The Baton Rouge-born Jonathon Long was a child prodigy who was playing guitar by age six and started performing at blues jams in the Baton Rouge club Swamp Mama’s when he was ten years old, alongside local legends Kenny Neal, Rudy Richard and Lil Ray Neal. Known as Jonathon “Boogie” Long, he’s earned a reputation as a guitar shredder. However, his singing, songwriting, and eclectic range in addition has evolved his music into its own unique category.
Upon the release of Parables Of A Southern Man, ABS caught up with Mr. Long to discuss his broad idea of the song, as consummately represented in his writing. The album, out now, was produced by Samantha Fish for her imprint, Wild Heart Records. Fish released and produced his first album, Blues Revolution, as well.
ABS: Let me preface this by saying, “Savior’s Face” is one of the greatest songs I’ve heard in years. I think it’s probably one of the bluesiest songs on the record, but the power that it holds and the way you perform it is just absolutely amazing. If there was a Song of the Year kind of award, it should be nominated left, right and center.
I appreciate that. That’s awesome.
I know you have a blues background. I know you started real, real young, but do you have a background in gospel music as well?
Oh yeah. I’ve played in church my whole life — which is kind of where it comes from has, because I’ve been done wrong a couple of times by standard church. My parents were street ministers, the first person I ever saw play guitar was my grandfather who played the same gospel music. I have a very extensive gospel background. That’s pretty much a lot of what I listen to nowadays. I played a whole lot of gospel in my life.
And the imagery in the video, does that come from the way you were treated?
Well, the storyline was Devon Williams’ idea, but I think it turned out perfectly in the sense that my idea of the song was that Jesus wouldn’t have been the long-haired, hippie-bearded white Jesus. Right. He would have been more middle Eastern, you know? That’s really where it comes from. You wouldn’t recognize him. Let alone thinking that you know him and you don’t really know him. You literally wouldn’t recognize him. That’s where it comes from. That’s why you see Devon Williams as Jesus in the beginning of the video.
And then we have the more dark-complected Creole Jesus come in on their second verse. You see one of the Jesus’ drinking, and he’s having a good old time carrying on playing cards. That’s way-of-the-world Jesus. That’s American Jesus, as we portray him to be. We can go out here and drink and party and run these women. All we gotta do is ask for forgiveness and, and we’re going to be saved.
Party on Saturday night; get saved on Sunday morning.
The Bible says you can do anything that you want and still be saved if you have Christ in your heart, but I don’t think that’s what it meant. I didn’t mean for the video to be taken blasphemously. That wasn’t my goal at all. But it still said a lot about the way church is, from the overenthusiastic preacher to the lost people partying with Jesus.
One thing that stood out to me was the congregation kind of stoning the people as they came in.
They’re always judging. Even people in church nowadays, they’re always judging that. So that’s what that stands for is the judgment. They’re not really casting — he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone — they’re casting all the stones, baby. I think it did what it needed to do as far as the video. The video can’t really do the song justice, but there’s not a lot of ways you can really put a video to that song.
I think the video made a powerful statement, but the song definitely stands alone. Without the video, the song would be every bit as powerful. That’s my opinion. Of the 12 songs on the record, did you write all of these?
I did. I’ve written every song on every record that I’ve ever recorded, except “The River” on my last Samantha record; that’s the only song that I’ve ever not written that I’ve recorded.
How long of a process is that to put enough songs together?
I’m always writing. I’m constantly working on different things, and I write so many different styles. I always have something to pull from, something to work on. Sometimes they’ll call me and say, “Hey, we’re recording in six months.” And then I’ll know, oh, this is crunch time. I have to really get in gear and write some stuff. It’s not always like, “Oh, I need to write some meaningful stuff.” It’s not really that easy, but I think I write with character and meaning. I usually don’t focus my time on too many songs that don’t at least have a positive message or something. I have a catalog. I probably have two or three records in the can, so I stay ahead cause I write that much.
And you’ve always been like that? That didn’t happen with the 2020 downtime?
No, I’ve been like that since I was a young teenager. I’ve been writing like that since I was probably 13, 14, holy cow. I’m good at making storylines, coming up with hook lines and then putting melodies around them. Everybody knows me as a guitar shredder, but really writing is one of my stronger suits.
From listening to what I’ve heard on your other records and what I’ve heard on the new one, they can’t take anything away from your vocals either.
I sang in choir growing up. I learned all those scales and that sort of thing. It may surprise you that my favorite artist when I was like 13 or 14 years old was Jill Scott. I’ve always had really eclectic taste in music. I wasn’t really like, oh, Stevie Ray Vaughan or Hendrix, or Led Zeppelin and Skynyrd. I was more Frankie Beverly and Maze and the Clark Sisters and Jill Scott. I’ve always been into really great singers. I’ve always listened to a lot of the gospel. There’s a lot of movement and a lot of runs, and just a lot of singing going on. That kind of gave me my understanding for harmony and all kinds of different aspects of playing.
Well, it comes across on the record. There’s blues, jazz, southern rock — hints of Allman Brothers kind of playing. There are acoustic songs. You’re all over the board with it. And I love records like that. I’ve always been in love with a record that, if I worked at a record store and got that, I would have to spend all day trying to figure out where to put it.
