What It Takes

Singer Justin Jones

After more than 10 years in the music business, Washington-area singer-songwriter Justin Jones is making headway. He and his band, the Driving Rain, recently wound up a tour with pop sensation Sheryl Crow. He's playing regular dates around Washington D.C. and is heading out of town for several performances. In between, he's tending bar at the 9:30 Club on V Street NW, where he was working when the club's legendary owner, Seth Hurwitz, offered to manage him and signed him to 9:30 Records. Jones recently released an EP entitled "Little Fox" and is working on an album to be released next year. He is married to Melanie, who owns the Urban Style Lab hair salon in Dupont Circle. They live in the District with their daughters, Stella, 3, and Georgia, 8 months.

Why he's successful: "It's taken years. I think a lot of people start out trying to do something they love and it soon becomes a beast of burden...My [relatives] all wanted me to finish college so I would have something to fall back on. In my mind, I felt if I had something to fall back on, that's what I'd do. If I didn't, music would be what I'd do for rest to of my life. Not a lot of people know exactly what they love. I was lucky to know at a young age what I wanted to do and I 'm doing what I want to do."

Obstacle he had to overcome: "This is not a very encouraging business. There is not a lot of reward for your work, even if you do a very successful show. A lot goes into shows -- acquiring equipment, holding rehearsals, writing songs and getting the venue. When it's over, you have to start all over again ... Your family makes sacrifices and it's hard to keep a band together when you're not making a lot of money. Nobody who is playing in my band now was playing in the band three years ago, but I would think that the ones who were there three years ago wish they were playing in the band now."

First job: "Picking corn. I think I was 8 or 9 years old. They would round up a bunch of kids in a pickup truck and we would go and pick. We got a half penny per ear. We worked from like 6 a.m. to noon. I would do that on Saturday and Sunday and I might get a paycheck for 85 bucks. That was big bucks back then."

Worst job: "I have had a few of those. I washed dishes in a restaurant when I was in high school. Jobs that I hate have a way of weeding themselves out of my life. I had the same job for most of my 20s, tending bar here at the 9:30 Club, but before that, I had other bartending jobs that I didn't like and I got fired ... A lot of people have a job and that's what they do. I have a job, but it's not what I do. I'm a songwriter, so I tend bar, not the other way around."

Best job: "The best job I ever had that I didn't want was tending bar at 9:30. The best job I ever had was playing music. If I didn't play music, I don't know what I'd want to do. I've been tending bar at 9:30 for eight years, so I obviously don't hate it."

What inspires him: "A lot of things -- nature, my children, my family ... fans, books, whatever."

What's next: Justin Jones and the Driving Rain is scheduled for more performances and an album. "We met Sheryl Crow on the last night of the tour. I played with a lot of people I haven't met. I played with Loretta Lynn and I didn't meet her. I played a couple of nights with ZZ Top and I didn't meet them ... I will say the Sheryl Crow experience was different than us traveling around in a van stopping for fast food. There were people to take the equipment, all this good food, nice hotels. That would be nice."

Lesson he's learned: "When you are playing in a band and playing music, people begin to believe that you will succeed. That is a feeling I've only known for the last three months. I think it is important to surround yourself with people who have a moral and ethical code that lives up to your standards, not those who are around you just to ride the wave. I'm not trying to come off like I think I'm a big star, because I don't. But I think that's important."

Smartest move: Dropping out of James Madison University, where he was studying early-childhood education. "It really focused me on what I really wanted, which was to play music. It got me moving in the right direction .... I think I thought I was going to be a teacher. I come from a long line of teachers. Now that I have kids, I'm glad I didn't do that. It's easier to put up with your own. My wife has sisters and they have several children. We go on vacation together. It's a great family stress inducer. Children are great and you gotta love them, but nobody's crying when they're all asleep."

Biggest misstep: Using drugs. "I wasted four years of my life. It's too hard for me to imagine if I'd be further along in this or not if I hadn't. I would take that back if I could."

Advice to the aspiring: "Pursue your interest in life. There is a great [Sam Adams] beer commercial that says this quote that if you love your job, you will never work a day in your life. Somebody else may have said it first, but that is a really great philosophy. I'm not advocating drinking beer for children, but it's a really cool quote. I think you should really try to live your dream."


Avis Thomas-Lester

 |  October 13, 2010; 8:01 PM ET  |  Category:  success stories Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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