The Allman Brothers Band’s “Brothers and Sisters” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd” are two of the finest rock albums of 1973. As a teenager in the early ’00s, these works were about as cool to bring up in the cafeteria as admitting that you hung out with your parents on the weekend, but I didn’t care. Everything from the singing to the playing to the blatant disregard for conformity spoke to me more deeply than whatever dreck the DJ happened to be spinning at the 2003 Winter Formal.
Fast-forward to 2020, and I find myself encouraged to discover an artist from the next generation whose sound is seasoned with the flavors of the past just enough to give his own voice the foundation it needs to flourish.
Jackson Stokes was 10-years-old when his father told him that Devon Allman, son of the late, great Gregg Allman, was their neighbor and the decision to go knock on the door with guitar in hand would prove to be life-changing. To those of you out there who complain that there isn’t any good music being made anymore, Stokes’ debut album is proof that you’re just not looking hard enough.
If you don’t believe me, then perhaps the man himself can convince you.
MNOD: What was it about Create Records that made it such an appealing home for your first album?
Jackson Stokes: I thought Create Records was a great home, because it was a natural fit after making the record due to the closeness Devon already had with the record. I’m really honored to be the first signing. My favorite part about Create is the mission of it. That is to both be label putting out great new music in the world but bringing new artists up and helping them out. My goal is to be able to do well so that I can give back into helping the next person who needs that push in the industry. I know that Devon and the whole Create team believes that and wants that, that is a powerful thing.
MNOD: How was Devon Allman able to bring out your best during the recording process?
JS: Devon really helped me learn about myself. I think a producer is best when they know you and can teach you about your strengths and weaknesses, but also things about yourself you didn’t know before. We are very honest when we communicate and I learned a lot about how others would perceive my voice and songs, as well as lots of songwriting techniques of trimming the fat of a tune, mixing, and parts fitting into a sonic space. Since the record was made over a decent period of time we both kind of grew with it too, I know I did.
MNOD: Who are some of your influences as a songwriter?
JS: Influences as a songwriter…well I love groove, groove is so important to me. But lately I have learned to love a simple melody even more. I def take a lot of influence from Bill Withers, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye on mixing content with groove, and they are my favorites but I also love classic country songwriting like Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, and current Americana artists like Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton.
MNOD: What role did growing up in St. Louis play in your musical direction?
JS: I take a lot of pride in my hometown and the music scene/culture there. It’s a musical city with a super rich history in blues and soul (Mike Davis, Albert King, Johnnie Johnson, Chuck Berry), I think being around the blues clubs in my early teens and then early twenties shaped me a lot. Getting to watch some of the OG greats do their thing or talking with Gus Thornton about playing with Albert King in a corner of a bar at 3am, all those little moments add up to shape you. I used to take notes in my phone on how Roland Johnson (great STL soul artist) worked a room. Also, I feel a city just soaks in to you to where you can’t shake it off, nor do I want to. I could go in for days about STL but just come to figure it out! I’ll give you a tour.
MNOD: Your sound suggests an old-school influence that a lot of people wouldn’t expect from a younger artist. What type of music did you listen to as a kid?
JS: I grew up on classic rock and blues, cranked on a vinyl player in my room. I first fell in love with Lynyrd Skynyrd and that grew into a full classic rock obsession. My parents had all the old records and refused to buy CD’s saying, “we already got all these records.” Best thing they could have ever done! I have always loved older music, it speaks to me. I love 40s and 50s just blues as well as 30s acoustic blues, anything classic and roots. I always felt like going to the source of a music is the best way to learn it. History is so important! As I’ve grown older and smarter I do realize that there is beautiful music being made all the time, just sometimes it’s harder to find than others, but it’s there.
MNOD: What role did your parents play in encouraging your musical career?
JS: My parents are the people who wouldn’t want to be talked about in an interview and that’s why I love them even more. They have done everything for me, they don’t come to every show, they like for me to get to work and focus on my job, so people don’t see them but they are behind the scenes. They have given me everything in their power to succeed, yes we used hand me down guitars and amps but they found me all of them. My dad hung out until 3am sometimes watching me play (I wasn’t allowed without an adult in the bar) and then go to work the next day. People ask me if I had a musical family and neither parents play a note, but I have a very artistic family, and they had beautiful music all the time growing up around the house. You don’t have to play to know good music. They taught me to work my ass off everyday, be the best man I can be, and have good taste (mom taught me that one), and I am grateful for all they still do.
MNOD: What was the moment in your journey when you realized that music was what you wanted to do with your life?
JS: I fell deeply in love with music and the guitar in high school and my friend and I went to Robert Randolph and the Family Band in STL. Robert always had someone come out of the crowd and play guitar on stage, that night, it happened to be me (I was about 15). We jammed two long songs in front of 2,000 people and the rush was amazing! That was the moment, I didn’t realize it at the time but when I look back on it, that was the first time I felt that feeling and was hooked. Side note: I recently got to play a song again with Robert at the Allman Family Revival at the Beacon theater. Talk about a full circle moment, it was special.
MNOD: When sitting down to write, do you find that the music or the lyrics come more easily to you?
JS: Depends on the song but it’s usually the music. I was mainly a guitar player before a songwriter so that’s where I go first but lately I’ve been focusing on just singing a melody and not letting an instrument inhibit my natural inclination. That can happen sometimes when you are familiar with an instrument. Lately it has been a mix of both, for better or for worse, lyrics usually comes last for me, sometimes the feel of a song dictates the words, scenario, and meaning I use.
MNOD: Now that your first album has been sent out into the world, what has the reaction been like so far?
JS: It has been good! It has done as well as I thought, since this is the first record, the release was really the beginning of people hearing it. I will know more after six months of touring. I am proud of where it has gone and now working hard to just push it out to the world.
MNOD: You’ll be opening for The Allman Betts Band in Buffalo on Feb. 12. What can the audience expect from your live set?
JS: The live show is fun, a little more full throttle! We like to extend solos a bit and put some more live flashes of musicality in there. The cats in the band are amazing musicians so I like to highlight them when we can. We just try to keep the music going forward and evolving, the beauty of a live show is it makes a song alive again every night. With a live show, a song doesn’t have to stop at the recording, it could be different in three months, and as long as you don’t force things and let he changes happen naturally, it can become even more beautiful over time.
Don’t miss Jackson Stokes with the Allman Betts Band and J.D. Simo at Town Ballroom on Feb. 12.
Jackson Stokes’ debut self-titled album is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor a pay for physical copy.