Jonny Perdue and The Jones play Saint Rocke July 26. Photo by Paul Joyner
Down south the blues tend to come most naturally.
Jonny Perdue grew up in Dallas, Texas, in the shadow of such rollicking giants as Stevie Ray Vaughan, T-Bone Walker, and Blind Willie Johnson. When other kids around the country were listening to the zippity-do-dah of Green Day and Blink 182, he was up late getting creeped out by Howlin’ Wolf and the deep darkness of old blues.
Music itself came from deep down in his family: his grandfather on his dad’s side was a fiddler from Kansas, his grandmother was a pianist, and his dad played jazz drums. Southern music pervaded his childhood home.
“Man, it was always in the house,” Perdue said. “Blues, soul — Al Green, Muddy Waters, all kinds of great R&B. Then being in Dallas, Texas, where the blues scene is just gnarly — everybody out there is hitting licks.”
He started picking guitar at 14 and within a year knew that it wasn’t a mere hobby — come what may, he was going to hold on to those six strings for dear life. A family tragedy not long thereafter — a close cousin died in a hiking accident — sent him into an emotional spiral. Suddenly girls and football and usual concerns of a teenage boy didn’t seem nearly as important. As he grappled with matters of life and death, music became Perdue’s most trusted refuge.
By 17, he was in a blues rock band called Southern Affair, playing clubs in the famed Deep Ellum neighborhood of east Dallas — one of the most revered blues hubs in the world, where Blind Lemon Jefferson and Leadbelly once sang in the streets and where Stevie Ray Vaughan played his first gigs. The band became a regional success, and by the time Perdue was 21, he was a seasoned veteran. Fellow band mates would later head for Nashville, where they’d achieve national play as The Wild Feathers.
Perdue headed west to Los Angeles to follow his own musical dreams.
“I had a brother on 38th Street [in Manhattan Beach] and he had basement couch,” Perdue recalled. “I arrived here to pursue music. I’d left the band saying, ‘I’m going to LA to do the music industry thing.’ I thought that’s what people still did. Apparently now you can get signed in Minneapolis, or anywhere. You don’t have to be in LA. But I thought you did, because that’s how Tom Petty did it.”
His California dream has been a long time in the making. He’s played in a French pop duo and indie bands, been on the cusp of something bigger again and again, endured the brutality of the “pay to play” LA music scene, and survived a bout with drug abuse. Earlier this year, eight years after coming west, he holed himself up in his basement apartment in Hermosa Beach and finally did what he came here for: he recorded a record.
“Dark Heart” is a powerfully rendered, musically varied yet thematically cohesive four song EP that was released in early July and is already creating a buzz in the music industry that Perdue has grappled with for so long. Perdue wrote the songs, co-produced, and played slide, acoustic, and electric guitars, piano, organ. bass, synthesizer, and “accordo-something…with a tube you blow into,” he said, struggling to name this final mystery instrument.
What the instrument is called matters little, much like Perdue’s music is unreliant on genre classification. It’s not Southern rock, though nobody but a Southern man could have made this music; it’s not blues, but nobody but a man immersed in the blues could have sung these songs. It is, perhaps, indie in the truest sense.
“Music is supposed to be something that moves us,” Perdue said. “We are not supposed to pigeonhole it.”
Things are coming together for Perdue. In addition to the traction “Dark Heart” is finding — a management deal is in the works, a state-of-the-art video was made for the song “Crawl” by filmmaker Gus Black — he’s building a band that already includes heavyweights drummer Davey Latter (Arctic Monkeys, Everest, Great Northern) and keyboard player, singer, (and writer in his own right) Davey Allen.
“Things are making way more sense now,” Perdue said. “For me, it’s a little bit like, ‘It’s about time.’ I’ve been at this since I was 15 — there is a sense this needs to happen soon. But i’ve seen more progress this year than in the last ten. You wake up one day, and you feel something has changed. Everything is lighter.”
On July 26, things will officially launch as Perdue and the band celebrate the “Dark Heart” EP release with a show at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach. His live shows have already become the stuff of local legend, as the studied control of the recorded songs gives way to the raucous Texas bluesman and soul singer who never lurks too far below Perdue’s surface. This one promises to be even a more heightened occasion, as his parents, Teresa and Dave, are flying in from Dallas to see what also promises to be the unofficial launch of Jonny Perdue’s new beginning.
He might even, Perdue allowed, play a blues lick or two.
“That is what shaped me,” he said. “I brought it with me. And that something I never lose. I may have a more indie approach, but if you come to my live show, you’ll get some blues music.”
Jonny Perdue and The Jones play Saint Rocke July 26. Also on the bill are Curly Wolf, Kira Lingman, Aurico, and Shenzi. $10 Show starts at 7 p.m, doors open at 6. See saintrocke.com for more info and tickets.