December 5, 2010


The Rev. Johnny L. ‘Hurricane’ Jones makes a spirited comeback : Thirty-one years after his last LP, Dust-to-Digital releases compilation, Jesus Christ from A to Z (Wyatt Williams, 12/14/10, Creative Loafing)

Called to preach at the young age of 19, Jones preached at country revivals and around LaGrange before settling in as pastor at Second Mount Olive Baptist Church in Atlanta. At the small church on Maple Street in the late '50s, Jones started recording the songs and sermon of each Sunday service on reel-to-reel tape. Jones says that Coretta Scott King and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. lived in the neighborhood at the time.

"Martin and I used to be young enough that we could sit on the hood of a car, cross our legs and talk. My Lord, if I had known he would grow into such a star, I would've had him making tapes back then."

Jones started his recording career by putting out his own debut, an LP titled Working for God, financed with cash borrowed from his father. His third self-released LP, Jesus Is in Town, caught the ear of Stan Lewis at Jewel Records. The Louisiana-based record label – "the largest Gospel one-stop in the business," according to Billboard magazine around that time – rereleased Jesus Is in Town in 1969 and continued releasing Jones' records throughout the '70s.

Jones earned such a reputation for building up his sermons from slow teaching into a frenzied power that a local radio DJ started calling him "The Hurricane."

"The way that I break my voice, I do it as B.B. and Aretha and Muddy Waters, you know," he says. "I always said that if Muddy Waters had been a preacher, he would have emptied a lot of churches with the way that he controlled that voice."

Though Jones' congregation quickly outgrew the Maple Street location and moved to a church on Westhaven Drive, a fire that broke out during service on Dec. 9, 1973, stopped Second Mount Olive Baptist from growing larger. Jones says that during the peak, Mount Olive was drawing 1,500 people on a regular Sunday, but the fire almost immediately diminished that to a few hundred congregants. "When you have a tragedy, sometimes people have a way of weaning off from you," he says, a hint of bitterness detectable in his tone.

Jewel released Jones' last album in 1978. In the years since, those records have gone out of print, eventually circulating into used bins and thrift stores where they've been picked up by younger listeners unfamiliar with Jones or his church.

Cole Alexander of the Black Lips remembers the time in 2003 when he first heard Jesus Is in Town. "Bradford [Cox] from Deerhunter made me a cassette tape of it. I think he found it in a Marietta thrift store. I used to listen to that tape at the Majestic [Diner]. I was working there as a dishwasher, and I would play it so loud that I could see people out front looking back in, wondering what the hell I was listening to."

Years after he heard the tape, Alexander saw the sign for WYZE, a local AM gospel station, while driving down Boulevard and stopped on a whim. Remembering that the LP cover said that Jones was from Atlanta, he asked if anyone had ever heard of him. "Everybody there was really nice and told me that he comes in every Saturday to do a radio show." Alexander, who continued stopping at the station to meet Jones and hear Jones' reel-to-reel tapes, eventually put him in touch with Lance Ledbetter, founder of the Dust-to-Digital record label.

Some Blustery Gospel, Some Blaring Metal (BEN RATLIFF, 12/05/10, NY Times)
The Rev. Johnny L. Jones

“Most preachers,” the Rev. Johnny L. Jones explained in a recent interview, “get their power going up,” or working to a climax during preaching or singing. “I moan at the end. Most of my power is given by coming down, after I’ve gone up.” Now 74, Mr. Jones — also known as Hurricane — is a Bobby Bland-type singer, with a great gargly voice and a concentrated wariness that doesn’t break, even as he screams. For 53 years of Sunday mornings at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Atlanta he has been singing, preaching and recording it all. Some of those recordings came out long ago as LPs on the gospel label Jewel; the rest he’s been playing on the air during his Saturday morning radio programs (currently twice a month and streamable on WYZE-AM) or keeping at home. Dust-to-Digital, the Atlanta-based archival label, has just released a two-disc culling of the tapes as “The Hurricane That Hit Atlanta,” and they display Mr. Jones as an amazing singer, full of inspired power, delay tactics and shrewd reassurances. (His rhythm sections were casually killer too, playing blues, gospel and R&B grooves stripped to the bone.) Some of these tapes are woolly, with errant screams from the congregation, feedback from the church amplifiers and rough edits, but the album — which includes a few excerpts from sermons and radio bits — stays electrifying from start to finish. Two hours isn’t enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 5, 2010 9:24 AM
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