Frank Jones,
Variety Guy

by Barney Quick
photo by Geoff Thompson

Everything about Frank Jones’s life as a born entertainer has been leading to his latest phase. Locals and visitors know the slightly madcap sparkle with which he has infused the atmosphere at his restaurants. Music fans are familiar with his work both as a string-band member and solo performer. Prepare to witness his most all-encompassing role yet: variety show emcee.

He has already presented one Frank Jones Show, as part of Coachlight Musicals’ Fantastic Fridays series. Among other treats for the audience, Jones made his public debut as a standup comic. As a tongue-in-cheek nod to the series’ next installment, “The Vagina Monologues,” he offered the self-penned “Testicular Testimonies.” In addition, the Frank Jones Band performed. “This band’s repertoire is a little different from what I do in other settings,” he says of the group that includes Tim Tryon on bass and guitar and Chris Glenn on drums. “We do a Patty Loveless song, an old Danny O’Keefe song, some Waylon Jennings songs.” For extra atmosphere, Geoff Thompson, manager of the Chateau Thomas Winery’s Nashville Tasting Room, was attired in full waitress regalia to serve the audience.

“My idea is to embellish what acts around the area are known for,” explains Jones, “for instance, backing guitarist and songwriter Scott Freed with some unexpected instrumentation. I want to give the audience maximum bang for the buck, something you can’t see in any other Brown County format, and present it like an old-school revue. I’m working on getting Joey DeCanto, who is a great blues guitarist, and his trio for a future show. That’s not your typical Brown County act. Heck, if I could find some juggling seals, I’d put them in!”

He will produce a midsummer show, with the date to be determined. (Watch local listings.) He’s also already at work on a gala Christmas edition, to come to the Brown County Inn’s Town Hall Room on November 29.

Jones is quite pleased with the way the Fantastic Fridays outing turned out. “We had a great crowd,” he says. “Word of mouth was really good. My wife Kim would say something to literally everybody who came in the restaurant.” (Jones’s current outlet for his culinary passions is Calzone Jones, a breakfast-and-lunch gathering spot at 175 South Jefferson in Nashville.) “We sold 120-plus tickets. Two thirds of those were sold at the door the night of the show.”

Tim Tryon of The Frank Jones Band concurs that it was a success: “It proved that what Frank has come up with is ideal for this area.”

Jones grew up in a large family in which the men naturally gravitated toward construction work. “I got into cooking because it looked like it wouldn’t be so hard,” he explains. After high school, he spent two years in the Air Force, studied culinary arts at the Northwood Institute in West Baden, went to Indiana University for a year, and then apprenticed with chef Peter Brown at Brannan’s in Sacramento, California. He met his wife during that time and they moved back to Brown County in 1987.

Through it all, there was music. Several of his current associates are friends going back to childhood. It’s a network characterized by nicknames and stories that grow into legends, a quintessential Brown County bond.

“I’m still doing pickup gigs,” he says. “I do something occasionally at Chateau Thomas or the Muddy Boots Café, but I’m mainly preoccupied with the variety shows. There’s a lot of work involved in coordinating acts, planning the timing and sequence, lining up stage props.”

He says his inspiration for the variety shows came from seeing what Slats Klug and his friends were doing with their special-occasion shows. Jones says, “I thought, ‘What could I do with that basic format and put my own spin on it?’”

He’s particularly excited about the Christmas show: “I’ll be stealing material from Milton Berle, Jack Paar, you name it, for that one.”

Jones is looking for the widest array of entertainment possible for the variety shows. He encourages anyone with a unique talent to contact him for an audition at (812) 988-7309.