Warren youth plays blues on first album

By Josette Keelor

Jon Long-Leary is only 12, but already he’s a one-man band.

At 6 the Linden resident started learning to play electric guitar and later took on acoustic guitar and bass. Last year, armed with his grandfather’s clarinet, he signed up for the school band, and this past spring he added drums to his repertoire.

Then this summer, he recorded his first album.

Front Royal guitar teacher and recording studio owner Mike Powell was skeptical when Jon said he wrote a clarinet solo for the album.

“The main thing is we wanted to go into it prepared,” Powell said. But once he heard Jon on clarinet, Powell said “this works.”

Jon wrote four of the six songs on “Summer Sessions 2013,” which he released through Powell’s home-based studio Green Room Recording. The other two are covers of songs by Stephen Stills and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Through the magic of studio recording, Jon was able to sing, harmonize with himself and play all accompanying instruments for the album, which contains four full-length songs, a jam track and a 50-second instrumental epilogue.

“We did a video of him playing each of the parts,” Powell said, “and then his dad edited them together.”

Jon is still considering if and when he’ll take his show on the road, but he’s already making a name for himself, having performed at Cristina’s Cafe’s open mic nights in Strasburg and last year winning the Warren County Middle School Idol singing competition.

Now he’s in seventh grade, “and I hope to do it again,” he said.

According to his parents, he’s always been musical, taking after his grandfather Walter N. Long Jr., who gave Jon his clarinet before he died in 2007.

Jon’s mother Ann Long called Jon’s performance at Middle School Idol a “really nice stripped-down blues style.” So she wasn’t surprised when he chose blues for his first album.

“It’s a real passion for him,” she said. “He’s just a musical guy.”

Though he’s shown a talent most of his life, she traced the start of his building interest back to kindergarten.

“His teacher did a lot with music, but it was clear that it was a big thing for him,” she said. “He loves to learn about old blues players.”

Jon named Stevie Ray Vaughn, B.B. King, Benny Goodman and Eric Clapton as his big musical influences, and his father Marty Long said he’s taken Jon to see B.B. King in concert.

Long said her son’s dedication is impressive not only for the various forms of music he knows but also for his focus on trouble spots during rehearsals.

“He’s learning how to be a better player,” she said. And for that, she thanked Powell.

“I feel like he’s really helped Jon as a song writer,” she said.

Jon was in first grade when Powell taught him to play “Yankee Doodle” on the guitar and Powell challenged him to use the song’s notes to write something new.

“When you play the notes of ‘Yankee Doodle,’ you really are playing the notes of the scale,” Powell said. And as he remembered it, Jon came through for him.

Even back then Jon wanted to record something in Powell’s studio, and Powell told him to bring his accordion and he would make it happen.

“Sure enough, he played the accordion,” Powell said.

The songs on Jon’s new album have a southern blues feel, heavy on the guitar and bass. His 3-minute, 15-second jam track features the clarinet solo he wrote. He said the music for each song came to him before the words did.

But his father said the words from “No Bar Blues” are based on an experience Jon had.

“One time he couldn’t get cell phone reception, and he said ‘I have the no bar blues,'” Leary said. “That’s where that came from.”

He said it’s kind of a pun on the musical term 12-bar blues.

In “No Bar Blues,” Jon wrote,

“No Angry Birds, No Facebook / Can’t even tweet, no Instagram / Can’t surf the web / I wish I were dead / Oh, Lord, I got my no bar blues.”

As Powell put it, “We’ve come a long way since ‘Yankee Doodle.'”

For more information about Jon Long-Leary and his album “Summer Sessions 2013,” visit Jonllmusicpage on Facebook. A video of him performing Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Pride and Joy” is on YouTube .

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com>