“ONE DAY THIS BOY WILL TAKE MY PLACE” – Howlin’ Wolf, talkin’ about Dragger
“I thought our friend Tail Dragger , our blues super hero was invincible and would outlast us all. Thank you for all of the amazing once in a lifetime shows and your friendship and your wise advice, Tail Dragger. Words cannot express how much joy you brought to our lives. Thanks for taking care of us young blues kids on the West Side. We’ll miss you dearly, James Jones. There will never be another Dragger. ” – Kevin Johnson
His last performance ever was at Delmark’s annual ROCKWELL STROLL just recently on August 26th with the Delmark All-Star blues band with Jon McDonald, guitar; Martin Lang, harp; Ron Simmons, bass; Sheryl Youngblood and Big Ray Stewart both played drums during Tail Dragger’s unforgettable set. https://fb.watch/mUpspCHw4P/
His First Recordings!
Trailer for Tail Dragger DVD – My Head Is Bald – Live at Vern’s Friendly Lounge
Tail Dragger (1940-2023) – SOUL BAG Magazine from France tribute to Tail Dragger
His long, lanky silhouette, his voice naturally close to that of his mentor Howlin’ Wolf and his personal background made him the contemporary incarnation of a certain idea of the “old-fashioned” bluesman. Died the same day that a documentary dedicated to him was to have its first screening, he sang and lived the blues until his last breath.
Originally from Altheimer in Arkansas, a few kilometers from Pine Bluff, the town of CeDell Davis and Bobby Rush in particular, James Yancey Jones was raised by his grandparents following the separation of his parents. He discovered the blues on the radio, thanks to the WLAC programs sponsored by the distributor Randy’s Record Mart, but also on the scene of a local club, Jack Rabbit’s, where he sneaked in although he had not yet legal age to hear, among others, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Boyd Gilmore. After traveling during adolescence between Chicago, where his mother lives, and Texas where he was welcomed by an uncle, it was in the Windy City that he settled from 1966, where he began to work as a mechanic. automobile.
His installation in town is also an opportunity to give free rein to his passion for the blues by going to listen to the stars of the genre, and Howlin’ Wolf in the first place, in the local clubs. If an attempt to take up the guitar is a failure, it does not take long to discover himself a singer. One evening, when he goes to listen to the set of Nate “Necktie Nate” Haggins, a singer in the line of the Wolf, this one challenges him to go on stage and do better than him. Jones took the bet and then embarked on a career as a Wolf imitator, both vocally and in his scenic style, which earned him the nickname of Crawlin ‘James (“James the crawler”) for his way of moving on scene. Through Lee “Shot” Williams, he meets Howlin’ Wolf, who appreciates his approach and becomes a kind of mentor for him.
While continuing to work as a mechanic during the day – he has his garage on Madison Street – he began to perform in clubs under his own name, in particular with bassist Purvis Scott’s band at Lovie’s on 22nd Street. He then put together his own ensemble, in which, among others, Willie Kent, Hubert Sumlin, Carey Bell, Kansas City Red, Little Mack Simmons, Big Leon Brooks, Eddie Shaw and Lester Davenport passed, and with which he played all over the world. the West Side (The 5105 Club, The Rat Trap, Dave and Thelma’s, Mary’s Lounge…). He is also a regular at Oliver Davis’ Delta Fish Market, where he shares the stage with other local figures like Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis, Boston Blackie, Detroit Junior and Vernon Harrington.
Despite his visibility, he only recorded very occasionally (a single for Leric Records, Jimmy Dawkins’ label, with the first version of his classic My head is bald , which Soul Bag mentions in its number 104), but he began to get noticed by fans beyond its usual base. From 1989, he began to tour Europe, often with local orchestras such as the Dutch Little Boogie Boy Blues Band, and recorded for Wolf Records (on John Littlejohn’s album “Littlejohn’s Blues Party (Chicago Blues Session Volume 13 )”) and as a guest of the Mojo Blues Band (“The Wild Taste Of Chicago”).
His career was abruptly interrupted in 1993 when he killed guitarist Boston Blackie during an argument over financial matters. Although he pleaded self-defense, he was sentenced for murder to a four-year prison term, of which he only served 17 months. Paradoxically, his career accelerated after his release, with a first album for St. George Records in 1996, “Crawlin’ Kingsnake”, then a series of records for Delmark which began in 1999 with “American People” and continued throughout. throughout the 2000s with two live discs, “My Head Is Bald (Live At Vern’s Friendly Lounge, Chicago)” and “Live At Rooster’s Lounge”, also released on DVD. Often accompanied by Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, he remains a regular in Chicago clubs. In 2007, he is one of the stars, with Lurrie Bell and Eddie Taylor Jr., from the Chicago Blues Festival tour. He then returned to the French stages for two tours in 2011 and 2012 with the group Rockin’ Johnny. If he continues thereafter to visit European festivals regularly, he does not seem to have returned to France.
On the discographical level, in 2012 he published an album with Bob Corritore, “Longtime Friends In The Blues”, then Delmark unearthed in 2013 under the title “Stop Lyin’” a 1982 session probably recorded for Leric and remained unpublished. While he continues to appear regularly on festival stages around the world, his latest release is a concert recording in Spain, “Mercy! Live In Bilbao”, engraved with local musicians and released discreetly in 2021. However, it appears on several productions by Bob Corritore (the anthology “Don’t Let The Devil Ride!” and “Cold Chills”, credited to Henry Gray & Bob Corritore) and sings two tracks on the Howlin’ Wolf tribute album “Howlin’ At Greaseland” piloted by Kid Andersen and released in 2017.
