It wasn’t easy for Chris Jones to deal with both of his grandmothers living in nursing homes, in poor health, and nearing death. He wanted to write a song to them, but not have it be something that would make them feel sad. The song “One Sweet Day” came as a result.
“I was trying to find a song that they would listen to and it would give them peace,” Jones says. “‘One Sweet Day,’ it’s simply about, ‘When my life is over, I won’t have to suffer anymore. I’ll be redeemed.’”
This song isn’t the only track in his group Wolf Jett’s set where he takes dark, troubling subject matter and turns it into something redemptive. It’s kind of the whole point of the band. Formerly of the San Francisco band Scary Little Friends, Jones moved to Europe, where he scraped by busking on the street. It changed his whole life.
“I was playing on the streets, seeing a world of people that are miserable. I have this attitude now, kind of a gospel mentality,” Jones says. “I think people today are stuck in their patterns of living. They want some kind of redemption from their lives. That is what Wolf Jett is all about. The inner need in us to be more like children, laugh and dance and be free again.”
Eventually, Jones moved back to the states—New Jersey, specifically—where he and local musician Jon Payne and some other Santa Cruzans formed Wolf Jett. Their “street gospel” music, which is not religious, incorporates elements of folk and bluegrass, and, of course, gospel.
“Folk music and bluegrass is informed by gospel music. If you look at blues and country musicians, those artists were singing gospel, too. Hank Williams would have a drinking song and then on Sunday we have a whole set of gospel tunes,” Jones says. “I formed this band before Kanye made a gospel album. When Kanye is making a gospel record, you know there’s some human consciousness happening.”
Jones and the rest of Wolf Jett recorded the band’s debut self-titled album in late 2019. They had an exciting 2020 planned with three tours booked. They were going to release the album at DIO Festival in Santa Cruz this past spring. Of course, the pandemic halted all of those plans in their tracks.
“Pre-Covid times, everything was going to be sweet. We were going to play festivals. Everything was looking great,” Jones says. “We don’t know when all of this is going to be over. We’re holding this out until something exciting can happen. Everybody in the music industry, it’s all on hold. We’re no exception. Nobody feels sorry for us. We don’t feel sorry for ourselves. It’s just crazy.”
Jones was in a hot spot in New Jersey, so he left to stay at his parents’ house for a little while. After a few months, he came to Santa Cruz to live with Payne for the foreseeable future. They’ve released a few singles off their album, but they’re waiting for the right moment to put the album out. In the meantime, they’ve built a home studio on Payne’s property, something they had talked about doing for a long time, but only now had the time to actually do.
“We’re excited because the studio just got finished. We’re getting itchy to start recording again. We’ll have another album done by the time this album is ready to be released,” Payne says. “We’re going to keep writing, recording, and focus on trying to heal ourselves.”
The grand vision that Jones and Payne have for the group hasn’t changed. Even if they aren’t playing shows now, they plan to do so again when it seems safe. And when they return, they want to bring their “gospel” with them.
“I feel like it’s more meaningful. I know so many people who quit their jobs or lost their jobs or have lost a loved one. It’s made a lot of people search their souls,” Jones says. “People need that healing energy right now. I don’t know how to get it to them. That’s the tough part right now. After this darkness passes, there will be a lot of redeeming that needs to happen.”
For more information, check out wolfjett.com.