Clay Jones has been both in and out of bluegrass music for most of his life. It seems like he’ll be prominent on guitar with a leading band for a while, like Mountain Heart or Lou Reid & Terry Baucom, and then he’ll drop out of sight for a while.
Tough times have been at the root of some of his “disappearances,” and Clay has seen his share. He told me recently that following his divorce, he had become a “raging alcoholic,” something he has since overcome, even regaining custody of his son. But his larger-than-life personality and stunning brilliance as a guitarist have left Jones with a deep well of good will within the bluegrass community.
Jones set in motion one of the most popular instrumental bluegrass recording series when a solo guitar album he was working on in 1995 was released as Bluegrass ’95 on Pinecastle Records. It got that name since Clay all but abandoned the project after it was completed, as he ha left Reid and Baucom and had no way to promote it, and banjo picker Scott Vestal appealed to the label to put it out as a generic CD. It became so popular that Scott produced a similar new album each year, assembling some of the hottest players in bluegrass to cut a set of instrumental standards.
His latest project involves a song co-written with L.C. Mabry which celebrates their Southern Heritage, and seeks to reclaim both the divisive image of the Confederate Battle Flag and the honor and integrity of the men and women who engaged in the ill-fated war of Southern independence-n the mid-19th century.
To record and perform the track, Clay has assembled a red hot band of southern Virginia pickers. With Jones on guitar, Clay Jones & Pure Drive has David Carroll on banjo, Rex McGee on fiddle, Dale Reno on mandolin, and Mabry on bass. A new EP/CD has just been released today, containing Turn Those Guns Around, the aforementioned song about Confederate soldiers, and an instrumental version of Dixie.
Clay told us that when he heard Turns Those Guns Around, it called to mind the current debate about display of various Confederate flags.
“L.C. had this song in the can for a couple of years. He and I were talking about how absurd it was to be all up in arms about a flag. It’s not fair to anyone of any race to blame someone who supports the flag for being murderous racists.
I told him that we ought to take that song and make it more about our southern heritage. It reminds me of my grandma, of raising our own food, and learning to play banjo on my front porch. What it means to me is my southern heritage.
So we started with his song about a group of soldiers in Virginia during the Civil War. They were just doing what they were told to do, getting slaughtered trying to take a hill. They all just wanted to get home and take care of their families and their business, and all they had to unite them was the flag.
I love everyone, and want everyone to get along. I think a lot of people will appreciate what we are trying to say.”
The pair added a new verse and a bridge to bring the story full circle to today. Mabry said that they only worked on the song for a few days and had what they wanted.
“I had put the original song on a nine song demo I recorded with Warren Amberson and Kelly Green several years ago, and those songs kind of fell off the back burner. Just recently Dale Reno was working at Blackwater Studio near Smith Mountain Lake, and had hired me on bass and Clay on guitar. We quickly discovered that Clay and I feel the same way about a lot of things. At some point I played him that demo CD, and he fell in love with Turn Those Guns Around.”
The EP is available now for sale now at Etsy, with a portion of the proceeds donated to the Shriners Children’s Hospital. It ships with a free Confederate flag magnet emblazoned with the slogan, “Heritage Not Hate.”
Jones says that he is perfectly pleased with what he and Mabry have created.
“I haven’t been this proud of a project ever and I hope you enjoy this as much as we all enjoyed making it! Along with the CD you get an all-purpose magnet to use on your car, truck or boat to let the world know it’s our heritage not hate we are so proud of!”
A web site will be up soon with more details about the song. Radio programmers can reach Jones through Facebook to request airplay copies.