Carrying loud and clear to stages around the world the voice of a traditional blues from which he has never deviated, he did not hide his pessimism about the state of health of the genre, particularly in his native country: ” The young black people today have forgotten the blues. They don’t realize their ancestors started the music that spawned the rap they listen to today. I don’t like this shit at all. They act like they’re ashamed of the blues. It’s the young white people who play the blues today. White guitarists undermine the real blues. And it’s really not the “real” blues. It’s bogus blues. Blues rock. Blues for tourists. By comparison, he praises European audiences:“They treat you like a king there. I’ve been going there since 1989 and hope to be able to go back much more often. One thing about the audience there, you can’t sell them bullshit, they know their stuff. »
Questioned in 2013 by Blues Blast , he did not however complain about his situation: “Right now, I am at the top. I travel more and at my age I don’t need to clock in. I make more money than ever. I have my social security because I always had a job. Some guys have never worked and have to play to eat. I am very comfortable. I intend to stick around and keep it up for as long as I can. “ In recent years, health problems had reduced his mobility, without this impacting the power of his stage performances as he had shown again during an appearance with the Delmark All-Star Band at the end. of August. The release of Kevin Mukherj’s documentary,Tail Dragger – Journey of a Bluesman will serve to salute his memory.
Text: Frédéric Adrian
Opening photo © Brigitte Charvolin
Tail Dragger on cover of BACK TO THE ROOTS magazine from Belgium
Tail Dragger on cover of BLUES NEWS FINLAND!
On cover of SOLO BLUES from Spain
Me (Kevin Johnson) with Dragger lighting his ever present cigar, while Abb Locke looks on outside the Jazz Record Mart.
Photo by Robert Pasenko.
Tail Dragger in his last show here on Earth- with his longtime harp ace, Martin Lang at Burning Bush Brewery, Chicago for the 3rd annual Rockwell Stroll, August 26, 2023
Tail Dragger comb to celebrate his “hit” song, “MY HEAD IS BALD – promotional material given out with his first DVD on Delmark, Live at Vern’s Friendly Lounge
PURCHASE HIS DELMARK CDs and DVDs here!
Blues artist Tail Dragger has been a mainstay on the Chicago blues scene since moving here in ’66 (from Arkansas via Texas), and getting his start from blues great Howlin’ Wolf. When blues fans experience Tail Dragger, they are treated to the rare sight of someone unforgettably raw, authentic and fun— serious one moment, humorous the next. One moment he’s seated, the next moment stalking the audience, then, in the next moment he might walk outside the bar with his cordless microphone and improvise a verse to a hapless lady waiting at a bus stop. No one who watches him perform can deny that he’s a natural, charismatic entertainer, and no one who listens to him can deny that Tail Dragger’s a real blues purist. His repertoire, band and style is fiercely loyal to the most traditional bedrock Chicago blues– Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, and Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller). At a Tail Dragger gig, you will hear no rehashed “Cissy Struts”, no hackneyed “Meet Me with your Black Drawers On”, no interminable “Stormy Monday”, etc. His set list (not that there has ever been an actual set list—he goes with the mood of the moment) is largely original, peppered with humorous monologues that highlight the point of the song, and interspersed with songs that are classics of the 1950s Chicago Blues canon—“How Many More Years”, “Long Distance Call”, “40 Days and 40 Nights”, “Don’t Start Me to Talkin”, “That’s Alright”, “Highway 49”, and so on. And Tail Dragger does these songs right; like so many of the great Chicago blues songs from that era, he insists on two guitars and a harmonica working together to create that classic, full sound.
The last fifteen years or so have brought a lot of belated recognition to Tail Dragger, including 2007 Male Blues Vocalist of the Year from the Bay Area Blues Society, numerous European tours, trips to Moscow and Argentina, a spot at New Orlean’s Ponderosa Stomp Music Festival, and even starring and co-starring roles in independent films (“Two Rivers” and the short film “Death and Taxis”, viewable on YouTube). “Live at Rooster’s” is a sequel to 2005’s “My Head is Bald”, which is Delmark’s best selling DVD to date. “Live at Rooster’s” is a special recording because it brings to you what I think Tail Dragger has valued the most out of performing music–more than the recognition, the high profile gigs and the awards: having a good time with musicians and fans old and new, and experiencing the feeling of being, in the words I’ve often heard him say,”together like family”. Like family, I have stuck with Tail Dragger through a lot, and he has stuck with me. When he was in prison, I went down there with the band and we played a gig inside the cafeteria, and he never forgot that. (True to form, he wrote a humorous song about life in the Lincoln, IL facility for the occasion.) Like family, the trust and good feelings are there—for example, in over twenty years of playing together, we have hardly ever discussed money– if I got a gig it was OK with him and if he got a gig it was OK with me. If the money wasn’t great in years past, Tail Dragger always had an unshakeable optimism that better times would come, because he had something precious—he was singing the real blues.
The band has all known each other for a good fifteen years, and in terms of Tail Dragger’s ideals of sticking together, has been more successful than many. This very strong and seasoned group has been doing Rooster’s since February of ’09– and I’m proud to say the grooves and ensemble work show this. Bassist Todd Fackler has done roadwork with Eddie Clearwater and the late Eddie Burks, while rhythm guitarist Kevin Shanahan has done roadwork with Eddie Burks and AC Reed. Both men have been steady parts of Tail Dragger’s working band for the last seven or eight years. Kevin steps out more in this recording than in “My Head Is Bald” DVD, contributing a lot of exciting fills and solos (check out “Stop Lying”). Drummer Rob Lorenz made an auspicious debut behind Harmonica Hinds and Dave Meyers at the Checkerboard in the mid 90s, and went on to work with Little Mack Simmons, The Rockin’ Johnny Band, and others, and joined forces with Tail Dragger in 1998. Harmonica player Martin Lang has a tremendously full tone and a great conception of the 50s Chicago blues—check him out on “Keep Our Business to Yourself”. He and I have known each other since our college days and have played together off and on behind Tail Dragger since the mid 1990s. We have recorded together as The Rockin’ Johnny Band, behind Little Arthur Duncan, Tail Dragger and Jimmy Burns. As for me, I met Tail Dragger when I was playing at Lilly’s with The Ice Cream Men, when I was about twenty. After I badgered him relentlessly, Tail Dragger must have felt sorry for me so he gave me my start playing rhythm guitar on the West Side at Stella’s Lounge at Pulaski and Van Buren. Within a few years I was Tail Dragger’s main lead guitarist during his stints at The Delta Fish Market, the 5105 Club, etc. Since those days, I developed as a sideman with many other artists and led The Rockin’ Johnny Band, but I have always maintained a connection to Tail Dragger and work with him as much as I can. I feel his singing and try to put that in my playing. When we recorded this, in March of this year, I had just come back to the music scene after a long absence, so I was still savoring the reunion and feeling every second. I hope that you feel it too… Special guest guitarist Jimmy Dawkins needs no introduction and has known and been fond of Tail Dragger since the late 60s. His jagged, always forward looking playing adds an interesting twist to Tail Dragger’s rough vocal style on “Wonder”.
