DR BOB JONES:
SPINNING MUSICAL MEDICINE FOR THE SOUL
As a lover and collector of music, I listen to A LOT of radio shows from all around the globe. It’s a treat to go on an aural journey courtesy of the DJ/Selector for two hours or more. I especially have an affinity for radio shows that present eclectic sounds, different genres, and varied tempos that cross multiple time periods. My dear friend and brother, David Lyn, says it best: “Music Without Labels.” The best radio DJ’s impart quality music, personal connections, anecdotes, liner notes, and sometimes rare glimpses into what went on behind the music. I listen as a captive student; school is in session.
Perhaps one of our greatest teachers to date is the legendary, iconic, all-around beautiful spirit, Dr Bob Jones. His musical passion drips from his warm “radio voice” every Sunday. His selections are accompanied effortlessly by his vast knowledge honed over multiple decades of spinning, showcasing, sharing, and schooling us on the most amazing soulful music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Dr Bob always turns me on to a record I have never heard before. And that’s how radio should be.
What an honor it was to interview the “good Doctor” as a fan, follower and friend! Please enjoy my little chat with Dr Bob Jones, complemented with images that illustrate his life-long love affair with this thing called Music.
Interview by Amanda Frontany
Amanda: Dr Bob Jones!! Thank you so much for this opportunity. I am thrilled to finally be able to shine a spotlight on you and your incredibly rich history and relationship with music. Let’s start with an introduction from your own point of view. For anyone reading this interview, who dare I say, is not familiar with your prolific work in the music industry, how would you define your many roles?
Dr Bob Jones: Radio and Club DJ. Producer and Remixer. Writer and Black Music Consultant since 1967. Plus…passionate Collector of Black Music for 55 years.
Amanda: Wow! 55 years is phenomenal! Ok, let’s go back to the beginning… Most of us can thank someone in our family for influencing our love of music. For me, it would be my father– for Jazz and Standards– and my older brother– for pretty much everything else– R&B, Soul, Rock, Funk, Disco, House, Hip Hop, etc. Which of your family members planted the music seed within your heart and soul?
Dr Bob Jones: I was born in 1949 into a working class family in Chelmsford, Essex, UK, with two older sisters, June and Linda, and a younger brother, John. John and I were first generation UK Mods into mohair suites and leather loafers, Blues, Rhythm & Blues and 60s Soul. We had a piano in the house which my late dad would play. In the 1960s, I would hear the sounds coming out of June’s room, which would be the Pop Music of the day. And Linda would be playing Blues and Rhythm & Blues and I would often ask Linda what the music was.
Amanda: Ahhh, our older siblings had such profound impact on our musical ears. It sounds like your ears leaned more towards the music Linda was playing– Blues and Rhythm & Blues. And who were your earliest musical influences on the radio?
Dr Bob Jones: Yes. I would listen to Radio Luxembourg with my brother John, on my father’s radio late at night because they would feature Rhythm & Blues and ’60s Soul on their playlist. There was a programme called “Honky Tonk” in the early 1970s on UK radio (BBC Radio London) presented by Charlie Gillett and this programme was a heavy influence on my record collection.
Charlie went on to form Oval Records and wrote a classic Black Music History book titled The Sound Of The City. In the 1990s, I was privileged to have befriended him. He passed in 2010– a much missed and loved musical hero of mine.
Amanda: That’s amazing. I’m happy you were able to develop a friendship with him. So onto more “firsts”… Do you remember the first record you bought?
Dr Bob Jones: The first vinyl album I bought was “Pure Blues Volume 1” issued in 1965 on UK label, Sue Records. The first 45 [7 inch] I ever purchased was Jimmy McGriff’s “All About My Girl”  also issued on Sue Records. I purchased my copy in 1965. I still have these in my collection. I’m a big lover of the Hammond B3 organ and most of the bands I saw live in the 1960s at “The Corn Exchange” in Chelmsford all featured the B3 as the lead instrument.
Amanda: Ok! Jimmy McGriff and his Hammond B3. Makes sense, Doc. So as you developed your own career in the music industry, who are the DJ’s/Producers/Remixers and Music Selectors that you looked up to?
Dr Bob Jones: As far as DJ’s, in the 1970s and ’80s, I again mention Charlie Gillett. Also Robbie Vincent and Peter Young– who were both on BBC Radio London. Then there is Greg Edwards, from Capital Radio UK.
As far as producers– Rick Hall, Jimmy Johnson, Roger Hawkins, and Barry Beckett– all at Muscle Shoals Studio, Sheffield, Alabama…in the 1990s, Phil Asher [UK], alongside Elbert Phillips, MAW [Masters At Work: Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez and “Little” Louie Vega], Kerri Chandler, and Brian Pope– all from the USA.
Amanda: That’s quite the list, Dr. Bob. And I have to ask you about Chillifunk Records. How did you get involved with this label, which has put out so many amazing releases.
