When Quentin Jones starts telling a story, his eyes light up. He might have told the tale thousands of times, but when he knows for sure that you haven’t heard it, he’s all in. He’s telling me a story about watching Van Morrison from the wings after opening up for him with Charlie Gracie in 2000.
“Now, I can’t see very well out of my right eye and I have no peripheral vision. I look to my right, and there’s Eric Clapton six inches away. And standing next to him is Robbie Robertson,” says Jones. “At this point, I figure I have nothing to lose, and I didn’t go up to them, you know? I say, ‘Hey Eric, Quentin Jones. I play with Charlie Gracie!’ and shake his hand. He tells me he loves Charlie, so I offer to introduce him. I feel like a complete idiot introducing them. How did I get there?”
During our talk in the office of his pride and joy, Lanark Records in Lancaster, that same question came up a lot, usually prompted by Jones himself.
He’s self-deprecating and worries frequently that he’s name-dropping excessively, but when you’ve had the sort of career that Jones has had thus far, it’s hard not to. He’s played shows with Herman’s Hermits and recorded with Linda Gail Lewis, sister of Jerry Lee. With Lanark, he’s recorded legitimate rock legends, from Charlie Gracie to Robert Gordon. Even his own band, the impeccably-named Reach Around Rodeo Clowns, got Twitter accolades from horror maestro Stephen King, who said, “’King of the Slot Car Track,’ by the Reach Around Rodeo Clowns. Song not quite as good as the group name, but good. Funny video.”
So how did he get here?
The Lanark name itself goes back decades. In the ’30s, Jones’ grandfather owned and operated the Lanark Hotel in Phillipsburg, N.J. Jones’ father, a horse trainer, met Jones’ mother at the stables owned by her father, coincidentally also bearing the Lanark name.
“When I was younger, my brother Bruce used to always say that Lanark was a good name, and we should keep it in the family,” says Jones. “Since then, I have Lanark Studios and my brother Wendell has Lanark Farms out in Washington Boro. So it’s a family business name.”
Jones’ brothers kept him abreast of music before he could even read.
“I couldn’t read yet but I knew what bands were on Capitol or ABC Records. As I got older, I noticed that different areas of the country and different studios had different sounds. So my dream with Lanark Records was to be a place where you could get good roots music, whether it be rock ‘n’ roll, junk blues, old-school country, what have you.”
That dream has come true, relatively speaking.
Since Lanark publicly opened its doors two years ago, a steady stream of musicians have been recording tunes there. The “roots” banner is wide-ranging and includes anything from Linda Gail Lewis’ old school rock ‘n’ roll to Jones’ own psychobilly Reach Around Rodeo Clowns.
“We like to say we do ‘live music.’ Real people playing real instruments,” explains Jones. “When it comes to what I do, I believe you have a certain set of skills. One guy can’t make every kind of record, at least not this guy [points to himself]. Naturally, the music that I produce will have an organic feel, because I came up long before sequencers and digital synthesizers.”
Now, the studio is hoping to play a part in the creative renaissance in Lancaster by helping people achieve their own dreams of making music. Lanark is hoping to find both “the older people who just want a keepsake” and “the younger bands who don’t want to
look like young bands” and everyone in between.
“We will make sure that when the radio station sees your stuff, they’re not going to push it into the ‘amateur’ pile,” says Jones. “They might not like your songs or the way you play, but I can’t control that. If I could, I’d be a bazillionaire. But I can keep you from looking foolish.”
In an attempt to drum up more publicity for Lanark, and also highlight some chosen songs from their vaults, Jones devised the concept of releasing a digital single every week for a year.
“We only promote when we have records coming out; well, what if we have records coming out every week?” says Jones. “I thought maybe we could develop a program where people can become fans of the series. Fifty-two songs in 52 weeks! Well…not in a row! Sometimes we miss a week. We’re real!”
That same realness propels Jones in seemingly everything he does as a multi-hyphenate guitarist/producer/arranger/songwriter/label president.
“I’ve been through thick and thin. Money doesn’t matter, you know?” Jones explains. “You can have the same $20 in your pocket for the rest of your life. I always truly did music because of the music. Because I had to, unfortunately. But I’ve had some luck.”
Lanark is hoping to harness some of that luck when it comes to finding talent in the area.
“We need to do a stellar job for the local people as well as the famous people,” Jones says. “We want to be an asset to the local community as well as the national community.”
The growing spirit of Lanark Records was on full display at this year’s Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival, when Jones presented his Rock ‘N’ Roll Revue for a second year running. Designed to run like the package shows from the ‘50s and ‘60s, the Revue acts as a showcase both for the artists of Lanark Records and for how far-reaching Jones’ rolodex goes. At one point, the stage held Quentin and his brother Wendell, Linda Gail Lewis, one-time “Project Runway” alum Kenley Collins, legendary rock drummer Liberty Devitto and the luchador-masked Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets all playing “Shake, Rattle & Roll.” It was truly a bizarre sight, but also an inspiring one. Musicians from different time periods and genres, all uniting because they believe in Lanark’s musical vision.
And how did they all get there? Through Quentin, of course.
For more information on Lanark and Quentin, visit http://lanarkrecords.net/