What a fun night it was, with a lot of long time friends and fans present to be part of it. When you listen to this CD I think you’ll feel the love.
-Johnny Burgin, August 2009
Tail Dragger always singin to the pretty girls in the crowd! from LIVE AT ROOSTER’s DVD
In Memoriam: Blues Legend Tail Dragger Passed Away
Blues Legend Tail Dragger Passed Away
Tail Dragger has passed away this morning, September 4th, 2023. Those fortunate enough to witness his remarkable performance with a couple of songs at the Delmark Stroll, in Chicago, just nine days ago, were able to witness his final onstage appearance. Our hearts go out to him as we bid him farewell, and our deepest condolences are extended to his many friends, fans, and loved ones.
Tail Dragger, known professionally as James Yancey Jones and born on September 30, 1940, was a renowned American Chicago blues singer. His career spanned several decades since the 1960s, during which he released four albums. In 1993 he was convicted of second-degree murder in the tragic killing of another blues musician, Boston Blackie.
Hailing from Altheimer, Arkansas, Jones was raised by his grandparents following his parents’ separation when he was an infant. His love for blues music was ignited during his childhood, and he would secretly listen to music on the family’s battery-powered radio. This sometimes led to interesting situations when the batteries ran low, preventing the family from tuning in to gospel music before Sunday church services.
During his formative years, he had the privilege of watching Sonny Boy Williamson II and Boyd Gilmore perform at a local club named Jack Rabbitts in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. After relocating to Chicago in 1966, Jones worked as an auto mechanic while nurturing his musical aspirations. His big break came when his idol, Howlin’ Wolf, allowed Jones to share the stage with him at concerts. This pivotal influence, combined with his admiration for the raw and gritty styles of artists like Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, and Willie Dixon, steered Jones towards a “low-down” style of Chicago blues.
Originally known as Crawlin’ James due to his habit of crawling around onstage during performances, Howlin’ Wolf later bestowed upon him the moniker “Tail Dragger” because Jones had a penchant for arriving late to gigs. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Jones became a fixture in Chicago blues clubs, releasing several singles, albeit with limited commercial success.
However, his career encountered a significant setback when, on July 11, 1993, he shot and killed fellow blues artist Boston Blackie during a heated dispute over payment. The altercation had started a month prior when both musicians had appeared at the Chicago Blues Festival. Despite Jones’ self-defense claim, he was ultimately convicted of second-degree murder and served 17 months of a four-year prison sentence.
In 1996, Tail Dragger finally released his debut album, “Crawlin’ Kingsnake,” under St. George Records. Remarkably, he was 56 years old when the record hit the shelves. Subsequent releases included for albums and one DVD on Delmark Records. Those are all digitally available. Please, share them with your listeners.
Watch a part of Tail Dragger’s last performance, Saturday August 26th, during Delmark’s annual blues and jazz festival. With him, Jon McDonald, guitar; Martin Lang, harp; Ron Simmons, bass; Sheryl Youngblood and Big Ray Stewart both played drums during Tail Dragger’s set. See the video on facebook, link
|CHICAGO BLUES LEGEND JAMES ‘TAIL DRAGGER’ JONES PASSED AWAY5/9/2023Photo credit: Stefan Meekers Moulinblues 2023The blues music world has been devastated by the sad news that the legendary Tail Dragger , whose real name was James Yancy Jones, has passed away at his home in Chicago at the age of 82. For those who had been lucky enough to know him, this news brought deep sadness. Tail Dragger was much more than just a talented blues musician; he was an inspiration to many and a living embodiment of the blues.Born on September 30, 1940 in Altheimer, Arkansas, James Yancy Jones was destined to become a bluesman. He got his nickname, Tail Dragger, during his early days in Chicago when he dragged his coat tail on the ground as he walked. Tail Dragger’s journey into the blues began at a young age when he moved to Chicago and immersed himself in the city’s vibrant blues scene. He found his calling as a blues singer and harmonica player, and his unique and soulful style quickly earned him a place among the greats.Tail Dragger’s music was deeply rooted in the Delta blues tradition. Taking inspiration from legends like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Little Walter, he created a style that was both authentic and powerful. His raw, emotionally charged performances could transport listeners to the heart of the Mississippi Delta, even if they were thousands of miles away. His trademark harmonica playing and hoarse voice were trademarks of his sound. Every note he played and every lyric he sang resonated with the pain, joy and resilience of the human experience. Tail Dragger’s music wasn’t just a performance; it was a glimpse into the depths of his soul.In addition to his musical talent, Tail Dragger was known for his warm and generous personality. He knew how to make everyone feel welcome and valued. He was a mentor to countless aspiring musicians, offering guidance and encouragement to those who sought it. Many credit him with keeping the blues alive and passing it on to the next generation. Tail Dragger’s love of his craft and dedication to the blues were unwavering. He often performed in small, intimate venues, where he was able to connect with his audience on a personal level. His performances were a testimony to his authenticity and commitment to preserving the blues in its purest form.Tail Dragger’s passing leaves a void in the world of blues that can never be filled. Nevertheless, his legacy lives on through his music. His songs will live on, and his influence will be heard in the music of generations to come.|
Dutch bluesman Robert Fossen’s Tail Dragger shrine at his home.