Dr Bob Jones: Yes. I was asked by “Lofty” Harper if I would be interested in getting involved with his UK label ChilliFunk Records; this was in the mid 1990s. Lofty had heard me on my Sunday radio show, “The Surgery with Dr. Bob Jones” on Kiss FM London and also on BBC Radio London on Thursdays. Lofty was also managing Flying Records, a record shop in London’s SoHo where I would regularly go to buy music in the ’90s.
Amanda: You and Lofty had a very fruitful partnership. And please talk about your massive involvement with the world-famous Southport Weekender Festival?
Dr Bob Jones: Yes. I knew Southport Weekender founder and Soul DJ, Alex Lowes, from the UK Soul Club circuit in the ‘80s and was asked by Alex to DJ at the UpNorth Soul Weekend No. 1, in 1987 at Pontins Berwick-on-Tweed, which later moved to Blackpool, then on to Southport. I actually have DJ’d at 44 Weekenders [twice a year for 22 years] for promoter Alex Lowes.
Amanda: Wow!! 44 appearances!
Dr Bob Jones: Yes. And Caister Soul Weekender started at Vauxhall Park Holiday, Norfolk, UK in 1979. I DJ’d at Caister in the Alternative/Jazz Room during the 1980s. Caister was promoted by Showstoppers who were also a major force in the UK for Soul Music events in the late ’70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
Amanda: I’m sure you have so many amazing memories of all these Weekenders. Are you currently involved in any music festivals? And I’m also wondering, from your perspective, how the UK Festivals and All-Dayers have changed over the decades?
Dr Bob Jones: I am not involved with any of the UK Festivals right now. I had a guest DJ session at Gilles Peterson’s “We Out Here Festival” in 2019. There was a “Brighter Days” stage at this event which was organised by good friend and UK DJ/Promoter Steve Reed, who asked me to play. Today most of the UK Festivals are now based around live bands/acts who are supported by DJs, whereas back in the day you had two rooms of DJs with the occasional live PA by an artist or band.
Amanda: So there is a shift from the DJ to live music. The festivals are in a constant state of change, just like everything else in the music industry. On your radio shows I often hear you reference the music you play as “Inspirational Black Music from Around the Globe.” What does this description mean to you and who are the artists that most define and inspire this feeling for you?
Dr Bob Jones: Most modern music, especially Dance Music has its roots in Africa, “the Land of the Drum.” When slaves were transported from Africa to the USA and Europe back in the day, they brought their African music heritage/roots with them which now forms the basis of today’s Black music scene. The influence from Africa, the Motherland and Land of the Drum is global and all modern music stems from this.
The artist/musicians that have inspired me, go back to the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s, etc., etc. I still get a tremendous feeling hearing new music from Africa and the Middle East today in the 2000s, just as I did when first listening to Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Gospel and Soul in the ‘60s. The list of inspirational artists is vast.
Amanda: Ok, let’s talk about your experience on the radio. You have been involved with countless UK radio stations over the years. Which particular stations have been the most meaningful to you in terms of what you shared musically with your listeners?
Dr Bob Jones: In the 1980s, it was Kiss FM, as a “pirate”/illegal UK station. In the 1990s, it was Kiss FM (legal) out of London, BBC Radio London and Radio Mafia out of Finland. From 2015 to 2019, I was part of Mi-Soul Radio out of London. And 2019 through present day, I broadcast on Totally Wired Radio, also out of London.
Amanda: Yes, you’re on Totally Wired Radio for two hours every Sunday at 3 p.m., UK time. When you’re preparing for this brilliant two-hour radio show, how do you select the music? You include so many styles and genres within two hours. I love listening and learning from your outstanding selections.
Dr Bob Jones: Thank you. My radio show “The Surgery with DrBob Jones” has always been an eclectic mix of Black Music. Hour one is music from the roots to today. Hour two is 95% of today’s Black Music gathered from across the globe. I broadcast the show from my music room/library at home, so everything I want is at hand. I get annoyed with myself because the room is getting smaller and smaller due to my ever increasing music collection. [laughter]
Amanda: Doc, I know that we follow each other as music consumers on Bandcamp [a website where independent labels/artists sell their digital and sometimes vinyl releases]. That being said, I am notified when someone I follow– such as yourself– purchases releases on that site. How often do you online-shop for music? What makes you stop and listen to snippets and ultimately purchase? Do other consumers that you follow influence your purchases?
Dr Bob Jones: Following on from my previous response…I’m gradually digitalising my vast vinyl collection, partly due to lack of space at home. So yes I shop most of my new music online. People still occasionally send me promotional vinyl and CD’s to play, but nowhere near as much as I received in the 1970s, ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s. My friends on Bandcamp definitely influence me with their purchases and vice versa.
Amanda: What were your favorite record shops over the years? Are they still around? Where do you buy vinyl today?
