Darryl Jones Is Validated

The world-renown Rolling Stones’ bassist chats about the spirituality of playing music, performing with Miles Davis, his new documentary Darryl Jones: In The Blood, and how one or two well-placed tokes can open a creative door.
Darryl
Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Darryl Jones is in France when we connect via Google Meet. The legendary bassist who’s played with everyone from Eric Clapton to Sting to Miles Davis to Madonna—and most notably, The Rolling Stones—has just finished recording with a French artist and is now taking some time following the session to chat with High Times.

Despite the nine hour time difference, Jones does his best to stay on point, which comes naturally for a man who—as articulated in the new Eric Hamburg documentary Darryl Jones: In The Blood—has been known to fall asleep in recording sessions and still play bass accurately and effectively in his sleep.

It’s that kind of connection to his instrument, this higher-power otherwordly connective tissue that makes Jones more of a vessel communicating spiritual messages from the divine through song than someone who takes the stage to entertain you. Jones plays to entertain himself first, and as a result we as listeners are entertained.

Over the course of our conversation, Jones opens up about his spiritual connection to music, the inspirations that have propelled his career successes, how cannabis can be a useful creative adjunct, and how believing your dreams are possible is half the battle to achieving them.

High Times: Growing up in a musical household in Chicago, when did you realize music was your path?

Darryl Jones: There was a talent show and the curtains opened on the last act of the talent show and this guy who lived a few doors down—who later became my first teacher—was on stage with a band. I guess it was the fact that they were older guys who I knew—four or five years older than me—and the response from the audience…I decided at that moment that I was going to be a musician and I was sure of it as anything I’ve been sure of in my life. I was also nine years old.

High Times: You mention in the documentary that performance can become a spiritual experience. Did you also have the understanding of what music could be at nine years old?

Darryl Jones: I didn’t know whether I had talent or not, I was just a quiet kid who saw music as a way to sort of bridge that. Angus Thomas—who is also in the movie—ended up being a great teacher and was a little bit of a neighborhood hero for me as well.

I didn’t know Angus played bass—I only saw him holding a guitar. When I decided to ask him to teach me to play he said he was a bass player. And I said, “Well, I want to play bass.” I had no idea at the time that I was suited for that—for all kinds of reasons—coming from a really stable family and I think maybe that had something to do with it. Bass players need to have a certain solidity in most kinds of music.

But it was just one of those things, man, where I don’t know if I found it or if it found me.

High Times: Well that’s very kismet in nature.

Darryl Jones: It’s very spiritual but I wasn’t meditating or doing visualizations. That came later.

High Times: As in what came later was the awareness around how you are both communicating through the instrument but also connecting to something else within that dynamic.

Darryl Jones: Exactly.

High Times: It seems then there’s this pervasive theme throughout your musical journey where an unseen connective tissue inevitably impacts the music that you’re creating with others.

Darryl Jones: I do believe that’s so. First of all, my mom is a pretty special woman and my dad, too—interested in physics and stuff like the infinite field of possibility—and I got taught about that stuff pretty young, though not as young as when I started playing.

I went and saw Miles [Davis] play about nine months before I was asked to join the band and I remember getting very emotional about it, watching what was happening on stage and thinking to myself, “I could do that gig.” I don’t know how a person does what I did without finding a path and having the path come up to meet your feet or something.

High Times: Was there a solitary experience—like with the talent show—or were there a collection of moments over the course of your career that continued to validate that music was the path you needed to be on?

Darryl Jones: I don’t even know that I saw it that early on but I do know that whatever I saw those guys doing on stage and the response that they got from the crowd…it woke something in me.

Like I said in the movie, music became my lifestyle. There were periods in my life where I practiced for ten or twelve hours a day—there were short periods where I did that—but more than anything I just played a lot with a lot of different musicians, and those validations [that you’re talking about] came one after the other.