Pics and liner notes from Justin O’Brien from Tail Dragger’s first CD on Delmark – AMERICAN PEOPLE
Tail Dragger and Kevin Johnson announcing the legendary singer at one of his many performances at the annual Jazz Record Mart’s Blues Brunch at The Mart during the Chicago Blues Festival.
Tail Dragger with his 2 “sons” – Rockin’ Johnny Burgin and Martin Lang – my photo from 2023 Delmark All-Star show at Fitzgerald’s, Berwyn – June 2023
Here are some nice heartfelt words from his many friends and fans from all over the world
Rockin’ Johnny Burgin and his “father/mentor” Tail Dragger
“Today was a sad day. Tail Dragger gave me my start in music (alongside Ken Kawashima), and along the way, he became a life-long friend. He was a real bluesman (actually a strident purist!) and a great, charismatic showman. Anyone who knew him can attest that Tail Dragger was larger than life on and off-stage. Tail’s style wasn’t for everybody, but time and time again, he won over so many audiences with his realness, stage presence, humor and practically feral energy. To me, the best part of his performances was when he ‘got happy’— that radiant joy that was plain to see and a gift to share.
The last few years he struggled with chronic leg pain and other issues. At a Festival I did with him in Marquette MI last year, he performed in a wheelchair, shivering and frail. When I picked him up in Chicago and saw his condition, I tried to persuade him to not do the show. His response: “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with my voice”. It was difficult to maintain my composure as he was wheeled onstage, because that’s when I knew in my bones that this day was coming soon. It was really gratifying to see the genuine recognition from the audience. They could feel that they were seeing something real. They saw an artist who was part of the tail end of the Great Migration, who was mentored by Howlin’ Wolf, and who was the type of blues artist that will never exist in that form again.
Tail was a central figure not just for me but for lots of my close friends in Chicago and Europe. He was a generous and caring friend to so many– I know we are all grateful to have known him. I also really appreciated hearing from so many of you today.
My condolences go out to his wife Bertha and his many children, grand and great-grand children.”-JOHNNY BURGIN
Rockin’ Johnny Burgin with Dragger
“How can I say goodbye, Dragger? With deep gratitude for a singularly extraordinary person who changed everything for me.” – Martin Lang
Dragger with his “son” and his longtime friend and bandmate, Martin Lang
“Today we heard the sad news of the passing of Tail Dragger (James Jones) He was always a true bluesman and a great performer. He loved being out in the crowds and flirting with the women out there. And he was a friend to all. I had the pleasure of seeing him multiple times over the last 15 years, so I pulled some photos for his friends, family, and band mates to enjoy. They are mostly from Chicago but there are few at the Hayward-Russell City Festival, Waterfront Blues Festival, a few places in Chicago, and the Rhythm Room in Phoenix. What was sad was to see more of our blues greats who have passed that were in these photos playing with him. Henry Gray, Eddie Taylor Jr., Jimmy Dawkins, and not pictured Carl SweetMeet Green. My condolences to his dear friends who are in the photos Bob Corritore, Johnny Burgin, Tom Morris, Robert Stroger, Billy Flynn, and Brian P Fahey and my deepest condolences to his family and friends and all of the blues community who have lost another beloved member of our family. Rest Dear James “Tail Dragger” Jones and then go make some music with the Blues Heaven Band.”- MARILYN STRINGER – award winning blues photographer
with guitarist BILLY FLYNN
“Rest in peace my friend. Thank you for everything we did together. All the shows overseas, conversations, being my best man at my wedding in The Netherlands, gossiping () and everything we shared in being ‘peoples persons’ and how important that is in life. Thank you so so much! (this picture was taken in Memphis (2017). He drove with his wife Bertha and friend Mojo Mark Edwards from Chicago to Memphis to support me at The International Blues Challenge. As a surprise… I will never forget when he entered the club at Bealestreet, when I was on stage. And everywhere where he entered a room, club, or whatsoever, the place was filled with the charisma of Tail Dragger)” – ROBBERT FOSSEN, Dutch blues guitarist/singer
Robbert Fossen with Dragger
“This is a message to the world. Old folks and you young ones too. Wake up, stop crackin’ jokes and use your head. ‘Cause it’s so ezee to be misled.” James Y. Jones aka Tail Dragger is preachin’. “It’s just like when you go to church. The preacher tells you what he gonna preach about, right? So I have to tell you about what song I’m gonna sing about. That’s why they call me The Blues Preacher.” I first met Tail Dragger in 1998 at the recording session for Rockin’ Johnny’s first album. We agreed then that we should collaborate to produce a new Tail Dragger album. When it came time for the second project he said “CDs are cool but I need a video”. That conversation was the impetus for the first of 2 DVD projects we did and for the entire series of live DVD projects covering a wide range of Chicago jazz and blues artists. I remember we needed to choose a location. At that time I had done live recording at Rosa’s and BLUES on Halsted. Tail said “No, we need to do it on the west side”. So we decided to scout a few potential locations. Emmanuela (my wife) and I picked Tail up and headed to the first potential location. My wife was in the front seat and Tail in the back. Within a couple blocks I announced we were being followed by the Chicago police. Why else would a white guy be driving on the west side with an African-American man and woman in the car unless something illegal was going on?! After a few minutes we were back on our way to west Lake Street. We parked and as we approached the club one of the patrons saw us coming and he said to me as I entered “Good evening, officer”. What else would a white guy be doing entering, right? One minute I’m being pulled over by the police, the next I am the police. We ended up choosing Vern’s Friendly (Cockroach)Tavern and so the following day I decided to go back and get another look at the location. While we were at the bar an African-American gentleman turns to my wife and asks her “Why did you bring him HERE?” and she replies “He brought me here”! It was a real honor and pleasure working with Tail Dragger. Today was the debut of a documentary on Tail Dragger. It played at a theater close to our house so we went today. Tail was scheduled to be there and speak however he passed yesterday. Seeing the movie brought back a lot of great memories, especially of being in the studio for the first album project with Johnny B. Moore, Jimmy Dawkins and Eddie Shaw. They just don’t make them like that anymore. RIP Bluesman. Have mercy, Whatyasay! ‘ – Steve Wagner, longtime former Delmark engineer/GM
“Reflecting on the many memories I shared with my friend Tail Dragger, who left us this morning. Rest in peace, dear friend.” – BOB CORRITORE – blues harmonica ace
At the Delta Fish Market, summer 1983 with Hester Brooks (widow of Big Leon Brooks), Bob Corritore, Illinois Slim, Tail Dragger, and Hubert Sumlin’s daughter.