Dr Bob Jones: Favourite records shops…Growing up in the ‘60s it was Pop Inn Records and Ecstasy Records, both in Chelmsford, UK, and both now closed. City Sounds in London and Flying Records, both closed. Record Corner in Balham, London, closed. And Soul Bowl in Kings Lynn, UK; this was a mail order store that recently closed due to the owner’s death. So today a good 90% of my music is purchased online with the remaining 10% at UK record fairs.
Amanda: And Dr. Bob, I’m very curious… about how many pieces of vinyl do you currently own?
Dr Bob Jones: Oh my. I was afraid I might get asked this. [laughter] Well when I lived in Shoreditch, East London during the ‘90s, I was renting a 1st floor warehouse, about 2000 square feet of space to live and I had around 40,000 pieces of vinyl racked in there. Over the years this total has decreased and at the last count I have around 8000 vinyl pieces and a few thousand CDs plus endless digital files on various hard drives.
Amanda: Still quite a tremendous amount of music!! So here’s one of my go-to questions, Dr. Bob… what are your thoughts on digital and streaming music (and illegal file-sharing) in regards to the devaluing of music– which leaves artists earning fractions of a penny per purchase or stream?
Dr Bob Jones: I purchase digital files, but do not share. From being a writer and producer of music myself and an artist for East West Connection, I think it’s wrong to share files without the original writer/artist receiving royalties from their files being shared around.
Amanda: Yes, and it seems to be getting worse! So you mention your roles as artist-writer-producer. You have collaborated with so many outstanding artists, producers, DJ’s and remixers, etc. over your long career. Is there anyone out there that you would like to collaborate with who you haven’t had the chance to yet?
Dr Bob Jones: I would love to produce something by the extremely talented Artist/Guitarist, Shamrock Guitor, from South Africa. It would also be a dream to be in the same studio co-producing Josh Milan, whom I’ve known since he was a young man.
To be honest, age isn’t on my side. I just turned 71 earlier this month, so even though I know what I like sound-wise, actually producing that sound at my age would be more of a task than it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The brain tends to think somewhat slower nowadays… [laughter]
Amanda: So you mention how producing is different today. And the Internet has also tremendously changed the radio industry as well as the role of the radio DJ over the years. In your opinion, have the changes helped or hurt the industry. There seems to be an over-saturation of online radio shows today. It’s so hard to keep up, even with all the archived shows and podcasts.
Dr Bob Jones: I think it’s an amazing thing to hear all this music from across the globe on computers and devices in this ever-changing digital world we now live in. Back in the 1960s you had a fraction of the stations you have now. So for spreading the word, today’s stations are a good thing. But the music seems to experience a very short life span and that’s not a good thing for the Artist. I really don’t know what the answer is.
Amanda: It’s really become quite a challenge for the Artist.
Dr Bob Jones: Yes.
Amanda: So here’s something for you… DJ and radio show host David Lyn of Music Without Labels, out of the UK, has this to say about you, Dr. Bob:
“The good Dr. Bob Jones– DJ, Producer, Musical Influencer, Brother, Friend. You can take any of these superlatives and they would only touch the surface of the man I am proud to say has influenced so many people world-wide for decades and he continues to do that today. Graham-Grumpy Brown and I are always honoured to have him on the line-up for our Music Without Labels events. A smile is always present on our faces when the artists we have booked all say they are excited to play alongside Doc, as we are too. Keep on keeping on, brother.”
Dr. Bob, what do David’s words mean to you?
Dr Bob Jones: Wow! David’s words mean everything to me. I’ve known David as a punter at the weekenders and gigs for a number of years and as a good friend. I asked him to spin in 2012 at my celebration of 45 years as a DJ. Since then David’s spinning, presenting and now promoting with Graham Grumpy Brown, has gone from strong to stronger and he really is an incredible performer and lover of the good groove. He is, as the saying goes, “my brother from another mother.” I know his enthusiasm and love of the scene will take him on to bigger and better things.
The small problem that I have is very little self-belief. I’ve always suffered from low self-esteem, especially playing out at gigs. From day one I could never see what the fuss was about someone spinning their favourite music and making the audience dance and smile. I’ve been truly blessed with working alongside some of my Black Music Heroes especially on the radio and producing their music in the studio. My journey has been truly amazing, like a dream that comes true.
Amanda: What a beautiful sentiment, Dr. Bob. Thank you for sharing that. You have truly made your mark and made thousands and thousands of music lovers dance and smile over the years. What final words would you like to leave for your followers, fans, supporters, peers– even those lovers of music who haven’t begun to experience or realize your contributions as of yet?
Dr Bob Jones: I know it’s a well worn cliché, but just be true to yourself, follow your heart with what you want to do without hurting anyone along the way. Take it all in and above all-ENJOY! This has lived with me since day one.
Amanda: Thank you so much for sharing your time, experiences, perspectives, and passion with all of us!
Dr Bob Jones: Thank YOU and stay blessed… Dr Bob J.
Bognor Regis, West Sussex, UK & Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY
Special Thanks to the lovely Deborah Lucas
Graham “Grumpy” Brown