Not everybody is going to enjoy the whole record. Not every single person is going to love every song on the record. But everyone can appreciate at least a couple of songs on the record. That’s just as important as creating a record that a small amount of people will enjoy the whole record. To me, it’s more important that a broader audience can find at least a couple of songs on there that they enjoy. Because we’re in a time now where you don’t have to buy the whole record to hear all the songs you made back in the day.
As long as you can find something that you connect to, that you can like and appreciate, because it’s just about them connecting with at least one or two. There’s something for country people. There’s something for R & B people. There’s something for blues people. There’s something for all those people. And I think especially with the way that that music is sold nowadays, I think that’s important.
I think you’re ahead of the game with it. And knowing who produced this album and the record label — I’ve been following Samantha for quite some time. She’s from Kansas city; I live in Topeka an hour away. I’d see her play in Kansas city or she’d come to Topeka and play 4th of July or, or play at Uncle Bo’s.
So I’ve been following her for a long time, and her approach is very similar to that. She doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into a specific genre. Every one of her records that comes out is a little bit different than the last one. That obviously that works well with you, with her as a producer.
Most definitely. She excels in helping you capture the simplest version of the song so that it’s understandable for the audience, so that you don’t clutter it up with too much guitar and arrangements too difficult. Recording in the studio is much different than live. You can stretch out a lot more live, but you want it to be a lot more conservative in the studio. Well, she’s good at that. She’s good at honing you in and making sure that you get a really solid, clean version of the song that people can really connect with. It’s been a lot of fun working with her. It just made sense for us to get together. So that’s what we did.
You start out the record with “Madison Square Garden,” and that’s kind of a you-gotta-pay-your-dues song. Did I catch that right?
Oh, yeah. I’ve been told my whole life, “Put that guitar down. You’re not gonna find any success doing that.” That’s the course of that song: don’t tell me that I can’t do this, because I’m not gonna stop until it’s done. It’s about spreading a positive message, man. That’s all I really want my music to be — in a world of booty shaking and singing about drugs and singing about big trucks on a dirt road. I just want to bring back what makes people think in a positive manner.
You put a little edgier stuff in there,too. “The Ride,” for example.
I throw some edgy stuff in there, but it’s meant to be positive. You know, that to me was, you know, sometimes the lights and fame get to be too much, and you just got to take a moment and breathe, find that that comfortable space. That’s kinda what “The Ride” is about. Like on this ride, I have to find this space to where I can still where I can still have my sanity about me.
Is “Jenny” a fictional character, or is that somebody from your past?
Jenny’s a fictional character. My roommate wrote a poem about a man who was going back to jail and he didn’t want to go back to jail. So he told Jenny, “Fetch my pills from the bedside for to lay me down to rest. And then I was like, holy crap, man. That is so deep. So I wrote the song based on the poem. The song really has nothing to do with the poem, but because of the line, that made me want to write a whole song about it.
That’s harder hitting than I thought it was.
He’s going to jail. He’s been before. He doesn’t want to go back. He knows that they’re never going to let him out this time. So that’s what he says: Jenny, fetch my pills from the bedside for to lay me down to rest. It was meant to be like an old 1800s line.
I allways ask this question and I get varying responses because it’s like trying to pick your favorite child, but do you have a favorite song on Parables?
I like “Madison Square Garden” and I like “Pain.” I think those are probably my two favorites. I like them all for different reasons. I like “My Kinda Woman,” the bluesy rock jam song. It’s easier for me to tell you my least favorite song, which I’m starting to come around to it. I don’t really have a specific reason other than it, it just kinda reminds me of a linedancing song. Samantha loved it, and we recorded it. “Landline” is a cool song.
With everything opening back up, do you have a pretty extensive tour schedule?
It’s building up. What happens is all the festivals are staying true to their contracts that were pre-COVID. So you have to wait for everybody to catch up. I was supposed to play the Blues Cruise in 2019, and here it is 2021 and I’m playing the Blues Cruise. I have the Bogalusa Blues & Heritage Festival, the Baton Rouge Blues Festival. I do have a lot of awesome things, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it extensive touring — just shows here and there. But there will definitely be more extensive tours behind this record. Once the booking aspect of it opens back up. Everything’s opened up, but booking is kind of weird right now.
I’m always curious about artists and songwriters and singers and, and especially those with a background like yours, you said you were raised around gospel music and raised around the church. If you weren’t doing music professionally, what do you think you’d be doing today?
I don’t know. Because it’s all I’ve ever known. While other people wanted to be a fireman, police officer, lawyer, doctor… I wanted to be a high school band director. I wanted to be in music since I was a kid, since I was in third or fourth grade. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be involved in music.
I had my first gig at 10 or 11. I’ve been gambling pools since I was 12, so I shoot pool for money, you know? Other than that, that’s really all I’ve ever done.
That’s awesome. Jonathan, thanks so much for giving me some time today. I appreciate it. Congratulations on this album that drops July 2nd.
It’s my dad’s birthday. And when I was eight years old, on that day was the day that I got my very first actual guitar. He bought me my very first real guitar that I actually loved and appreciated, on his birthday. So when Ruben said we’re gonna put it out on July 2nd, he had no idea any of that. So it just kind of symbolized to me that everything was going to be about that.