“I remember when I was moving to New Orleans from Chicago. I had called Tail and said I was gonna be by the house. I was on North Ave and it started snowing and I was balling my eyes out. I called him back sobbing and through my tears and snot I said ”Taildragger, I’m just gonna go cuz I can’t say goodbye to you. I just love ya too much so I’m gonna say see you soon instead ok? ”of course he said back” just come on now we’re waiting on you” and I cried even harder and said “ I can’t! I can’t say goodbye I love you too much and Bertha too so I’m just gonna go and I’ll call you when I get there.” He said “ god dammit, baby, if you don’t wanna leave why are you going? Why don’t you just stay here? Why leave? We all love you. I love you” I thought about unpacking everything to stay but I didn’t. And even though I was gone all these years we talked on the phone all the time. We even FaceTimed each other a lot. I went back to visit and nothing brightened my day more than to see his call coming in. I have looked to him for so much in my life. He taught me a lot and he always protected me, especially from men, lol. He was always there for me. Always a beacon of light for me. And always with love and a lot of laughs. He took me as one of his own and I have never taken that for granted. I don’t know what else to say but thank you Taildragger for being my friend and making me feel like I had a place in this world – Nichole Henson, dear friend and superfan
Dragger with his “daughter” Nichole Henson
DRAGGER with his lovely wife, Bertha
“This is a tough one. My heart is broken as I have to say goodbye to one of my best friends- the one & only Taildragger The years I spent working with him were some of the best years of my life. We had a special bond and a deep friendship. Taildragger…I’ll miss our long calls gossiping like old women in church, I’ll miss our road trips and all the stories you would tell me mile after mile, I’ll miss your hugs and your heart of gold. Damnit- I’m just gonna miss everything about you. I’ll forever cherish your love and friendship. You were a blessing in my life and I think we did some great things together. I will hold all those special memories close to my heart. I’m most thankful that you will live on forever through your music. RIP Tail, thanks for the miles and the memories- it was one hell of a ride! I’ll love you forever and I was always honored to be your “babysitter” ” – TAMARA IRENA, Dragger’s friend/booking agent/mgr
Dragger with Tamara Irena
” Tail Dragger definitely was his own song. His smile and stories just lit up a room on that stage. Though at times I would watch him sit and observe. That man saw things and soaked it on in. It was his fuel. He is so going to be missed. I imagine that J.W. Williams and he are tearing up that jam in heaven with all those greats that went before them. Bless the Blues and those who keep it going.”- Catherine Hernandez Faber, fan
“2 days ago Tail Dragger left us. An incredible guy that will not be repeated, a Bluesman. Now I have millions of memories: the day I met him at Rooster’s Lounge on Chicago’s westside, the dozens of concerts blowing for him, the hours listening to his stories, driving his van in Chicago when his driver’s license was taken away… He was happy doing what he loved most, singing Blues, and he lived doing it until the very last moment. Bon voyage Tail Dragger, you’ll be greatly missed.” – QUIQUE GOMEZ, blues singer and harp ace from Madrid
Dragger with Bob O Walesa (and Michael Frank of Earwig sitting next to him) at the 3rd annual Rockwell Stroll – Dragger’s last show.
“TAIL DRAGGER…THANK YOU for all the good times, laughs, rotgut whiskey and life lessons !!! I am still fighting back the tears but will forever be eternally grateful for your many years of friendship and guidance…Larger than life…Husband, Father, Uncle, Friend, Mentor Blues Legend Tail Dragger was called home to Blues Heaven this morning…Your light touched so many…offering sincere sympathies to his lovely wife Bertha & family at this time…“- BOB O WALESA, harmonica player and superfan
“I never knew how good goat could taste until I sampled it at the birthday parties of Chicago blues singer Tail Dragger. I know the very idea of eating goat makes some people push away from the table, but if you told ’em it was “broasted pheasant under glass” or something, they’d love it then. Tail Dragger cooked his own goat, and it was a definite feature of some of his live shows, I’d first heard Tail Dragger in the 80s, on Mr. A’s late night blues radio show on WNIB. But I didn’t know what to expect when I first saw him live in 1992. I was with Seth Patner and maybe David Waldman. Johnny Burgin might have been there, too. It was at some long-forgotten place on the West Side with a round bar in the middle of the room. Unusual for a club, the house lights were on, and shining bright. I believe Mack Simmons was on the gig, too. And then there was Tail Dragger. Long and lean at 6’2 (6’5 with that cowboy hat), he was working that wireless mic like a second job. I’m happy to say it was not the last time. He had a Sunday night residency at the 5105 Club on North Ave. in Chicago that somehow attracted carloads of white students from the University of Chicago, all the way on the South Side. Tail Dragger was the last of a breed; one of the true eccentrics that were always around the edges of the Chicago blues scene, well into the early 2000s. Smoking that cigar, wandering out into the audience, singing to various women – that man was going to put on a SHOW. And to his credit, his records were just as good as experiencing him in person. Tail Dragger just passed away this morning, at age 82. I should be mourning the loss, but I find myself smiling at the nonstop good times I had while he was on the bandstand. Rest easy, my brother…”- JAMES PORTER, blues journalist/DJ/musician
“WTF, I’m so scared of this,,, totally unexpected for me and many others too I think,,, James Yancey Jones [born September 30, 1940] Tail Dragger is no more,,, One, not the Most Gracious Chicago Blues Men I’ve ever met,,,,, Biggest ThanXXX Dear James Jones , for your Mighty Beautiful Shows, even at The Haagse Hout Heeft de Blues, Your head = Bold & for a while my dear friend,,,, R.I.P.,,, See bija @ the Other Side” from Huub Blues Hoeberigs
“With deepest sadness and totally unexpected for the family and many others the death of my father on yesterday. James Yancey Jones (born September 30, 1940), known professionally as Tail Dragger Jones, was an American Chicago blues singer. Life is too short to miss out on those special moments that you can never recapture. Please keep our family in prayers as we travel near and far to celebrate this great man who I am proud to say, my daddy.” Karen E. (Jones) Ellis.
