July 6, 2017 – Melvyn “Deacon” Jones was born December 12, 1943 in Richmond Indiana. By the time he was a teenager, Deacon was proficient on trumpet and performed with his brother Harold in the high school band. Harold Jones later became a famed jazz drummer.
After graduating in 1962, Jones was a founding member of Baby Huey and the Babysitters with Johnny Ross and James Ramey. After paying a few dues in the Gary area, Deacon and the band set up shop in Chicago where they played five nights a week for five years, according to USA Today. During that time, Jones managed to further his musical education at the prestigious American Conservatory of Music.
The Babysitters — whose song “Hard Times” has been sampled by rap artists including A Tribe Called Quest, Lil Wayne and Ghostface Killah — played clubs all around Chicago, as well as Las Vegas and Europe, opening for Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett and Sam and Dave.
One time, Mr. Jones and his bandmates in Baby Huey and the Babysitters were flown to Paris to entertain the Rothschilds. The guests included actress Mia Farrow and dukes, duchesses, earls and princesses, according to his book “The Blues Man: Forty Years with the Blues Legends.”
An encounter with jazz great Miles Davis in 1968 helped Jones to trade his trumpet for the organ. He was playing at a Greenwich Village club.
In his autobiography, Mr. Jones captured the scene: “One night Miles slowly walked up onto the stage right in the middle of a song — Stevie Wonder’s ‘Uptight (Everything is Alright).’ He motioned to me to give him my trumpet. I wanted to run but I handed it to him and started to walk off the stage. Miles put his hand up; stopping me. He wanted me to stand right where I was; he wanted me to get a close-up view. . . . I believe to this day that that was the beginning of the end of my trumpet-playing career. Miles Davis played an entire solo with one finger, looking me right in the eye the whole time. I’m not kidding — one finger. He made more music come out of that thing with one finger than I could ever imagine was even possible.”
The group seemed destined for big things until 1970, when lead singer James “Baby Huey” Ramey — said to weigh 400 pounds — died at 26. After his death, Chaka Khan temporarily stepped in.
After Ramey’s death in 1970 Jones embarked on a career that would see him work with Curtis Mayfield, Freddie King, and John Lee Hooker. In switching to the Hammond B3 organ, Mr. Jones built himself a long career as a sideman.
He jammed with the likes of Muddy Waters, Carlos Santana, Gregg Allman, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton. He got signed by Curtis Mayfield — who gave him the nickname Deacon. And he spent 18 years playing with blues legend John Lee Hooker.
In 1992, the San Francisco Bay Area Blues Society and the South Bay Blues Awards named Jones Keyboard Player of the Year in the year that he had moved Los Angeles.
After moving to Los Angeles, Mr. Jones met Pamela Hill outside a club called the Mint. She isn’t sure how many times he was married — she thinks maybe four. It was love at first sight. “That can happen,” Mr. Jones wrote. “It happened to Pam and me.” When he stepped onstage to play a sensual rendition of “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” that was it, she said: “We had a one-night stand that lasted for 25 years.” Mr. Jones’ music took him to 42 countries. She was with him in 27. “He was just my cup of tea,” she said.
“An intuitive blues genius” — that’s how Garrett Morris, an original “Saturday Night Live” cast member and Juilliard School-trained singer, describes Mr. Jones, who played in Los Angeles at his club, Garrett Morris’ Downtown Blues & Comedy Club. They’d perform Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues” together. “Give him a song, a groove, give him a key, and he would go off,” Morris said.
In 2008, Jones published his autobiography, The Blues Man: 40 Years with the Blues Legends.
Melvyn “Deacon” Jones died on July 6, 2017 from cancer at the age of 73 in Hollywood, California.