Early on, I remember a friend of my mother’s—not long after I took that first lesson with Angus—came over and my mother said, “Get the guitar and play us the song that Angus taught you.” I remember even at that age looking at her, and she was impressed. The fact that [Angus] didn’t let me off the hook when he was teaching me the song—he really made me play it right, a very simple version of “Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself” by Sly & The Family Stone—maybe I had some aptitude for it, but instead of being the kind of kid who was like, “Oh, I can play already,” I remember thinking, “If you think I can play now, I’m just getting started.”

In addition to Angus, my father had pretty much already taught me how to read music and then I went to a high school that was a really incredible performing arts school. I don’t know how to describe what happened, but as you say, things just seemed to continue to validate what I was doing and then Miles Davis calls my house—or his nephew does—and then off we go. That’s enough validation for a lifetime.

High Times: And then to go from that wavelength to playing with The Rolling Stones.

Darryl Jones: Yeah, I was in Europe, seeing a woman in Italy and she was playing the Steel Wheels record, going on about how great it was. I was like, “Yeah, it’s okay.” But the more I listened to it, the more I thought to myself, “You know, the way I play could work with them.”

I wanted to play with Keith Richards. He’d hired another friend of ours to play bass and so that avenue got closed off, but like I said in the movie, a friend of mine—Sandy Torano—said hey man, “Bill Wyman’s leaving.” I remember kind of looking up at the sky like, “Okay, I guess that’s what’s going to happen,” and it did.

High Times: In terms of In The Blood, what inspired the collaboration with Eric Hamburg and how did the documentary come to be?

Darryl Jones: [Laughs] That was all Eric. Like any musician, I have a certain amount of ego but not enough to say, “Ooo, let’s make a movie about me.” Eric approached me and said he was a Stones fan, had read up on me and my career before The Stones and wanted to make a movie about me.

Eric was a co-producer on Any Given Sunday, the Oliver Stone film about the backstory of football players. Originally he was saying, “I want to do that kind of story as a full feature length film,” except when I go to companies to talk about it, they say, “You should probably start with a documentary.” And he was like, “So, I’ve decided I think we should do the documentary on you. Maybe one day down the line we’ll do a full-length feature film on what it’s like to be a musician on the level that you are,” in the same way he was able to bring the idea to Oliver Stone about football players and their backstory.

I literally walked into the screening/premiere in Los Angeles and just said, “Thank you, thank you for bringing it to me.” I was at least smart enough not to say “No.”

There’s some stuff in the movie that I’m not completely comfortable with, certain representations, certain things that I say. I don’t consider myself a singer by any stretch of the imagination, but it is something that I’m learning—and like I say in the movie—you don’t necessarily have to be a virtuoso to get your point across. So I’m just learning how to do that better using lyrics. If you write authentic lyrics that really do outline your experience, it makes it that much easier to perform those things authentically.

High Times: What would be the difference between communicating with lyrics versus bass?

Darryl Jones: It’s just another tool in the artist’s quiver. I love words, crafted lyrics, poems, or stories, and the artists I really admire are generally talented or at least are craftsmen in more than one area. I think of somebody like Sting who I worked with and watched from the beginning of his career. It was exciting for me to see a guy who played bass stand in front of the band and be the guy who wrote a lion’s share of the lyrics and music.

So I guess it’s all of those influences. It’s the possibility of trying these things. Miles used to tell me, “You know, Darryl. One art helps the other.” He encouraged me to draw, to cook, and to just be involved in creative endeavors because one really does help the other.

Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

High Times: So if you’re cooking—while you might not be in the studio laying down a track—the inspiration from cooking is informing on some level what you would lay down when you are in the studio.

Darryl Jones: Yeah, because it’s still a little of this and a little of that. You taste or you listen and you say, “Okay, it needs a little of this, it needs a little of that.” And then there’s always the good fortune of the happy accidents where you add some stuff that doesn’t seem to go together, but you’re thinking, “Well, maybe it will work,” and then it ends up being something that is both a little bit groundbreaking and completely unique to you. I think that’s a big part of it for me, just trying to find and mine my own uniqueness.

High Times: And wasn’t it Miles who said, “There are no mistakes”?

Darryl Jones: He did say that, but that’s coming from a real heavy place.

