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Dennis Jay

The Washington Post
Performance Review from IOTA's, September 23, 2004 :

"Cowboy singer-songwriter Dennis Jay opened the night with an elegant and tasteful solo outing, away from his compadres in the band Lonesome Town. His top guitar strings kept a galloping rhythm as he fingerpicked melodies that combined the virtues of Gene Autry and Marty Robbins; his lyrics never failed to depict a place, set a mood and tell a compelling story. It was a captivating performance. Jay, probably the only singing cowboy/gravedigger in Washington, is as good as any western songwriter in the business." -- Buzz McClain

The critics are calling Dennis Jay's music "cowboy minimalism." Dennis calls it "Folk & Western," the label once given to the classic sounds of Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams, and Marty Robbins. Born in Wisconsin, Dennis got a large part of his early musical education as a child in Germany, when "every day I'd come home from school and turn on the Armed Forces Radio Network (AFN). Most of the DJs were regular GIs who'd brought their record collections overseas. A lot of the music was from the south and they'd play a lot of rhythm and blues and a lot of country music. Back then the armed forces were one of the most integrated parts of society, and that was reflected in what the DJs played. It was all just music - not black music, not white music – and most of it was somewhat out of date, since there wasn't the emphasis on constantly playing the current top 10 hits of the time."

After returning to the United States, Dennis attended high school in Maryland. He soon bought a brand new Martin D-18 and began writing songs. "It's still the guitar I write 'em on," he says. Dennis spent the 70s and 80s traveling around the West and Midwest, including Kansas, Colorado, Nevada, California, Oregon, Montana, Minnesota, and North Dakota, playing in coffee houses and bars, writing songs, and working odd jobs. When he reached Austin, Texas, Dennis performed both as a solo act and with a band. Next stop was Washington, DC, in the mid-80s, where he formed his own band. He did an occasional solo gig, such as opening for Steve Earle at the Birchmere. Then, for most of the '90s, he got out of music altogether.

As Dennis puts it, "I had pretty much quit the music business. But part of the reason I started playing again was that I discovered a footlocker, in my basement, of copyright tapes that I'd mailed to myself years ago." Dennis opened all those envelopes and began listening to his old songs. He liked enough of what he heard that he decided to give them a second life. "I really wanted to get in the studio and record these songs in the spirit in which I'd written them," he says. That meant the stripped-down Folk & Western sound captured on his debut CD, "What You See."

Joining Dennis in the studio were band members Tim Griffin on lead guitar and Bob Graver on bass (both also on backing vocals), as well as local musicians Fannie Zollicoffer on guest vocals, Susan Jones on fiddle, and Joe Connell on percussion. Co-producer/engineer Dave McKittrick co-wrote and played guitar on an original instrumental, "Cancion para la Noche de Casamiento." The musicians recorded absolutely live, in a semicircle around the microphones, the way it was done years ago. Despite the odd missed note, the old-style technique captures a tight, emotional performance that sounds alive and of the moment. For the past two years, Dennis has been nominated for WAMA (Washington Area Music Association) awards in the following categories: best country music vocalist, best country music group, and best country music CD. One of Dennis's songs, "That Last Night," was recorded by blues singer Janine Wilson on her CD "The Blue Album."

Absorbing the influences of traditional C&W, folk, and Mexican ballads, Dennis Jay has a driving rhythm guitar style to power his songs and a rich, resonant voice to sing them. It's an original voice of passion, which can recall a trail ride into the Badlands, heartache at midnight, and a couple of shots of mezcal.

 

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