“Yesterday morning my Grandfather James Jones passed over from labor to reward, he gained his wings in peace One thing my grandfather taught me is that “life is tooo damn short for bullshit” he stood on his truth… I’m grateful I had to opportunity to have some heart to heart talks with him before he left this earth! Grandpa you will definitely be missed! Thank you for the Legacy you left for us, we will continue to honor all your hard work! Rest in Peace JW Hug Grandma for me when you see her..” Darinesha Johnson
“Great sadness my friend from several adventures in Brazil, Europe and every month we spoke on camera. Always together, always giving me sound advice!!! Several Whiskey, cigars and stories shared!!! Big inspiration in my life!!! I polished my shoes several times a week and I died of shame. I was always told a Bluesman has to have a nice hat and polished shoes. The Chicago Chief is gone!!! I will miss you so much James Jones aka MR TAIL DRAGGER!!!!!” – Nico Fami – guitar player, Argentina
“The great blues artist Tail Dragger left this world a couple of days ago. He was an outstanding singer, a true great Blues Man and probably the last of his kind. I’ve seen a lot of tributes, and rightfully so. The man is to be lauded. I don’t always know how I feel about the act of using somebody’s death to share a personal story or photo, and trying to make it about YOU. But to hell with it, I wanna tell this story…. It’s not a story about something particularly significant in in the life and times of Tail Dragger but it IS for me… And it does illustrate one of many ways in which the guy was just awesome, so here goes…. (and OK, fine, I like how the story makes me look! I admit!) Way back in the days before I moved to the US, I was extremely lucky to land the coolest gig in the entire country of Norway. At only 19 years old, I became the house band guitarist at the brand new club “Muddy Waters” in Oslo. It was a unique opportunity, because not only did they have live music every night, but at least once or twice every month, they would bring over notable US blues artists, and as the house band, it was job to provide them with adequate musical accompaniment. To be fair, I had been preparing for a gig like this, and had willingly and joyfully immersed myself in all the classic Blues I could get my hands on since even before I was even a teenager. My bandmates were American transplant Bill Troiani, and ultra-seasoned Norwegian drummer Tore Wildhauer, both of whom were far more experienced with EVERYTHING than me, and many decades my seniors. To this day those guys are idols of mine. Doing this gig was without a doubt the most valuable experience as a musician and as a blues player of just about my whole life, certainly up until then. On one hand, I had an unshakable confidence in that I had learnt this shit inside and out, and on the other hand, I experienced humbling experiences on a weekly basis that let me know also how utterly clueless I was. But I’ll tell about some of THOSE experience another time, because today I am writing this in fond memory of the GREAT, recently departed Tail Dragger. You see, when Tail Dragger was flown over from Chicago to perform at the “Muddy Waters” club for a week in 1999 (or possibly 2000), it was at a point where Bill, Tore and I had already done a large number of gigs at the club, and some of the powers at be, and possibly some patrons, felt the need to “shake things up” a bit, to bring in some “fresher faces” and “different styles” to grace the Muddy Waters stage in Oslo. Bill and Tore got to keep their spots, but it was decided (by a non/musician entity) that for THIS week’s shows, they were bringing in another guitarist. I won’t mention his name, let’s call him “Stig” but he is absolutely a very skilled guitarist, very nice person, and very competent and professional musician. Just not….a BLUES musician. Blues ROCK, yes. I’m sure the guy knows the Cream, Led Zeppelin and Rory Gallagher catalog inside out. And that’s great stuff. But that is an entirely different musical language that is pretty far removed from the old school lowdown electric Chicago style blues that Tail Dragger lived and breathed. At the time, nobody besides me seemed to think that this would pose any kind of REAL problem (OK, maybe Bill was a bit skeptical…) so Stig was set to perform with Tail Dragger that week at the club, and in a few nearby towns that wanted in on the action.I will admit, I was a bit miffed, and I did not plan to attend any of this, but I didn’t want to rock the boat, so I kept my mouth shut (until now…) I stayed at home the night these shows began, and very late that evening, my phone rang. The gig had been a complete disaster , and everybody had been completely miserable. Most of all Tail Dragger. It was said that he told the management in no uncertain terms “This guy don’t know my stuff, my style. I don’t know what the Hell he’s playing, but it sure ain’t no Blues. You need to get me somebody who knows the Blues”. So they called me, and humbly asked me to return to my station post haste, to see if I had what mr Tail Dragger was missing. The next day, they tried again, at the “Muddy Waters” club in Oslo, this time with a 19 year old baby faced Kid Andersen on the guitar. After the very first number we played, Tail Dragger exclaimed “Hallelujah, they got me somebody who can play the Blues! You got it, that’s my sound!” And the man showered me with such love and ego boosts, I swear at one point he even offered me a steady gig. I had a ball playing the rest of the gigs with Tail Dragger, and honestly, I felt kind of bad for “Stig”, he’s a good guy, and was put in a bad position. Maybe he should have known that he was woefully unprepared and unqualified to be baking up mr. Tail Dragger. But in Stig’s defense, most people, most MUSICIANS have absolutely NO clue about what makes ACTUAL Blues so different from any other music, or the different languages WITHIN Blues. To most, it all sounds roughly the same, Hubert Sumlin or Robin Trower….Jimmy Rogers or Jimmy Page… That’s not a quality assessment, it’s not being “purist” or “elitist”, it is just a FACT, that these are different idioms.I’m not judging anybody who DON’T know. It’s great if you do, it’s OK if you don’t. But if you’re gonna PLAY it… you will find out. “Stig” probably didn’t realize that he didn’t know Tail Dragger’s style of music, until it was publicly pointed out to him. OK, that’s part 1 of the story. Luckily for everyone in the world, I actually forgot ALL about this entire incident pretty