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Jesus Christ From A To Z

PT 4001LP PT 4001LP

Before the Rev. Johnny L. Jones earned the nickname "Hurricane" for whipping sermons into a frenzy, before he recorded a string of gospel LPs for Jewel Records, before his church in Atlanta's West End burned in 1973, and long before his records started showing up again in thrift stores to be discovered and bought by a younger generation, Johnny Jones was just a young boy sitting at a tent revival in Marion, Ala. The year was 1949. "I can't think of the man's name, but he played piano and sang," Jones says. "I guess the audience went wild along with me and I sat back there watching him. At 13 my prayer was, 'Lord, let me play a piano just like he's playing it.'" Called to preach at the young age of 19, Jones preached at country revivals and around LaGrange before settling in as pastor at Second Mount Olive Baptist Church in Atlanta. At the small church on Maple Street in the late '50s, Jones started recording the songs and sermon of each Sunday service on reel-to-reel tape. Jones says that Coretta Scott King and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. lived in the neighborhood at the time. Jones started his recording career by putting out his own debut, an LP titled Working For God, financed with cash borrowed from his father. His third self-released LP, Jesus Is In Town, caught the ear of Stan Lewis at Jewel Records. The Louisiana-based record label -- "the largest Gospel one-stop in the business," according to Billboard magazine around that time -- re-released Jesus Is in Town in 1969 and continued releasing Jones' records throughout the '70s. Jones earned such a reputation for building up his sermons from slow teaching into a frenzied power that a local radio DJ started calling him "The Hurricane." Though Jones' congregation quickly outgrew the Maple Street location and moved to a church on Westhaven Drive, a fire that broke out during service on Dec. 9, 1973 stopped Second Mount Olive Baptist from growing larger. Jones says that during the peak, Mount Olive was drawing 1,500 people on a regular Sunday, but the fire almost immediately diminished that to a few hundred congregants. Jewel released Jones' last album in 1978. In the years since, those records have gone out-of-print, eventually circulating into used bins and thrift stores where they've been picked up by younger listeners unfamiliar with Jones or his church. Since being introduced by Cole Alexander of the Black Lips, Dust-to-Digital founder Lance Ledbetter and Jones have worked together, listening to the vast archive of recordings that Jones has never released. Together, they've culled those tapes into Jones' first LP in 31 years, Jesus Christ From A To Z. The collected recordings are striking, loose documents of that Hurricane style: soaring organs, screaming congregants and Jones leading it all in his distinctive moan. The Methodist theologian John Wesley once asked, "Why should the devil have all the good music?" Today, the Rev. Johnny L. Jones is proof that he doesn't. --Wyatt Williams, December 15, 2009