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Show Free, but There's a Richness in Bob Jones : This experienced but low-budget singer picks away in a corner of the bar, providing some old-time 'lead-belly' blues.


When fog and wind aren't deterrents, looky-loos and locals alike saunter about Ventura Harbor in droves, many cruising into one of the open doors of Lorenzoni's Cafe.

Lorenzoni's has an eclectic sandwich menu, plenty of salads and a serious bakery with stuff like lemon raspberry muffins, plus enough designer coffee to jangle the world. There is entertainment all weekend. Alan Thornhill croons sweetly most Saturday nights, and J. Peter Boles sings about hookers and hobos on Sundays. Friday night wanderers can hear acoustic blues from Bob Jones, picking away in the corner, his back to the brand-new police substation.

"I do the same thing here that I do at home in my room," said Jones, taking a break during a recent gig. "I like playing here, and I like the food. Most people that wander into the place don't have a clue what I do. I'm not noisy enough to play someplace like Bombay. I make noise, but not enough."

Jones has been around a long time. Even though he lived up the east side of the Conejo Grade, he graduated from Camarillo High School--Thousand Oaks didn't have a high school in 1962.

"I've been playing solo since 1958," he said. "Back then, I was listening to Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and, believe it or not, Jimmy Rodgers, not the blues guy Jimmy Rogers. For a while, I was into traditional folk stuff like Pete Seeger, the Weavers and the Kingston Trio. Then in the early '60s, this guy turned me on to Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt, and I was hooked."

Jones is the low-budget star of the ever-affordable free show. It's just him, a hat, a guitar, a chair, a mike and two speakers.

"I started off doing finger-picking country blues, which is kind of like Delta blues, a sing-and-answer format," he said. "I don't play Chicago blues--I play the stuff that came before. I just got lost in time with all those old finger-pickin' guys. They were work songs with a very distinctive harmonic, melodic, African rhythm. You have to know that the people that did this originally were phenomenons, and it's so amazing that these guys did what they did."

The flyer stuck to the window of the venue promises "Old-time Leadbelly blues." Jones does a lot of Robert Johnson songs and obscure songs by artists such as Sleepy John Estes. Jones also covers songs by Howlin' Wolf, Billie Holiday and Tim Hardin, but does few of his own concoctions.

"I'm not trying to copy anybody else," he said. "I just try to feel what I'm singing, do what I'm feeling right at that moment and basically to tell a story honestly. I only do a couple of originals, most of which I wrote in the '70s, when I thought I had some great musical message."

With the local music scene stratified today between upscale venues and coffeehouses, the variety of music has all the dynamics of Elvis' EKG, and about 95% of the local bands have nowhere to play. Ventura, as well as the other large cities in the county, needs a dive bar offering music every night of the week. Like the legendary Back Door, which was on Front Street in Ventura in the silly '60s. In 1968, Jones owned it.

"Basically, I needed to sell beer and wine, but I was in over my head," he said. "I just wanted to bring people to town that I wanted to see, and I did--Canned Heat, Taj Mahal, John Hammond, Lightning Hopkins, people like that. I hope anybody I still owe money to is no longer living."

Owning your own place is a certain way to get gigs, just as being a solo artist makes it easy to divide up the loot. Once the Back Door closed, Jones found himself playing all over the county, even some lounge-lizard gigs where patrons requested songs that weren't his favorites.

"I remember I used to play this place called the Red Baron over by the Oxnard Airport," he said. "Inevitably, someone would ask me to play 'Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree,' and naturally, I'd turn them down by telling them I didn't know it. And every time I did that, the bartender would buy me a drink. By the end of the night, I'd be pretty stoned."

These days, Jones pretty much sticks with the Friday night gig and still doesn't do any Tony Orlando & Dawn songs. By day, he moves and rents pianos around the Ojai Valley or farther, if the need is there. He's working on a CD, 13 covers and one original, which should be out sometime in the '90s, or even this summer. He's got to do the CD--he's got the blues, the blues songs, and the blues guy's hat.

"My daughter got it for me," Jones said. "She wants me to turn the brim down, but you don't turn the brim down on a Panama hat. She goes to Claremont, then she's going to study at Oxford, so I don't tell her much of anything except 'Keep going.' Maybe someday, she'll support me."


* WHO: Bob Jones.

* WHEN: 7-10 p.m. Fridays.

* WHERE: Lorenzoni's Cafe, 1575 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura.

* HOW MUCH: Free.

* CALL: 658-2228.

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