shortly after it happened. My brain must have decided that in order to keep my head at least a semi-manageable size moving forward, I needed to NOT have this massive triumph re-play in my head any more. So I forgot, and I didn’t think about this for at least a dozen years. Then, through my friendship and connection with Johnny Burgin and Stephanie Tice, and what became the “Howling At Greaseland” CD that Stephanie was behind, I got to meet and play with Tail Dragger again, 16 years later. In my house, no less. I absolutely did NOT expect him to remember me, or playing with me, or recognize me AT ALL. So I reintroduced myself to him and said “I dont expect you to remember this, but I actually played with you for a week in Norway, about 16 yers ago” Tail Dragger did not hesitate for one second to tell me “Hell yeah, I remember you. You saved our ass. They had me with some guitar player that didn’t know no blues at all. I didn’t think we would make it through the week, until they got rid of him and brought you in there!!” At first I didn’t even know what he was taking about, until I finally remembered, WAY back in some hidden crevasse of my brain, the ONE time while I lived in Oslo where they tried to get somebody else to do my job in the house band at Muddy Waters. I have never forgot it since That’s TWO times Tail Dragger made me the proudest man on earth! It’s not even close to a drop in the bucket that is the legacy that this Great Blues Man left behind. But it meant a lot to ME, and it is one more reason why that man fucking ruled! An absolute gem and a Legend. RIP James Yancy Jones, the Tail Dragger. – KID ANDERSEN, blues guitarist extraordinaire
“Rest peacefully, JY.” – Mojo Mark Cihlar– Tail Dragger’s friend and bandmate over the years
Johnny Burgin, Dragger, and Mojo Mark – Chicago Blues Fest- maybe late 90’s/early 2000’s?
POSTED ON BY JIM CRAWFORD
Featured Interview – Tail Dragger
The list of living legendary Chicago Bluesmen is getting shorter each year!
Guys like Buddy Guy, Eddie Shaw, Carl Weathersby, James Cotton, and one James Yancy Jones, A.K.A. Tail Dragger are some of the more prominent veterans still plying their trade in the clubs of Chicago and touring the world to keep their beloved music alive.
James Jones (Tail Dragger), has been listening to the Blues for his whole life starting in rural Arkansas. Like a lot of youngsters of the day, young James had to do his listening on the sly because parents considered the Blues ‘devil’s music.”
“I used to take the radio to bed with me and listen to the Blues,” he said. “I’d listen to Randy’s Record Mart out of Memphis. My folks didn’t know. We had one of those battery-powered radios ‘cause we didn’t have electricity in the house then. They’d want to listen to their gospel music before church on Sunday morning and couldn’t figure out why the batteries were down (on the radio).”
“The first show I ever saw was Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) and Boyd Gilmore in Pine Bluff,” TD recalls. “They had this club, Jack Rabbit’s and I used to sneak in there ‘cause I wasn’t old enough to be in the clubs. That’s where it all started.”
Those early shows and the songs on the radio sparked young James’s interest in the Blues and before long he was trying his hand at singing.
TD’s parents separated when he was just a baby and he was raised by his grandparents.
“I went to visit my mom in Chicago when I was 14 years old,” he said. “Then I went to Texas and stayed with my uncle, who was a travelin’ preacher and then I came back to Chicago in 1966. I been here ever since.”
Tail Dragger tried marriage the first time when he was 18 and things didn’t work out so he left town for a while. He tried marriage twice more before Uncle Sam caught up with him and he was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam era.
Coming up in the ‘60s, James was subject to the draft and faced the prospect of Vietnam like all young men of the day. He was eventually drafted into the army and spent his basic training in Louisiana and Kentucky before being discharged because he was married with children. He said he fell under a new law passed by the Kennedy administration that allowed guys with families to be exempt from active duty. By that time he had already fathered four kids.
As a young man James had always been good with his hands and had earned a living working on cars, keeping them running and doing body and paint work.
“I started messing with cars when I was a kid,” TD said. “I worked for this car dealer sweeping the floors, taking out the trash. There was this guy who knew all about rebuilding engines and body work and I learned a lot from him. That’s where I learned mechanics. I was always asking questions. That’s what I did long before I ever started singing. I worked on cars.”
Those were the days when the legends were playing every night in the little clubs and dives on Chicago’s West Side, long before the word “legend” was ever used.
“Howlin’ Wolf was my favorite,” TD said. “I’d go watch him every chance I got. I always had a car so me and my buddies would pile in and go see The Wolf.”
“I hadn’t thought about singin’ in the clubs yet. I tried the guitar. Took some lessons but after I started singin’ I put the guitar down. I never could play and sing at the same time. I wasn’t ever satisfied with (my guitar playing) so I got a harp. I can blow shit that I can’t sing but after they put a stent in my heart I put the harp down.”
“I was at a club one night drinkin’ and this guy, Necktie Nate had a band and was singin” Wolf stuff. I told him ‘I can sing that.’ And he told me I was full of shit so I bet him a half pint that I could. People started clappin’ their hands and hollerin’ and that’s how it got started. Best bet I ever made.”
“We’d go see Wolf anywhere we could,” Tail Dragger said. “One night he noticed me and took a likin’ to me. He told his band ‘Help this boy. He’s gonna take my place.’ He taught me to listen to the drums. He taught me how to keep count. A lot of guys play against instead of with each other trying to shine. Wolf taught me to pay attention.”
As with most accounts told by musicians who worked with Howlin Wolf, Tail Dragger treasures the time spent with his mentor.
“He was strict on the band stand,” he said. “Off stage he was just a normal person. There was no drinkin’ and no smoking on the bandstand. No foolishness. If you messed up on stage he would stop the band and say ‘Now I ain’t got to mention no names’ and you knew if it was you who messed up. He damn sure kept everybody in line.”
