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Friday, May 6, 2016

Singer/songwriter keeps in touch with roots

Thursday, January 2, 2003

When David Lynn Jones walks into Fun Days in Viola the local people don't think of him as a famous singer/songwriter. Occasionally someone might whisper, "That's David Lynn Jones," in an awestruck voice, but mostly they just accept him for what he is -- a local boy who made it big and then returned to his hometown of Bexar to live a simple life. Jones built a recording studio in Bexar and continues to write songs.

Jones, who is best known for writing the hit song "Living in the Promiseland," recorded by Willie Nelson, is a complicated mixture of contradictions. He doesn't consider himself a country music artist, but "Living in the Promiseland" went to number one on country radio. He said he doesn't like politics and doesn't consider himself political, but the words for the song were inspired by politics.

He said he admires women who are able to stand on their own and make it in a man's world, as is evident by the words of another hit song he wrote and recorded, "Bonnie Jean," yet he is obviously protective of his girlfriend.

David Lynn Jones is anything but a simple man.

As patriotism surges through the United States following the terrorist attack on American on Sept. 11, "Living in the Promiseland" is being played on radio again. Willie Nelson has recorded the song several times and Leanne Wommack recently recorded it.

But Jones said "Living in the Promiseland" wasn't written as a patriotic song. "It's been hailed as a song that was all about 'Hooray for America,' but it's really not," said Jones. "It's not a slam or a 'Hooray for America' song, it's just a true song. It asks questions."

The lyrics to the song say: "Give us your tired and weak and we will make them strong. Bring us your foreign songs and we will sing along. Leave us your broken dreams and we'll give them time to mend. Living in the Promiseland -- our dreams are made of steel. The prayer of every man is to know how freedom feels. There's room for everyone -- Living in the Promiseland."

Jones said the song was written after he was watching TV in the 1980s. "The boat people were hung up in the ocean and (President) Reagan wouldn't let them come ashore," said Jones. "The song was about freedom. We all had predecessors, except for maybe the Indians, so who's to say who can't come ashore into a free country? Who defines that? This is America. We're all aliens. We all came from somewhere -- but this is the Promiseland."

Jones said the song was an allusion of a better place.

To Jones, writing songs was easy -- it was a natural talent. He said for many years he didn't understand everyone couldn't write. He started his musical career playing in bars and honky tonks and making up the songs on stage. "The band never heard them before and we never played them again," he said.

Jones is a self-proclaimed perfectionist who was never happy with his performances. It didn't matter how much the crowd seemed to enjoy the show, there was always something about it he would have done differently, and it was the same with the songs he wrote.

"I wrote 'Promiseland' six years before it was published," he said. "I didn't think it was any good and I wasn't even going to turn it in. In fact, the song lay unfinished all of those years until a recording contract came along. "It was worth a few thousand dollars at the time I turned it in, so I finished it in about five minutes in a parking lot in Nashville," Jones said.

The song led to an invitation a few weeks later for Jones to perform it on Willie Nelson's first Farmaide, and as soon as Nelson got back to Nashville he recorded it. Nelson took the song to number one on the Billboard charts in 1987.

"That's the way it happens, and if you think you can take credit for doing that, everything's destiny," said Jones. "God does everything and it's already planned out. You can't make stuff like that happen."

With "Living in the Promiseland" behind him, Jones was ready for another hit song. "Bonnie Jean" was the true tale of Jones' sister who married a truck driver who left her with three small children. Unable to make a living as a secretary, Bonnie Jean took to the roads in a tractor-trailer. Though the lyrics "Peter built a truck for a man to drive" may sound chauvinist, Jones said they weren't intended to. "It was the opposite of a chauvinist remark," he said. "It was all about a woman who didn't let it affect her at all that it was a man's world."

The lyrics to "Bonnie Jean" show Jones' obvious respect for his sister. "Little sister rolls in an 18-wheeler, a mother all day and a truck driver all night," he wrote. "She knows how the lonesome highway feels."

But to Jones, life on the road wasn't lonesome. It was something he enjoyed. "It's like having simultaneous movies going by you on each side of the bus 365 days a year," he said.

And there were other things about traveling on a bus Jones enjoyed. He liked the control it gave him. "It's a bubble environment," said Jones. "If the situation is right you can pretty much have everything the way you want it all the time. It's control without having to control."

Some of Jones' other songs showed moderate success, but bad timing with a couple of record companies hindered his ride to the top. After being signed with Mercury Records and producing his first single, "Bonnie Jean," the president of the company left, leaving Jones without a supporter of his music. "When the man who signed you leaves the company, you're leftovers," said Jones. "I don't care how fresh you are."

Disillusioned with Nashville in the early 1990s, Jones signed with another company that was willing to give him creative freedom. "They gave me a chunk of money and let me come back to Arkansas and build my studio," Jones said, adding that he hasn't sent anything to Nashville in over four years. But he's not saying he's through. "Like all things -- when it's time, it's time," he said.

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