J.B. Wynn Interview
as told to Don O.

Here is an interview with Fort Worth Favorite J.B. Wynn which was the cover feature in Southwest Blues Magazine in April 2000.

"Who you with?"  is the catch phrase for J.B. Wynn and the Soul Express Showband.  That's exactly the question record producers, booking agents, and club owners have been asking J.B. Wynn for decades.  J.B. is a modest man, who doesn't like to talk much about himself, mainly because he sees music as a group effort.  When you see his band, it is more like an old fashioned revue.  There's a variety of music, and a variety of performers that keeps the show fast paced and interesting.  Soul, R&B, and definitely blues are all part of the formula.  A typical evening may see 6 different vocalists onstage and the cast of characters changes nightly. 

While J.B. may be a relative late comer to Fort Worth, compared to stalwarts like Robert Ealey and U.P. Wilson, his band is creating quite a stir among blues fans in the know.  In 1997 he contributed 3 tracks to the Texas Blues Guitar Summit CD on England's JSP Records.  The following year he self released his own 7 track CD, Big Train. 

With over 40 years of performing experience, J.B. is criminally under-recorded.  Maybe we can change that.  Here's J.B.'s story in his own words.

I was born in a little place called Blakely, Georgia on October 25, 1928, and raised by my grandparents.  My mother and father were separated so I was raised on my grandparent's farm.  My grandfather named all his children with just initials so my name is really just "J.B."  I stayed there til I was about 14.  My father and uncles were musicians.  They played guitar, piano, and pump organ.  We had all those instruments around the house so I learned to play.  When I was going to school, from about the second grade on, we had music and drama.  We were always doing plays and taking music.  In 1945 I went over to Alabama and worked in a saw mill. That was a bit too heavy for me so I went back to Georgia and became a chauffeur.  I got into it with my boss's brother so then I had to leave there. 

In 1946 I went to St. Petersberg Florida and joined Evein Hale's 16 piece band as guitarist.  From there I went to New Jersey in 1948.  They were having blue Monday talent contests around there so I started to participate in those, just singing.  I kept winning.  First prize was $25 or so, second prize was a bottle of liquor.  I got the money.  I usually did Charles Brown's Driftin Blues and another tune by Guitar Slim.  Finally they found out I could play guitar and they decided I was not a amateur.   So I couldn't win any more. 

In 1957 I bought me a guitar and met this drummer.  We started messing around together, just playing by ourselves, rehearsing in a little club.  The club owner decided we sounded pretty good so he started booking us on Friday night.  Just me on guitar with this drummer.  We were the J&J Duo.  We held a good crowd.  The place was packed and running over.  Eventually, we added a piano player.  He ran bass on piano, chords, and sang some.  Then we added a bass player.  That's how we got going.  Eventually we broke up because of a song I wrote.  The house man was a singer in a vocal group.  He decided to record my song without telling me.  I had the song copyrighted.  That's when he decided he didn't want me playing in his club.  After I outsmarted him.

The band broke up so I put together another group.  I had a friend who played bass and guitar from Detroit, and another drummer, and we formed a new band in 1959 called The Nighthawks.  We did one recording with a bootleg company.  He was filling his pockets and he didn't give us no money.  Thomas Robinson.  I don't recall the name of the label, but I won't forget his name.   He was in the old CBS building in New York.  One of those fast talkers.  They couldn't keep the record in the stores.  He kept telling me they weren't selling.  Everywhere I checked, people wanted to buy The Trust I Have in You.  That was a nice blues ballad.  It was big in California, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, all over.  The piano player I had then was kind of like Little Richard.  When Little Richard quit playing, about 1961, he did too.  I brought in a new piano player but he started causing trouble.  He started telling the fellas I was cheating them and making all the money.  So I left the band and told them they could have the gigs.  All they need was a new guitar player.   This was at a club called Avenue L in Newark, New Jersey.

In the mean time, Louisiana Red and I were playing off and on.  He was in and out of the old band.  So we joined up and started playing together.   This was at a blues/jazz club uptown.  We kept it packed 5 nights a week.  People came from all over.  The people all came up where I was at and the old band broke completely up. 

In 1962 the owner shut the club down for vacation so I went off to Ohio.  I ended up playing with Piney Brown.  He had a band from Mississippi and Alabama.  After they broke up I formed my own band again.  We were called The Soul Soothers.  I had two girl singers.  One sang just like Aretha Franklin.  I also had two guys that sounded like Sam and Dave.  They ended up returning to Memphis and have some recordings on Malaco.   In 1969 Piney Brown sent me down to Mississippi to do some recording.  Unfortunately, it was the same kind of bootleg operation I had seen in New York so I left that alone. 

From there I went to Lawton, Oklahoma and formed a new band, The 6 Degree South Band.  We toured all up to Minot, North Dakota, Alabama, the whole military and college circuit.  We did that up until about 71 or 72.  In Alamogordo, New Mexico I did a new tune called Nassau Gone Funky and the whole house went up.  Then I did one of mine called My Last Letter and the whole house hollered again.  There was a political group there who wanted to record the band.  I had plenty of songs.   They were going to provide us a bus, new equipment, everything.  But the band leader was jealous because it was the song I wrote that got their attention so they wouldn't even talk to the guy.  Well the guy followed us to El Paso and requested the song again.  The band leader wouldn't let me sing it.  I quit that band then, but kept the name.  It was the summer so I put together a new band of college boys and we were better than ever.  We took over their circuit.  Then they all had to go back to school so I didn't have a band for awhile.  That's when I came to Fort Worth, in 1982. 

In Fort Worth I met Ray Lee Wilson, a great bass player and drummer.  We went over to a club called 40-50.  I started taking my guitar because they'd let me in free.  Finally somebody got me up to play.  From that they wanted me there every Sunday and the house man started paying me.  I was sitting in with Shirley Daniel and Oscar.  Everything worked out real fine.  Then I met a sax player named Don Tarkenton.  He had a band going and needed a guitar player so I played with him til that band broke up.  Then I reformed the band as Soul Express around 1995.  Don Tarkenton is back playing with me now.

I've been working quite a bit around Fort Worth lately.  The Poop Deck, the Flying Saucer, Risckey's Catch, Eagle Mountain Lake, J&J, and occasionally at the Arandas over in Dallas.  Right now I'm working with Todd Dutrow, he's an engineer and producer with Prime Productions.  I've been writing songs real steady and I'm hoping to get back in the studio soon.  Debbie Ramirez helps me out with booking and promotion. 

I just want to manage it right.  I had a chance to go to Europe for JSP but the money wasn't right.  If I go over there I still have bills to pay back here.  I also don't like to go without my regular musicians because I know how good a show we can put on.  People really take to the group.  When we play they don't want us to stop.  Long as the people keep coming, I'll keep doing it.