I remember asking him when I was in the band, “Miles, what do you play over a C-7 chord?” And he was like, “Well, if you can play something over C-7, you can play it over an F-Sharp-7, and if you can play it over an F-Sharp-7…”, and by the time he’d finished talking, it was every note in the scale. And believe me, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that.

If you think about it, if you play a wrong note, it’s a tension. It’s turning things a certain way and creating this tension, and if you know some other notes to help relieve that tension, and you know when to do it to get the feeling of tension and release—Miles just happened to be a master at that.

Even though he said [“There are no mistakes”] and it sounds really simple, it’s a really, really heavy thing and I would say it took him some decades to come to that place.

High Times: With respect to creative influences like cooking, how does cannabis play a role in your creativity?

Darryl Jones: I was talking to two friends of mine who are users of cannabis and I was saying that I liked how one or two well-placed tokes can open a creative door. One friend explained to me that many types of cannabis flip you into your right-brain and she said there are other ways to do that, too.

When you hear people talk or you’re in a movie and somebody uses a turn-of-phrase that kind of moves you, she said if you write those things down, just open the page and read those things and it will flip you over to your right-brain.

I have to qualify this and say that I don’t suggest [weed]—particularly for young people—not until you’re thirty-years-old or so because we’re now finding out that it may be better for you to let your brain do what your brain does until you hit that age. But for me, I did start before that, and it’s opened up a creative window for me both in terms of music and in terms of imagining, visualizing, and seeing the possibility of things in a way that you might not have as easily without it.

I do not want young people to decide, “Oh, that’s a cool thing that he did, it’s worked for him so I want to do it.” Everyone is different, but for me, it has been a help and it has opened up some creative doors.

High Times: Well it comes back to intent. If you’re young and you’re trying to “fit in,” that’s a different mentality than saying, “I want to think about a piece of music differently,” “I want to hear something differently,” or “I want to broaden my horizons of what’s possible.”

Darryl Jones: It’s very much been a tool of that for me for many, many more years than it was a thing at the beginning that you did to feel a certain way or to fit in or anything like that. It’s become a much more personal thing for me now.

I like to be at home and I like to be in control of my circumstances and feel comfortable and safe and then it seems to be something that allows me to go to these places. But again, there’s more than one way to do that. When I abstain from [weed], give that about ten days and a lot of stuff starts coming up as well. So there’s more than one way to get to that place, but if I’m honest, cannabis has been a useful adjunct.

High Times: Along the journey from Miles to Sting to The Rolling Stones, did cannabis ever unify you guys in a way that helped take things to another level?

Darryl Jones: It was more personal. I never used that substance with Miles—I don’t think that he did. He certainly didn’t by the time that I met him. Some of the other guys—you know, playing in a rock and roll band—we’ve of course enjoyed some “high times.” But music is such an intoxicating thing that it’s very rare I mix those two things together.

High Times: When they said in the documentary that you play “deep in the pocket,” what do they mean by that?

Darryl Jones: It’s like the music that makes you dance is “in the pocket.” On the most basic level, it just means it has a certain kind of repetitiveness that is well metered and allows you to move your body in a way that we like to move our bodies as humans. On a more spiritual level, it is about endowing what you play with love or a certain kind of intention. It’s almost like allowing yourself to be used as a lightning rod.

High Times: Like a vessel.

Darryl Jones: Exactly. So it’s not so much, “I’m thinking about everything that I’m doing and I’m making these choices based on my intellectual capacity,” it’s more like “I’m just opening myself up to that and allowing it to play through or come through me.”

It’s the same thing many athletes experience. If you’re thinking too hard about this ball coming at you ninety-miles-an-hour—and there are so many ways I can miss it—it’s way harder to hit it. But if you have prepared and worked on the mechanics and you’re standing there and kind of let go and let that higher part of yourself take over, I think you’ve got a much better chance.

But again, we’re talking about really minute degrees of letting go and being in control. Of being in touch with your intention and also allowing the intention of the universe to come through. It’s like walking a tightrope or surfing a wave, and it doesn’t happen all the time and it happens differently the many times that it happens. I’m a musician because I love walking that tightrope. I love looking for that inspiration from that higher part of me or whatever you want to call that.

