Tameca Jones has become known as the "Queen of Austin Soul." She got her start more than a decade ago, when she decided to forgo her dream of going to law school in order to focus on raising her twins. At that point, music became both her creative outlet and a way to support her family — and since then, her soulful covers of rock songs have made her a beloved fixture of the music scene in Austin, Texas.
Jones says that, while she feels she's been welcomed into the city's musical community, establishing herself as a soul singer hasn't always been easy.
"Austin is not known for soul music — that's more like Dallas and Houston. Austin is more like that rockabilly, bluegrass, Stevie Ray Vaughan blues," she says. "So I stayed underground a long time, just grinding and grinding and grinding."
Jones took a break from the bustle of the South by Southwest music festival to speak with NPR's Michel Martin and share two songs. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link, and watch Jones perform "Sandman" in the video below.
Aggi Ashagre and Liz Baker produced the broadcast version of this story.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we're going to turn from a music icon to a local star here in Austin, Texas. Her name is Tameca Jones, and she's known as the Queen of Austin Soul. She got her start more than a decade ago after foregoing law school to head back to her hometown to focus on raising her twins. Music wasn't just a creative outlet either. It's how she supported her family, but that hard work has paid off.
Her soulful covers of rock songs have made her a beloved fixture on the Austin music scene. We wanted to learn more about her story and what's changed over the years as Austin and the South by Southwest Festival have exploded in popularity. So Tameca was nice enough to take a break from performing and mingling with her fellow artists to talk and perform a couple of songs just for us.
She invited us to do the interview at the Continental Club, and I started by asking her why she chose this particular venue.
TAMECA JONES: I got my start here so many years ago. I played a residency every Thursday night, and it just let me cut my teeth as an artist. And it just - this place is very special to me.
MARTIN: I think you would need to be on your game here because there is music all up and down this block, so...
MARTIN: ...You really need to know what you're doing.
JONES: Absolutely. And...
MARTIN: Was that intimidating at first, though, I mean, to think about doing this full time?
JONES: No. It wasn't intimidating because I noticed Austin had a lack of soul music, and I knew if I present myself to the scene, I would be welcomed. And I just had a lot of confidence in what I had to offer, you know, the city. And it just built from there.
MARTIN: Well, let's have a little taste of what it is that you have to offer the scene here. So tell us what you're going to play and tell us who's going to be accompanying you.
JONES: I am going to play a song called "Let Me Be," and I'm joined by my keyboardist, Mr. Jonathan Deas.
MARTIN: All right.
JONATHAN DEAS: (Playing keyboard).
JONES: (Singing) Hey, ain't no doubt that I'm into you. I want to call you my baby. I am so, so sick with love and thoughts of us steal my sleep. Cupid done shot me dead with his arrow. I wonder if he can reach you. It's getting harder to disguise the light inside the (unintelligible) when you are nearby. Need the courage of a lion to (unintelligible) you what is concealed. These feelings multiply like butterflies at the sight of you. My thoughts are raised with my heart pace. Wish I had the courage to put them on display and tell you baby, baby, let me be the edge you jump from. Let me be the name you moan. Let me be the wind that drives you. Let me be the sugar in your bowl. Let me be the edge you jump from. Let me be the name you moan. Baby. Let me be the wind that drives you. Let me be the sugar in your bowl, in your bowl. La, la, la, la, la. La, la, la, la, la. La, la, la, la, la. La, la, la, la, la. La, la, la, la, la. La, la, la, la, la.
DEAS: (Playing keyboard).
MARTIN: Let me be the sugar in your bowl. Yes.
MARTIN: I'm going to have to find a way to say that to somebody.
MARTIN: Well, thank you for that. What has it been like coming up in this music scene? You said before we took a little short break for a music break that you felt that you would be well received. So what was it like? Did you feel well-received by the other artists here?
JONES: I did feel well-received, but it's just been a long climb because Austin is not known for soul music. That's kind of like Dallas and Houston. So Austin is more like that rockabilly - I don't know, like bluegrass Stevie Ray Vaughan blues. It's not really known for soul, so I stayed underground a long time, you know, just grinding and grinding and grinding.
It's been really hard, but I just keep the faith. And I keep the path because that's all I have as a musician.
MARTIN: It's been really great to meet you. Thanks so much for spending the time with us. Thank you for inviting us into your space, into your home...
JONES: My dojo.
MARTIN: Your home turf. Yeah. It's been really great. It's been great to hear your story. Do you want to play one more song? Yeah. Let's play one more song. What do you play for us this time - sing for us this time? Sing and play.
JONES: Sing and play. We are going to play a song called "Sandman." This is actually my first sonically edible song that I've ever wrote because I wrote a lot of crap, like, over the years. And this was the first song that was like, oh, that's actually kind of good. So yeah.
DEAS: (Playing keyboard).
JONES: (Singing) Sleep, flying on wings of mercy. I wait for your sweet kiss to bring me peace for my red eyes is tired from...
MARTIN: That was Tameca Jones singing her original song "Sandman" at the Continental Club in Austin, Texas. She was accompanied by Jonathan Deas. And if you want to hear a longer version, just go to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.