Steve Earle

RETRO: Quick Q and A with Diana Jones

The music of Diana Jones has a timeless element.   There’s a teaspoonful of traditional music, a tablespoon of soulful lyrics, and a whole lot of her signature storytelling that makes the entire recipe one that nourishes the heart. Diana’s newest release, Song to a Refugee, was conceived in 2018 when she returned to New York City after a European tour and quite by chance, ran into the actress, Emma Thompson, on a walk one day. Another unplanned meeting with Thompson resulted in a lunch in which the two women began to discuss the refugee crisis around the world.  Diana was then inspired to take pen and guitar in hand and create a compilation of songs about refugees. The songs on this album reflect the somber reality of what is happening on the southern border of our own country as well as in other countries around the world.  The stories of these broken families conveyed on this album are beyond powerful.  Open your heart and listen to these songs and you will be forever changed.

Diana wrote the song “We Believe in You” after hearing first-person accounts of the conditions at the detention center. Diana’s creative sensibility made her soon realize that other singers needed to give voice to the lyrics. Good fortune prevailed and three legendary musicians participated in the recording. Peggy Seeger in London, Richard Thompson in New Jersey, and Steve Earle came to NYC to record in Steve Addabbo’s studio.

Here is a video that Diana recorded with the assistance of random strangers in Washington Square Park.

To learn more about Diana Jones, visit her website.

Now let’s take a ride in the “wayback” machine and take a look at an interview that I did with Diana in 2008! It’s a privilege and a joy to have appreciated her music for so long!

Your life story is one of the most compelling musician stories I’ve heard in quite some time. At what age did you discover that you were adopted and how did it click inside you that your musical soul might be connected to your birth family?

I can’t remember not knowing that I was adopted. My parents adopted my baby brother so I thought that was the way everyone got babies. I was always drawn to old timey music when I heard it. People like Emmy Lou Harris and Johnny Cash on the radio. I used to borrow my brother’s Johnny Cash records. It wasn’t until I found my birth family and met my grandfather that I knew where the tone in my own voice came from. We listened to Smithsonian Folkways recordings and he knew all the songs. My voice made more sense to me when I learned some of those songs.

You’ve had the great fortune to tour with Mary Gauthier, Richard Thompson, and others. What was it like playing with them?

I’ve been very lucky to tour with such amazing artists. Mary and Richard are both artists that I admire and are kind folks to be out on the road with.

You are most often compared to Iris Dement and Gillian Welch. Have you had the chance to meet either of them yet? Have you been influenced by their sound?

When I started to mine myself for the songs on my last record I went back to the oldest songs I could find recorded. I was influenced by them and also more contemporary artists like Iris and Gillian.

You were commissioned to write a song in tribute to the West Virginian coal miners who tragically lost their lives. The result “Henry Russell’s Last Words” is a very moving song. Can you tell us a little bit about how that project came about?

I was asked to write a song commemorating the 80th anniversary of the mining disaster that closed the Everettville mine in 1927 by the President of the Everettville Historical Society, Carol Thorn. She gave me all the details of the mine and the disaster but I couldn’t get inspired by the numbers. I asked her if she had anything else. She sent me a copy of a letter that was written by Henry Russell during his last three hours of life in a room in the mine. The letter was so beautiful and tender. I was immediately inspired and wrote the song in about 20 minutes. I played it in Edinburgh Scotland three days before the memorial. Henry and his wife Mary were from Scotland originally. A journalist picked up on the story and the day before the memorial Henry Russell’s picture and letter were on the front page of the Edinburgh Sunday paper. An incredible full circle experience for me.

According to your website, your recent collaboration with Jonathan Byrd, Radio Soul, was recorded in only 7 hours! Was it an impromptu decision to record some songs together and just run the tape or had you planned it out and wanted to use some raw energy and adrenalin to complete the project in one day?

Jonathan and I worked out the songs over a weekend, played a show at the Down Home in Johnson City and went into the studio the Monday after. We wanted a record of where we were with the material. It turned out to be a record that we put out. It was a lot of fun to record it that way.

What do you have in store for 2008?

A new record, a lot of touring and hopefully a lot of writing. I feel truly blessed that I get to do what I do and just want to keep doing it.

Diana’s song “Pony” is a must listen.

Feature photo: (c) Ashlea Green