High Times: Is all of the preparation and honing of the craft really just getting down to the place internally where you are most clear from all the other clutter? Whether you’re in a small, intimate venue or a sold-out arena, is it more about getting to that clear space internally?

Darryl Jones: People say to me, “Do you love playing stadiums or clubs?” I love all of it because it’s something different and it creates a different kind of launching pad for all of these things that we’re talking about. In a way, I don’t exactly have language for what we’re talking about.

Somebody said to me once, “The definition of a thing is not the thing.” It’s us trying to describe the thing or develop some focus or understanding of it.

But you’ve been there, you’ve gone to see a band and seen something magical happen on stage or gone to a sports game and seen the team snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat. You know that feeling, but for us to talk about it, how do we talk about it?

Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

High Times: If there’s alignment say with The Stones with all of you on stage between all of you as band members, and then you take that to a personal level and you’re all in that “vessel mindset”—if you replicate that out across the stage, that’s a different experience than if everyone is in their head thinking about how they’re going to react to the ninety-mile-an-hour fastball.

Darryl Jones: And then you add in the audience to that and it’s weird because we don’t get on stage and play for the audience, but having the audience there changes the dynamic. Sometimes we’ll rehearse for two or three weeks and we’ll realize the only thing we can’t rehearse and the only thing we need now to be ready to go on tour is an audience. We need that connection.

We played in 2006 on Copacabana Beach in front of what some people estimate was one million to two million people. I’ve played in front of one hundred thousand people quite a number of times over the last many years, not only playing with The Stones, but with some of these other acts that we talk about in the film.

Playing in front of that many people was a completely different experience. It was playing in front of a big crowd but the kinetic energy coming from that crowd—our feet never touched the ground and it seemed like the gig was over in about fifteen minutes when it was really two hours and fifteen minutes.

Again, we don’t go, “Oo, let’s play and try to impress the audience.” We’re playing and dealing with the music as a band. As individuals first and then as a band, and the audience is like the other band member or the other ingredient. It’s hard to talk about but you feel it.

I think about people in the audience who come to me and say, “Man, that was the best gig. I’ve seen two-hundred Stones shows—that was the best gig I’ve ever seen.” You can feel it in their expression and you can even see it on their face that something was really magical to them that happened, and the same thing was true for us.

High Times: Have you ever performed a show where there was alignment between you guys on stage and the audience—where you knew it was an amazing show for everybody?

Darryl Jones: Oh yeah. We played São Paulo and played a tune “Midnight Rambler,” which is kind of a jam. These different sections that we go to are queued by certain things that Mick [Jagger] sings or plays on the harmonica or certain licks that Keith plays. So we’re playing the tune and at some point the audience started singing “do-dooo-do-do,” the theme from the Muddy Waters song, “I’m A Man,” and literally we stopped playing and listened to the audience jam. And that happened twice during that song where [the audience] was so loud and so enthusiastic singing this lick that we literally just stopped playing and just took it in and literally, we became the audience and they were the band. It was really something very special.

High Times: In terms of something being special, what do you hope the audience takes from In The Blood?

Darryl Jones: I hope that people are inspired by it, particularly young people. I don’t think I would have been as successful as I’ve been if something hadn’t supported my dreams and the possibility of these things happening. I think that everybody needs that. Everybody needs to have somebody look at them at some point and say, “There’s all this great stuff that you can do.”

My mother used to say, “The world is your playground. Wonderful things can happen.” My brother and I would say, “But how?” And she would say, “That’s not your business. Your business is to wake up everyday and do everything you should be doing to put yourself in the situation you want to be in. That’s your business, that’s the work you have to do.” I just hope that young people—or anyone who has dreams in their life—sees the film and says, “It’s possible, dreams do sometimes come true.” Like my mom said, “Shoot for the stars and if you fail, there’s still the moon.” Above anything else, I hope people are inspired by it and that it brings some light into people’s lives. 

