Sometimes it’s time for a change.
Despite being known as “Boogie” since he was two, Baton Rouge singer-guitarist-songwriter Jonathon Long recently dropped his nickname. The title of his new album—produced by the on-the-rise New Orleans blues singer-guitarist Samantha Fish—is simply Jonathon Long.
“Having ‘Boogie’ in my name insinuates that I play boogie-woogie,” Long said a few days before his thirtieth birthday. “Which I do—but I don’t want to be categorized as anything.”
That goes for blues, too, the genre he’s been identified with since his late teens. “But I’m always a blues guy,” Long admitted. “I can pull off Albert Collins, Albert King, Freddie King, Lightnin’ Malcolm. All that stuff. But I like variety.”
Jonathon Long, the first release from Fish’s Wild Heart Records, showcases Long’s versatility. Soul, Southern rock and country join the album’s blues. All of it falls naturally into Long’s bailiwick. “I write folk music, bluegrass songs, country and blues, rock, soul and R&B,” he said. “But most of all I write stories.”
Unlike Long’s previous two albums—2016’s Trying to Get There and 2013’s Jonathon Boogie Long and the Blues Revolution—Fish’s production work for Jonathon Long puts his songs and singing up front.
“Some of my songs were complicated,” Long explained. “Samantha brought them down to a more understandable level. Samantha understands simplicity. You only play what needs to be played. On my first two albums, I got busy, because I like busy. But those albums are almost for musicians only. This record is for everybody.”
Of course, Fish also sought Long’s best studio performances. “She’d pull them out of me,” he said. “If I did something halfway, she told me to do it again. She had something to say about everything.”
Rueben Williams, who manages both Fish and Long has considered Fish’s move into production for some time. “I’ve known Jonathon for years,” Fish said. “His songs are really well-crafted. He’s an incredibly talented guitar player and singer. So, Rueben and Jonathon brought me in to produce Jonathon’s album. It all fell together naturally, the way the best collaborations do. I wanted to take Jonathon’s vision for himself and make that become reality. I think that’s what a good producer does.”
“It’s an honor,” Long said of being Fish’s first production. The album’s behind-the-scenes talent also includes Grammy-winners David Z (mixing) and Tony Daigle (mastering).
Long’s path to festivals, clubs and theaters began at the Full Gospel Baptist Church his family attended during his childhood. At age six, he received informal guitar instruction from some members of the congregation. He took formal guitar lessons later and, by his early teens, joined blues jams at such Baton Rouge venues as Tabby’s Blues Box and Heritage Hall, Phil Brady’s and Swamp Mama’s. At 14, he dropped out of school to tour with reggae and funk band Henry Turner Jr. and Flavor. “I told my parents, ‘I’m quitting school. I’m going to be a music superstar,’” Long said.
Although he didn’t achieve superstardom, Long’s three years with Turner taught him how to run a band. He also performed with touring hip-hop group 2 Hypnotic, which included New Orleans drummer Terrence Houston, and became first-call guitarist for blues and R&B singer Luther Kent’s big band.
When Long was about 15, Baton Rouge blues artist SunDanze Dunston encouraged him to be more than a sideman. “SunDanze told me, ‘If you never open your mouth and sing, you’re just going to be another guitar player.’” Taking the advice seriously, Long worked his way up to being a frontman by the time he was 18.
In 2011, Long, then 23, placed first among the more than 4,000 contestants who entered Guitar Center’s King of the Blues competition. He gives some credit for his win to the pastor’s suit he wore during the competition finals in Los Angeles. “I wore a nice suit and played the blues,” Long said.
In 2013, Long got an even bigger thrill when he played 15 tour dates with B.B. King. During their first show together, the blues legend called Long on stage. King reintroduced Long to the audience and then, leaning away from the microphone, spoke privately to his young opening act.
“B.B. said, ‘You play really good. I heard you from the bus. Yeah, I stole some of your licks.’ I said, ‘That’s alright. I stole all of your licks.’ So, I shared that moment with him. He was as cordial as he could possibly be. He truly was a gentleman.”
Feeling upbeat about his new album and turning 30, Long’s eager for the world to hear Jonathon Long. “Everywhere we go, they always want us to come back,” he said. “So, we just want to be back out there. When I’m on a stage playing for people, I just get lost in it. It’s the best high there is.”
Jonathon Long performs Sunday, October 14 at the Voice of the Wetlands Festival in Houma and Sunday, October 21 at the Festival of the Lake in Mandeville.