Willie Jones Talks Celebrating Juneteenth By Covering Bob Marley's "Redemption Song"
Any conversation with singer-songwriter Willie Jones these days feels like a moment wherein you're watching an artist once foreign to a space becoming increasingly comfortable with being their best, authentic self there. 2021 has already seen the Shreveport, Louisiana-born artist shine a light on the modern civil rights movement via the single "American Dream." His summer anthem "Down By The Riverside" also sees him introducing us to wild Zydeco times where the corn and the cotton grow. However, via his Apple Music-released cover for Apple Music’s exclusive Freedom Songs collection of covers and originals inspired by Juneteenth 2021, he introduces us to his love of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”
“When I grew up, Juneteenth wasn’t a nationally recognized holiday, nor was it taught in my school in Shreveport. But as I got older, and heard about it, I researched it myself and realized the significance for our people,” Jones noted to Apple. To CMT, he offers, "I had to do this one time for Bob. His music, like his movement, preached love and ultimately represents what emancipation day is all about."
On the surface, reggae and country may appear dissimilar as genres. However, Jones says, "if you listen to Bob Marley's original version [of "Redemption Song"] and hear the guitar and verses, there's obviously a country influence in there. I also know -- though I've never been there -- that country music has long been a big thing in Jamaica. Now that I think about it, 'Redemption Song' really is a song of freedom, in so many ways, even musically. Music regardless of genre is all the same. That's why it unifies people."
For Jones, "Redemption Song" has actually long been a part of his live performance set, so he's not brand new to its inspiration and impact being a significant part of his life. In regards to what most poignantly resonates with him about the song, he notes, "The lyrics hit hard, man. My favorite lyrics in the song are 'emancipate yourself from mental slavery/None, but ourselves can free our minds.' The ability to achieve the freedom that's been afforded to us is important and must be respected."
Jones continues with a reflection on performing the song in front of people. Juneteenth has become a national holiday, and the spirit of the modern civil rights movement has inspired positivity in so many of late. "Singing it live is cool because so many people know this song by heart. The last time I performed it live was at Shreveport's [May 2021] Mudbugs Festival. When I sang this song in particular -- and I saw that whole crowd jamming to it -- it achieved the goal I learned, from Bob, always to want my music to achieve: Celebrate love and people by relating songs to their feelings and emotions because we all have them."
Regarding his next steps -- and those in line with the era of good feeling developing nationally in our post-quarantine summer -- Jones is a great artist with whom to discuss celebratory notions -- especially given that he's just completed shooting the soon-to-be-released music video for his single "Down By The Riverside."
"I went down to New Orleans to shoot the video, and yeah, man, we were chillin' down by the riverside in real life! It was fun. We were down on the bayou on an airboat having a good time. I can't wait for people to enjoy it."