“You go ‘round Muddy Waters and he’s singin’ to all the nice ladies. Wolf was all about the money. He came up poor with not much education but he sure knew how to make and save that money. He only drove Pontiac station wagons when everybody else was driving big, shiny Cadillacs. He didn’t care about that. He was into makin’ a livin.”
It was Howlin’ Wolf who gave James Jones the moniker that has followed him throughout his life.
“He called me “Tail Dragger” because I was always late for shows,” TD says. “They used to call me “Crawlin’ James” because I used to crawl around on the floor like Wolf when I sang. They said it was ‘cause I was trying to look up the ladies’ dresses while I sang. When you’re off into a song you’re not thinkin’ about that stuff. You don’t have time.”
When asked if he might have at least peeked once or twice Tail Dragger just lets out a big laugh and moves on to the next question.
Before long it was Tail Dragger’s turn to front the bands and keep things in order. It started out slow and gained momentum.
“I was running a shop on Madison Street (in Chicago) and what they’d do, they’d (Necktie Nate) take me with them and I’d hold the door taking money until later on in the night,” he said.
“They knew everybody would be waitin’ for me to get up there and sing. I worked on a lot of people’s cars and then they’d follow me to shows. I had three or four cars full of people following me around. They was usin’ me to keep the crowds.”
All of this was taking place in Chicago during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, the golden age of modern Blues.
“There was a place on every corner playin’ Blues,” Tail Dragger said. “Six nights a week. I had a guy, Mad Dog Lester, playing harp for me. He left and I talked Big Leon Brooks into coming down and playing for me. He’d given it up and was driving a truck when I got him to come back. He looked pretty ragged so I took him and bought him some clothes. He had a problem with drugs and I had to keep an eye on him.”
“He was a funny guy. He would get a long cord and get over in the corner and blow. I never knew why. I guess he was bashful. He had great tone. He was the kind of guy who would blow for you instead of against you to make himself shine.”
Drugs were the order of the day during those times and Tail Dragger was having no part of it.
“They offered me a hit off a joint one time and I took it and I was laughing so hard I couldn’t hardly get on stage,” he said. “I tried it one more time and never touched it again.”
“Two white guys came to a show one night and gave me a big bag of pot and I thanked them and took it and threw it away. They were always saying ‘Try this. Try that.” I saw what it did to other people. I would say ‘What makes you think you can control it?’ I lost a brother to that shit. He would preach for a while and then go do drugs for a while. I just never did see any good in it.”
Tail dragger’s adventures have taken him all over the world numerous times and he has high praise for the European audiences.
“They treat you like a king over there,” he says. “One time they were doing a Honeyboy Edwards movie here in Chicago and I got in it and this led to a gig in Europe. I been goin’ over there since 1989 and hope I get to back a lot more. One thing about the audiences over there, you can’t bullshit them. They know their stuff.
“The young blacks (in America) today have forgotten the Blues,” TD says. “They don’t realize their forefathers started the music that led to the rap they listen to today.”
“I don’t dig that shit at all, by the way. They act like they’re ashamed of it. It’s the young white guys who are playing the Blues today. The white guitarists are undermining the real Blues. And, it’s really not the “real” Blues. It’s bullshit Blues. Rock Blues. Tourist Blues.”
“You go to Brazil and every kid there has either a set of drums, a guitar or a harmonica in his living room. I went to one guy’s house and he was talking about stuff I didn’t even know. Talkin’ about Bar B Que Bob and people like that. Stuff I didn’t know. He had this huge wall covered with Blues posters and pictures.”
“Here (in Chicago) they’re into rap or selling drugs. It’s pretty sad to see.”
If nothing else, Tail Dragger calls himself a perfectionist when it comes to his music.
“I’ve got five pieces in my band and I want my sound to be as perfect as we can make it,” he said. “I’m not doing it just to make a dollar. I want it right. But, don’t get me wrong, I like money just as much as the next guy. It’s just not the only reason I sing and play the Blues. A lot of guys don’t care. They’re there just to get the check and go on to the next gig. I don’t understand that.”
“Before each song I always tell a little story,” TD says. “That way the audience has to pay attention. I make them pay attention. That’s what the preacher does. They call me the Blues preacher.”
“You got to have a gimmick. You need the people. They don’t need you. They’re the ones who make you. If it’s just one song after another you’ll lose the audience. It’s all about showmanship. You got to get it figured out.”
Tail Dragger says life is good these days and he wouldn’t change a thing.
“My high points?” he says. “Right now are my high points. I’m traveling more and at my age I don’t have to punch a clock. I’m making more money than I ever have. I’ve got my Social Security ‘cause I always had a job. Some guys never worked and have to play to eat. I’m very comfortable. I plan on staying around and doing it as long as I’m able.”
If you want to see Tail Dragger in action, check out these videos for a sample of his singing.
Visit Tail Draggers website at: http://www.taildraggerbluesband.com/
Photos by Bob Kieser © 2013 Blues Blast Magazine.
Fleetwood Mac guitar god PETER GREEN LOVED TAIL DRAGGER…!!!! SO COOL!!!
“I’ve always loved harmonica players – Hoodoo Man Blues by Jr Wells with Buddy Guy is another of my favourite albums – but I’ve also been listening to a harmonica player from Chicago called Tail Dragger. I like the way his music kind of chugs along. It doesn’t ever build up to any sort of climax – he plays like he’s in a small club where there’s an audience that wants to talk and he’s trying not to make too much noise. I’ve been listening to a lot of world music recently, too, and I just bought this Vietnamese banjo which has only got two strings. I love the weird sound it makes!” – PETER GREEN
Read the complete interview…!!!!
Bluesfest 2022, Soul City Blues Fest, Chicago with Delmark’s Julia Miller
Check out Bob Corritore’s amazing website with his many photos of Dragger!!
Willie Buck, Bob Corritore, Tail Dragger outside of Jazz Record Mart, Chicago.
Tail Dragger and his wife Bertha at the 2011 Lucerne Blues Festival in Switzerland. Photo Bob Corritore.