Chris Jones and The Night Drivers Interview
Some bands have a hard time holding it together. 10 years seems to be the commendable period for longevity in any group.
But for Chris Jones and The Night Drivers, the formula stays the same: if it aint broke don’t fix it, and this fantastic group of bluegrass pickers are on a freight train of awesome music with no signs of stopping.
The band was founded in 1995, making the group 20 years old this year. Chris was joined in 2003 by bass player Jon Weisberger and banjo picker Ned Luberecki. German born Mark Stoffel signed on in 2008. This group has built quite a reputation ever since. And after seeing them live, I can say without a doubt they are one of the most tight knit groups in the genre of bluegrass — so near perfect together it sounds just like their recordings.
They are having an album release party on August 21 at the Station Inn, the most respected place for bluegrass in all of Nashville, Tennessee. (And if you can make it, you should certainly try.) I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Jones when I was a young budding radio DJ at 22 years old at WAKM 950 in Franklin, Tennessee. He hosted a few times at the radio station and he was kind enough to let me sit in and watch him work his magic. It was a thrill, and I always appreciated such a cool musician and talent taking the time to indulge a young man new to the industry. He also hosts Bluegrass Junction on SXM (check your listings for his schedule). Bottom-line? He’s basically one of the coolest guys ever. It was a thrill to catch up with him.
20 years as a group; how do you guys keep it interesting?
I think the material has always been the primary interest for me from day one and how we interpret that material and so we are just always doing new stuff all of the time. We have sort of a large body of work and so as long as we are always doing new stuff and not the same thing for 20 years, it keeps us all interested, and I work really hard on the arrangements of things and try to keep things interesting and different, and so I think that keeps us all musically interested.
Being together that long, do you guys still mess up while performing live on stage?
We do indeed. Right now we are doing a lot of the new stuff from the new album and since we haven’t done them that many times, and yes we certainly have a mess up here and there, and we certainly do the old show business thing and cover it as smoothly as possible and hope no one notices [laughs].
With such accomplished musicians in your group, is the songwriting process easy?
I think in a way I have always tended to write, even though I have been involved in the Nashville music scene, I have never really written for other artists. I have sort of always written for myself, and it is nice to have a band that is good at working that stuff up and making arrangements that make that happen.
What was it like recording with bluegrass legend Del McCoury?
It was great, we have known Del for a long time and have a professional connection now because Jon Weisberger is the producer of Del’s radio show, handpicked by Del, so they see each other on a regular basis, and Del is such a great guy, a great gentleman of bluegrass, and he was very enthusiastic and supportive of all kinds of artists and their music, so we really appreciate that about Del, and he was a perfect fit for the classic Flat and Scruggs song we used, and he did a really good job on it.
Could you discuss the song “The Leaving of Liverpool?”
That is an old song that goes back to the Nineteenth Century. It was an old seafaring song. It mentions a ship called the Davy Crockett, and it really was a ship that sailed from Liverpool to North America, so it is a song that has kind of survived intact for many years. A form of it has been known in bluegrass circles because Bob Dylan took that song and kind of adapted it into something else, a song called “Fare Thee Well,” based on the song, and a lot of bluegrass performers have performed Dylan’s version. But wanted to go back and kind of revive the original version.
Do you consider yourself a Christian or a spiritual person?
Well both, yes.
Do you still host any shows at 950 WAKM in Franklin, Tennessee?
I haven’t for years, you know, the schedule hasn’t permitted it. I live a good part of the year in Canada now in Northern Alberta, so it is impractical for me to do anything from here, but I miss those days and I miss that radio station. I am still active in satellite radio. I am on three days a week.