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Worcester’s Jon Bonner Carries on Family Blues-Folk Legacy

Friday, January 11, 2013


According to Worcester's Jon Bonner, he did not choose the music, the music chose him. Music and man have a natural connection, so much so, that, according to Bonner, "without music, we might all just be deaf, and, "the sense of hearing would be obsolete."

"It's reflective of nature in that the world is basically designed for acoustic resonance."

For Bonner it's natural in more ways than one. It's genetic, carrying on the legacy of his father who was also a musician.

The style of music with which Bonner chooses to capture this "acoustic resonance" is an eclectic but tightly-wound mix of blues-based folk, southern bluegrass and country rock. He grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton, who in turn lead him to an interest in Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, BB King, and Freddie King.

"It's probably like Willie Nelson and Merle Travis heading to an arena to watch a boxing match between Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan. Willie and Travis are always happy together. But the Garcia/Dylan thing is a constant clash,” says Bonner describing his unique style.

This vivid imagery can be expressed in a simpler way. Bonner terms it "progressive country,” or "like taking bluegrass and painting it red."

You'll have to listen to get exactly what that means, but this is by no means a chore. In fact, it's a privilege.

Bonner will be releasing an EP next month entitled "All By Myself." The CD will be available at his various shows, and will be available for download on BandCamp, iTunes and Rhapsody.

"I wrote many of the songs this past summer, having just returned from Nashville and fresh with all these southern influences. That's basically what you're getting on this CD: Southern mixed with northern influence. It's pretty upbeat overall," Bonner says of the EP.

Just like his music has an incredibly wide range of influences and background, so do the stories behind each individual song.

"There's stories about people on there, odes to nature, songs of longing and heartbreak, and whimsical stuff. I never put all my eggs in one basket."

These ideas for new songs can come from anywhere and out of nowhere, as musicians, authors and artists of all kinds can understand.

"It's emotional," he says. "It's not in my best interest to analyze it."

In a way, a song seeks to explain the unexplainable, and therefore can only at best be a metaphor for the emotions it expresses. But to call something a metaphor is not to downplay its power. It can take on a life of its own and possess its very own beauty.

"Once you start writing a song, from an idea or whatever, it's basically a living thing. You're raising a child. You can't force a child to grow. So some songs have a quick lifespan, and they're written in 20 minutes. Other songs have a longer lifespan and traverse years in their unfinished state. Some become vagabonds and never get finished, walking drunkenly through the street corners of my mental health."

He reiterates the idea of music-making, down to the individual song, melody and note, as a calling, not a choice. The music always chooses him.

"You can't force songs," he says, they "force themselves on you."

In yet another phenomenon that many of the creative disposition can understand, the call of music forces itself on him only during certain times, but, conveniently, often when it is most needed.

"It doesn't make me a better or happier person. It just kills the pain for a while. Then I'm good for a short time and then once things start looking grim, it's time to pick up the guitar. Very rarely do I write music when I'm in good spirits. Negative energy is stronger than positive energy, and I use that," he states. "I think it's important for musicians to embrace both the lighter and darker sides of their personalities."

Bonner makes common appearances at Central Mass bars, clubs and restaurants, both as a solo act and accompanied by other local musicians. You can see him once a month at the Pioneer Brewery in Fiskdale and regularly at Vincent's in Worcester, and at various other times playing with the likes of the Texas Road Hill Band, Sarah Benoit of the band IzaJane, Kyle Hardendorf of the band ClamBake or Oomiya Kawas from the band Cedar Roots.

"These folks are all my good friends too, so it's more than just collaboration; it's fun," he remarks.

Bonner admits that his future is uncertain, but then again so is the future of music in general. This is probably why Bonner candidly states he is not just banking on music to secure a happy future. Quite prudently, he plans on starting his own business. But this uncertainty does not prevent him from pontificating philosophically about the past, present and future of the art. After all his motto "Taking American Roots Music into the Future" must mean something.

"I certainly feel like musicians needs to start trying new things and move music forward because - really - we've tried going "electronic" and it's going to die a hard death," he says.

At times, the future seems bleak.

"The truth has always been in folk and traditional forms of music. But these forms of music are no longer relevant in today's world."

But there is hope for the future, if more musicians like him come around the bend.

"I'd just like to work in the traditional structure, the folk/country structure, and create something different within the structure. So really you have something vaguely familiar, but also new and exciting."

For more information on Jon Bonner or to hear some of his music, find him on Facebook or Myspace. 


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