle movement in getting people to play?

W.J. Oh, extremely important. It was such simple music. I’d go along to what were known in those days as skiffle clubs – what we’d now call a folk club, places that were jazz clubs but one night of the week they’d showcase skiffle – and you’d see these guys; all they were doing was just strumming in an open tuning and having a good time. It did get everyone playing. All my friends played the guitar, and when Lonnie Donegan had that Rock Island Line hit it was so obscure and offbeat – even if you didn’t like it, it made you listen – it led you to investigate Leadbelly and that stuff.

S.R. I guess Rambling Jack Elliott came here just at the right time.

W.J. Yes, they’d been kicking around Europe and when they came to London, it was like the Messiah arriving.

From Southern Rag 6, October 1980


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