Up Close & Personal: Jeff Jensen
International Musician Plays the Blues at Balloons this Saturday
By Jack Smeltz
Jeff Jensen’s roots began in a rural area about two hours outside of LA surrounded by farms and a general store. A good place to develop a blues background.
At eight he expressed a desire to play guitar and his parents rented him one and signed him up for lessons. As often happens at a young age he soon lost interest. At ten he again expressed a desire to play and his parents told him if he earned the money to buy a guitar he could resume lessons.
So Jeff got a job mucking out stalls and painting fences to buy that guitar and developed a work ethic that has made his band what I call the hardest working band in the blues.
He played with local bands doing covers and dabbling in writing and worked various jobs and fell in love. His struggles finally found him in Portland, Oregon, broke and broken hearted. Recently divorced and with $600 to his name he contemplated moving back in with his parents.
Literally, as he was driving to LA he decided to accept a friend’s offer for a temporary place to crash and headed for Memphis. Les than 30 hours after arriving in Memphis Jeff was in a bar on Beale Street with Brandon Santini sitting in on a couple of songs.
Santini was familiar with some of Jeff’s work and asked him to do a two week run while the guitar player toured with another band. This eventually led to Jensen becoming the band director and after four years he and his long time band mate Bill Ruffino and eventually David (Albaminal) Green left Santini’s group to form The Jeff Jensen band and become an international touring act.
Jensen says that by playing around the world he’s observed that while we’re all basically the same, different areas have different idiosyncrasies. “People in Europe want to hear the music and lyrics, while people in the states want too feel the music. He said when they first played overseas they thought people hated their music because they don’t tend to yell or applaud solos but they listen very intently.
To see a Jeff Jensen show is to experience a high-energy musical roller coaster across the landscape of blues, R&B and gospel. Bill (bass) and David (drums) feed the fire that is ignited by Jeff’s lyrics and guitar riffs. Jensen says that the energy for his shows come from an appreciation of being able to do what he loves for a living. You never know whom you’re going to connect with so whether it’s 10 or 10,000 people they all deserve the best show.
Jeff also produces his own music born out of lack of money and the desire to be the one who decides how his music is presented. He has been nominated by the Blues Music Awards for his work with Brandon Santini and Mick Kolassa and is now sought out by other recording artists for his production work. He said, in a perfect world, he would like to be able to equally split time between writing, producing and performing. I asked Jeff which he likes doing best and while I can’t print his exact analogy I was able to discern that he loves doing all of them.
Jensen’s new album, Wisdom and Decay, will be released soon and Jeff says that he likes to try and hit a higher level of integrity with each new release. He also said he finds it harder to write music to the lyrics than vice versa. “I try to write about real life situations and emotions and raise the production bar as well.” The new album will have a choir and strings added to the mix.
Jensen explained that every couple of years there’s $20-30,000 for a new van and it costs that much to put out a record. You’re constantly trying to grow the brand. He’s running a business that employs close to twenty people, booking agents, publicists, photographers, etc. An interesting aside, the album cover from Jensen’s Morose Elephant was done by local artist Shad Nowicki.
Hopefully you’ll be at the show at Balloons Saturday from 6-9:30 and go up and say hello. These guys are as genuine and humble as can be and love to meet their fans that, as Jeff acknowledges, are what allows them to do what they do. Merchandise and CD’s are the lifeblood of a working band so take something home with you and I know you’ll have an entertaining time.