Tail Dragger Jones Obituary, Death –I regret to inform you, courtesy of Martin Lang, that Tail Dragger has passed away this morning. Those fortunate enough to witness his remarkable performance with a couple of songs at the Delmark Stroll just nine days ago were able to witness his final onstage appearance. Our hearts go out to him as we bid him farewell, and our deepest condolences are extended to his many friends, fans, and loved ones.
Tail Dragger, known professionally as James Yancey Jones and born on September 30, 1940, was a renowned American Chicago blues singer. His career spanned several decades since the 1960s, during which he released four albums. He became somewhat infamous in 1993 when he was convicted of second-degree murder in the tragic killing of another blues musician, Boston Blackie.
Hailing from Altheimer, Arkansas, Jones was raised by his grandparents following his parents’ separation when he was an infant. His love for blues music was ignited during his childhood, and he would secretly listen to music on the family’s battery-powered radio. This sometimes led to interesting situations when the batteries ran low, preventing the family from tuning in to gospel music before Sunday church services.
During his formative years, he had the privilege of watching Sonny Boy Williamson II and Boyd Gilmore perform at a local club named Jack Rabbitts in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. After relocating to Chicago in 1966, Jones worked as an auto mechanic while nurturing his musical aspirations. His big break came when his idol, Howlin’ Wolf, allowed Jones to share the stage with him at concerts. This pivotal influence, combined with his admiration for the raw and gritty styles of artists like Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, and Willie Dixon, steered Jones towards a “low-down” style of Chicago blues.
Originally known as Crawlin’ James due to his habit of crawling around onstage during performances, Howlin’ Wolf later bestowed upon him the moniker “Tail Dragger” because Jones had a penchant for arriving late to gigs. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Jones became a fixture in Chicago blues clubs, releasing several singles, albeit with limited commercial success.
However, his career encountered a significant setback when, on July 11, 1993, he shot and killed fellow blues artist Boston Blackie during a heated dispute over payment. The altercation had started a month prior when both musicians had appeared at the Chicago Blues Festival. Despite Jones’ self-defense claim, he was ultimately convicted of second-degree murder and served 17 months of a four-year prison sentence.
In 1996, Tail Dragger finally released his debut album, “Crawlin’ Kingsnake,” under St. George Records. Remarkably, he was 56 years old when the record hit the shelves. Subsequent releases included “American People” (1998, Delmark Records), a DVD titled “My Head Is Bald: Live at Vern’s Friendly Lounge” (2005), and “Live at Rooster’s Lounge” (2009), also released by Delmark Records. Notably, his collaboration with Bob Corritore led to the 2012 release of both a CD and DVD titled “Longtime Friends in the Blues.”