Chris Jones Opens His Creative Floodgates

One common complaint about the business of making records today is that too many artists, producers, and labels keep heading down the same well-worn paths. It has even been suggested that many are working with a formula in mind, and carefully calculating everything from lyrical content to song production—all based on what has come before and generated success. But Chris Jones—best known as a respected bluegrass artist—broke out of his formula for his latest release, Too Far Down the Road [Little Dog Records].

“I was feeling kind of complacent about what I was doing,” Jones confides. “I could’ve easily made another bluegrass record, but I felt like I was putting an awful lot creatively into what I was doing, and I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of the other end. I’ve always had a pretty wide field of vision musically, so I decided to blend honky tonk, country, blues, and folk styles with my bluegrass background.”

Helping him broaden his horizons is Grammy winning producer and guitarist Pete Anderson (Dwight Yoakam, k.d. lang, Michelle Shocked, and others), who also signed Jones to his own Burbank, California-based Little Dog Records.

“I’d done this TV interview, and then I got an e-mail from someone named Pete Anderson saying, ‘I really like your stuff. Give me a call sometime.’” Jones explains. “I had self-produced some of my stuff, and I knew I didn’t have the right kind of knowledge from the production end to do something like ‘Too Far’ all by myself. Our working relationship became an ideal pairing, because Pete is very creatively engaged. He wanted to take some of the elements of what I’d been doing in bluegrass, and then build on them.”

While many big-name artists have taken a different turn musically, for a guy like Jones there is a far greater risk that his fan base could crumble, leaving him with an artistic endeavor, and no one to hear it.

“I haven’t had anybody say, ‘Oh, man. What a shame,’” he says. “There are certainly some fans who are only marginally interested, and I’m prepared for that. It’s a risk I’m willing to take. I think most people do understand the need for me to do other things after I’ve released five straight bluegrass albums.”

Innovation usually results from someone taking a risk. Growing yourself and your music can be a shaky proposition—one that has resulted in more than a few stalled or extinguished careers. But not following your heart and your creative vision may ultimately cost far more in the long run. While it’s fairly simple to understand how an artist can reach a point where he or she would like to explore new territories—or even totally reinvent themselves—it’s a little more complicated getting at how an artist actually decides to take the leap and do it.

“Part of being ready to do something like this is getting used to stepping away from your comfort zone,” says Jones. “I felt like I was getting into a rut, and that’s never good for anybody—whether it’s me or the audience. I was ready to either stop making records for a while, or figure out how to make something different happen.”