High Times: I think it does, especially how you start by saying music can be a spiritual experience. Hopefully people will reflect on what for them—if not music—is their spiritual experience.

Darryl Jones: It could be sweeping the floor. My mother—again, I speak about her because she was such a big influence on me in this area—said that the thing we have in common with our creator is that we have the same quality. We do not have the same quantity perhaps, but we do have the same quality, so that means we are little creators and that if we align ourselves properly and not get attached to outcomes but get attached to the work that you’re doing to get to where you want to be, then it’s possible that your dreams can come true.

That’s why I tell young musicians when they walk up to me and say, “How do I get a big gig?” And I say to them, “Well what kind of gig do you want?” “I don’t care, I just want a big gig.” It’s like, no, you have to make some decisions, you have to decide. You have to point your arrow at least in a certain direction. I’m not saying you’re going to hit your target every time, but at least be open to what comes from that, it’s like exercising that muscle.

I dreamt of playing with Miles nine months before I started playing with him. Somehow through the field of infinite possibilities…now, I was friends with his nephew, and that’s a connection, but how did I meet him? You can keep going back to try to get to the “beginning” of it but I think it does have something to do with dreaming and preparing yourself as best you can.

High Times: You’re talking about manifestation.

Darryl Jones: Yeah, though I’m not preaching the “abundance gospel” in that you’re “good” if you get the stuff you dream about and you’re “bad” or not in touch with God if you don’t. I’m just saying there’s a path that exists that can enrich your life whether you gain these things or not. I know that’s easy for me to say because I’ve really been blessed to have my career moving in the way that it has but even still, I’m not finished yet. There’s more, and I think more people ought to think that way or at least try it.

When I think about visualization, there were times when I’d think about stuff and visualize it and then that stuff happened. I’m just saying, the mind is a terrible thing to waste.

High Times: If we’re all energy and—just as there’s gravity—perhaps there are certain “rules” to the universe when it comes to energy creation, in this case rules that affect how our reality is shaped.

Darryl Jones: My mom bought these tapes—which I forget the name of—but one of the things the guy was saying was when you look at people who are really high achievers and you ask them, “What does your dream house look like?”, they’ll tell you, “Oh, the pathway to the house curves to right, and then curves to the left, and then when you get to the door it’s such and such, and if you ask people who are not as high achievers, they’ll just tell you, “Oh, I just want to live in a big house.” This guy was saying that when you imagine the things you want for yourself, you are creating a magnetic field in the real world because electrical impulses are doing something. I don’t know if that’s true or not but why not exercise that muscle and see what happens?

High Times: You said you dreamt of playing with Miles prior to playing with him. Did you have the same experience prior to playing with The Stones?

Darryl Jones: I did want to play with Keith when I heard the Talk Is Cheap record. I was doing more electric jazz stuff at that point, and because I grew up in a household where there was more than one kind of music, I just felt the direction Keith was moving in was a really cool direction. Bootsy Collins is on that record. Keith Richards and Bootsy Collins? I dig that, I dig shifting these idioms and being involved in these different kinds of things. Why limit? I hope one day I can get my act together on acoustic bass and play some acoustic jazz with some great cats. I really feel like what else is a life for but for it to be your artistic creation?

High Times: And the living out of that artistic creation.

Darryl Jones: Exactly. We’re talking about real lofty stuff but consider it at least. It could be that something wonderful is about to happen. It’s exciting to move toward something that you seek for yourself.

When I think about some of the musicians I encountered—particularly when I was very young—I think many of them thought more that it might not happen. I think I was just a little bit different in thinking it might happen. I think I just always thought it could happen, that I could be a successful musician.

One of my aunts came to visit and said, “Darryl, this music thing is really nice but you might want to think about getting something to fall back on.” I remember getting kind of angry at her for telling me that. She wasn’t doing anything bad, she was just telling me about the real world, but when she said “You should find something to fall back on,” I thought to myself, “I’m gonna fall back on some funky ass bass!”

Follow @darryljonesbassist and check out www.darryljones.com for tickets, tour dates, and his new documentary Darryl Jones: In The Blood.

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