Willie Jones’ sound was forming well before he knew what was happening. Growing up in Shreveport, LA, Jones spent most of his time at church with his father, a worship leader, and his godfather, who still serves as a pastor. As he watched his father sing, he remembered how it made people feel. That’s exactly what he wanted to do.
As he got older, his mother let him and his sisters listen to music outside of gospel—and that was it. “I loved dang near everything I spent more than 10 seconds listening to,” Jones tells American Songwriter. “When I got to high school, I began to perform more, participating in the local talent shows and musical theater.”
After singing a mandatory country song during one talent show—and adjusting to his new, deeper, puberty-driven voice—Jones was hooked on the music and ended up winning the competition. Country was his thing from that point on, but some of the swagger that he grew to love in country was missing, so he started writing and recording his own music.
“I’ve always wanted to tell my stories in a way that is authentic to who I am and to what country music represents,” says Jones.
Numerous talent shows later—including a 2012 stint on “The X Factor USA” singing for Demi Lovato at the age of 17—Jones has since fine-tuned his thick vocals and country dipped in hip-hop and pop beats for his debut album Right Now.
On new single “Back Porch” dance vibes drive home the cadence of a chill night, relaxing out back, and taking in the Southern breeze. “It’s about getting outside and enjoying the fresh air from the comfort of your own home,” says Jones. It’s a fitting picture now more than ever with the current lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The concept of the song was actually born on a back porch in Thompson Station, TN, at my good buddy’s house,” shares Jones. “After I spent all night on the porch, I went into a session on Music Row the next morning with Nick Autry and Micheal Lotten, and we wrote what is now ‘Back Porch.’”
When writing, it’s simple: it has to be fun. “Sometimes I haven’t been in the best of moods going in to write, but by the end of it I’m having the best day ever,” he says. “It’s amazing how getting creative and expressing myself can turn the whole day around. Usually, I go in the session with a producer and a writer or two and we talk about our days, or I’ll come with a real life concept or a concept from something happening in the media.”
Once there’s a vibe going, the producer starts piecing the track together. “If it’s something that we’re all vibe-ing to, I ask one question ‘is the mic hot?’ And if it is, I hop in the booth and just freestyle,” says Jones. “Sometimes I’ll freestyle a whole verse or chorus, and then we pretty much just fill in the blanks or create something from the melody.”
A long way from his Louisiana church days and talent show competitions, Jones, now based in Los Angeles, left a mark in Nashville when he recently received a standing ovation during a performance with Dwight Yoakam at Ryman Auditorium. He also has quite the following with more than 20 million streams, more than half a million “social” followers, and a few famous friends (i.e. Demi Lovato).
Everything has built up to Right Now. “[It’s] filled with feel good slaps and bangers,” says Jones. As things remain paused in the world, Jones’ universe is still spinning. He’s taking it all day by day, and track by track. After all, music is still moving—and alive.
“I feel lucky we got the album done when we did and we’re finally getting it ready to share with my fans,” says Jones. “I can’t wait for them to hear the new songs, see how they vibe with them, and just get back on the road.”