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Prolific blues and soul singer Bobby Jonz dies from COVID-19

He was born on the chop house floor of a cotton plantation in 1936, a humble beginning for a lavish voice.

Eighty-four years later, a life in song came to an end.

On July 21, the prolific, well-traveled blues and soul singer Bobby Jonz passed away at the North Las Vegas VA Medical Center in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas after contracting COVID-19.

The coronavirus delivered a crushing blow to his family: His brother died from it in March. His longtime girlfriend Easter Morris — a fixture at his shows, where she loved dancing to his music — passed away from the same affliction the week before Jonz died. But by then, Jonz was hospitalized and in a coma.

He never learned of her death.

“He was deathly afraid of getting COVID, and he stayed inside the last few months,” said Evan Lovefire, a musician and label coordinator for Jonz’s record company, Loveforce International.

“He had heart surgery about a year and a half ago and he had diabetes. That’s why he was so afraid, because he knew he had these other conditions. But somehow, it got to him anyway.”

But not before Jonz compiled a discography of more than 200 singles and albums, dating back to the ’60s.

‘He was a natural’

Born Bob Willy Jones in Farmerville, Louisiana, Jonz was raised until age 7 by the plantation owners who employed his mother before his grandparents took over.

As a teenager, he once served as the driver for country great Hank Williams before embarking on a music career of his own. Jonz moved to Chicago in 1959, where he became a fixture in local clubs.

“When he was younger, he didn’t make many friends when it came to other singers,” Lovefire said, “because usually he would show up at a club — let’s say he needed a job — he’d get up and just start singing, and a lot of the times they would fire the person that was there and hire him. That’s how good a singer he was.”

Performing as Bobby Jones, he played with influential blues band The Aces. He released numerous singles on Chicago labels throughout the ’60 and ’70s, and various soul albums in the two decades after that, notching such hits as “In The Mood For Love” and “Sneakin’ & Freakin.”

Eventually he changed his stage name to Bobby Jonz to avoid confusion with gospel singer Bobby Jones.

It was his blend of the Northern and the Southern that became Jonz’s signature.

“He was very interesting, because he was known for the Chicago soul sound and the Chicago blues sound,” Lovefire says, “but he also had a very strong career in Southern soul.”

Vegas-based guitarist Honey Davis, who began playing with Jonz after relocating to town in 2011, once traveled with him to Louisiana where Davis saw firsthand Jonz’s popularity in the region.

“He was a Southern soul star,” Davis says. “He was a natural. It was just second nature. It was nothing he had to try to do. It was just there.”

Jonz, who moved to Las Vegas more than three decades ago, had a deep and diverse catalog, and made music that was released on a variety of labels — including cutting a record with blues group The Mannish Boys in 2008.

“He could sing anything,” says godson Charles “Stix” Taylor, a Vegas-based drummer who performed with Jonz. “Matter of fact, he was working on a country album as well. He was just so versatile. He was a good bandleader and a good person, good friend, good father. He was just a great man.”

A singer until the end

Jonz continued to perform into his 80s, playing locally at places such as City Lights, Texas Station and Shifty’s Cocktail Lounge, where he once hosted an open mic.

“He didn’t have any problem sharing that stage with anyone — regardless if you were a novice or a professional, he treated you as a professional,” says Taylor, who hosts his own online radio channel, Stix FM Radio, which dedicates an hour to the best of Jonz’s music every night at 9 p.m. “That’s just how he was. He had a big heart.”

Jonz remained a constant in the studio, signing with Loveforce International earlier this year, and releasing a few singles since then.

He was a big anchor for us,” Lovefire says. “Everybody at the label loved him. He had a great sense of humor. He could tell a joke. He could tell stories.

“It’s so heartbreaking because we were just talking about putting some new music out for him,” he adds. “He still had so much music in him.”

Jones leaves behind an ex-wife, JoAnn Jones, children Karen Harris, Bobbye Carla Jones, Joseph Jones, Keely Jones and Millard Alexander and numerous grandchildren. Jones had another child, Sheila Mitchell Campbell, who died. Jones’ family members have launched a GoFundMe campaign to help cover funeral expenses.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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