Al Jones passes 

Al Jones, perhaps best remembered for his work with Frank Necessary, passed away at his home in Whitetop, Virginia (Grayson County), on March 3, 2024. Aged 92, he had been in declining health for the past few years, and was recently released from the hospital.  

Albert Gene Jones was born in Whitetop on February 22, 1932, and moved to Maryland in 1946 to be with family members. He settled in Port Tobacco, very close to the banks of the Potomac River, south of Washington DC. 

It wasn’t until 1954 – when he was in his early twenties – that Jones, influenced by a close friend Grafton Palmer, learned to play the guitar. Subsequently, Jones worked with Eldon Stover, Don’s younger brother. 

In 1958 Jones got his first big break joining the popular Earl Taylor band, taking the place of Sam “Porky” Hutchins, who wanted to return to Rutherfordton, North Carolina. At the time Taylor was playing seven nights a week at Lindy’s 79 Club in Baltimore. 

During the following year Jones met Gene Cox, who at that time was married to Veronica (Roni) Stoneman. This meeting led to the formation of The National Troubadours with Cox on banjo, Roni on bass, Scotty Stoneman on fiddle, Lawrence “Pee Wee” Faudree on rest-guitar, and Jones on guitar.

Around 1961 he left The National Troubadours to play with the Baltimore, Maryland-based band of Marvin Howell and the Franklin County Boys, who had steady work in clubs and on radio.

Late 1962 proved to be a very significant for Jones in terms of his expanding horizons as he met banjo player Johnny Whisnant, who had gone to Maryland with Charlie Bailey of the Bailey Brothers from Knoxville, Tennessee to look for work in the area. Instead of working with Bailey, Whisnant and Jones teamed up and they formed the first Spruce Mountain Boys, which included several members of the first National Troubadours band. They were quite successful and stayed together for a little while. 

From 1963 to the latter part of 1965, Jones also worked with other bands and expanded his interest in music and related activities. Among these were the trading, selling, and repair of instruments. 

Apparently, the Spruce Mountain Boys recorded some unreleased sides for MVM Records. Also, they had a single on Pete Kuykendall’s Glenmar label. 

Al Jones – Out In The Country (Glenmar)

In 1965, Jones met versatile banjo picker Frank Necessary, who had the same ideas as Jones in terms of music and styling. 

Not long after this meeting the duo teamed up to start their own band. This was one of Jones’s most notable groups as the two voices blended well, and the versatility of Necessary’s Reno-Scruggs style banjo brought a vibrant spark to their music.    

During the period from 1965 to 1967, Al Jones and Frank Necessary and the Spruce Mountain Boys cut six sides for Rebel Records. One of which was How The Story Had To End – Al Jones & the Spruce Mountain Boys (F254).

This was followed by Dreamin’ And Grievin’ (F 260)

In 1974, Necessary, who had spent a few years in Ohio with the Stone Mountain Boys, returned to the Baltimore/Washington area, and once again linked up with Al Jones. 

1975 was banner year for Al Jones and Frank Necessary, who went into the Paragon Sound Studio, Silver Spring, Maryland, to record and LP – their first – for Rounder Records. Bluegrass musician, promoter and DJ, Jay Armsworthy, described this as, “one of the best, well-produced bluegrass albums that Rounder ever released.”

They played clubs and some festivals in the region.

In the Fall of 1976 Jones recorded a few unreleased cuts with Buzz Busby, live at the WAMU-FM studio in Washington, DC.

Later Buzz Busby became a member of the Spruce Mountain Boys for a while, during which time they cut an album for Old Homestead Records. 

In 1984 the duo recorded 12 tracks for Webco Records. Busby played mandolin on this as well. 

Al Jones and Frank Necessary & The Spruce Mountain Boys – Traditional Bluegrass 

In their later years, Al Jones and Frank Necessary continued to work in the DC and surrounding areas.

In this clip they ventured further west to Bill Monroe’s Homeplace in Rosine, Kentucky

Al Jones & Frank Necessary – Chattanooga Dog, recorded for Campbell Mercer’s Cumberland Highlanders’ Show (RFD-TV). 

Al Jones and Frank Necessary… Give Mother My Crown 

Al Jones and Frank Necessary – Come Back To Me In My Dreams 

Necessary passed away in December 2011. 

Two years later Jones returned to the studio to work on a CD for Tom Mindte’s Patuxent label;  

Love and Wealth (from Hard Core Bluegrass)

Italian bluegrass musician, vintage record collector and historian Matteo Ringressi …. 

“I met Al Jones in 2013. I was on a musical holiday in North Carolina, and one day my friend (and excellent mandolinist) Travers Chandler called me and asked if I’d like to tag along to a recording session he was booked for with Al. Of course, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I was playing banjo at the time and took my 1957 RB-250 along hoping for some jamming at some point.

The session was to take place in bassist Jerry Steinberg’s basement in Salem, VA, and was being produced by Alex Leach. As we reached Salem, Jerry opened the door and greeted us, and said ‘Matt! You’re gonna play banjo on this recording!’ My mind was blown… I didn’t know the banjoist they had booked for the session couldn’t make it last minute… and they asked me to fill in.

I made my way down the basement and met Al. I’m sure he had been briefed on this Italian banjo player who all of a sudden was to try and fill his partner Frank Necessary’s shoes. I was all nerves, but after shaking hands, it was like we had been friends for ages. He was extremely kind and patient, and regaled us with stories of Buzz Busby, Earl Taylor, Don Reno, and all the legendary artists he played with, and his voice was every bit as emotional, genuine, and powerful as when he was a young man. 

One little anecdote I always get a kick out of when remembering this session, about four or five songs into the session, Alex announced we were gonna try I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could. Al turned to me and said, ‘now the banjo here should do a kickoff like Reno!’

Don Reno is about my favourite banjo player of all times, but I had never heard him off that particular song. As nervous as ever, I attempted my best imitation at a Reno-type turnaround. Not perfect, but I was rather proud of what I came up with on the spot.

Well, Al stops us and says, ‘Now that ain’t the way Reno played it.’

We all got a chuckle out of it…I remember thinking in that moment, ‘there, I blew it!,’ but he was very complimentary of my playing throughout the day (he said verbatim, ‘your banjo sounds like a BOMB’), and we had a wonderful time. It was one of the highlights of my musical career.”

In this teaser Ringressi provides a very brief career overview as well as an introduction to Jones’s last album, Al Jones Sings Again.

Had A Dream About Mama Last Night was the last song that Jones wrote ….. 

Other songs penned by him include How The Story Had To End; No One But You; Steppin’ Out On You; Out in the Country; the aforementioned Dreamin’ and Grievin‘; What Do You Know About Heartaches; My Friend Don Reno; Had A Dream About Mama Last Night; Nancy; I Can Never Shed Another Tear My Darling; and My Friend Frank, for his long-time partner.   

Lastly, there was a collaboration – also for Patuxent Music – with veteran fiddler Billy Baker and Dee Gunter, one-time singing colleague of Jones’s. 

Jones continued to appear in public well into his late 80s, often as a guest with Alex Leach Band, singing at the Albert Hash Memorial Festival, Ralph Stanley’s Hills of Home Festival, and at fiddlers’ conventions (such as that at Galax). 

R.I.P., Al Jones 

A Discography 

  • Al Jones, Frank Necessary and Spruce Mountain Boys (Rounder 0050, 1976)   
  • Frank Necessary, Al Jones and Buzz Busby (Old Homestead OHS-90145, 1981                                      
  • Traditional Bluegrass At Its Best (Webco WLPS-0113, February 21, 1985) with Frank Necessary
  • Hard Core Bluegrass (Patuxent Music CD 249, February 21, 2014)
  • Al Jones Sings Again (self-released, June 2017)
  • Just A Memory (Patuxent Music CD 320, June 29, 2018) Al Jones, Billy Baker, Dee Gunter

Share this:

About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.