At 14 years old, budding Baton Rouge blues musician Jonathon “Boogie” Long stood at a crossroads, facing a decision that would define the direction of his life and career.
The choice? Whether to continue his high school education, or venture out on the road, honing his natural musical talents as a bassist with Henry Turner Jr. & Flavor. Just months later, Long was immersed in a world of smoky bar rooms and clubs as he crisscrossed the country, playing gigs and learning about the music business firsthand.
Thousands of miles and over a decade later, he hasn’t looked back.
Long said he knew early on music was his calling. He picked up his first guitar at 6 years old, and by age 10, he was playing at the now-shuttered Swamp Mama’s on Third Street, cutting his teeth beside local blues legends at the cafe’s Sunday blues jam.
Swamp Mama’s and the musicians he met there, including Rudy Richard, Lil Ray Neal and Kenny Neal, were the catalysts for what has become a lifelong love affair with the blues. Long’s musical tastes are diverse, spanning country, folk, R&B and rock, but there’s something universal about the blues, he said.
Blues music speaks directly to the soul, and there’s an authenticity you feel in the music when you pour your heart into a song that transcends everything, Long said. There’s a certain spirituality in it.
His passion for the music is what convinced his parents to take a leap of faith when their 14-year-old son approached them with his plans. The Longs signed over partial custody of their son to Turner, allowing him to play out-of-state gigs where the presence of a legal guardian was required.
Long said his parents knew people would likely judge their decision, but they decided supporting their son’s career aspirations was more important.
“I just told them, ‘This is what I want to do and I’m going to do whatever I can to make it happen,’” Long said. “Their support was everything. They could’ve put a stop to it anytime. I wouldn’t have gotten to do any of that stuff, and essentially I wouldn’t be the man that I am today without their support.”
That experience kicked off Long’s artistic career. After touring with Turner, 16-year-old Long played the fraternity party circuit with Motown cover band 2 Hipnotic, before getting his chance to play on a larger stage as a guitarist for New Orleans blues legend Luther Kent.
Kent gave Long his first taste of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival stage, and helped him blossom into the artist he is today, he said. In 2011, Long was named Guitar Center’s “King of the Blues.”
Now 28-years-old, Long tours with a trio of his own, Jonathon Boogie Long and the Blues Revolution, alongside bassist Chris Williams and drummer Jullian Civello. The group has released two albums, a self-titled debut in 2012 and 2016’s “Trying to Get There,” and has toured across North America.
Long admits it hasn’t always been an easy road. The live music scene in Baton Rouge has changed significantly over the years, with community support lessening as families were shaken by 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 economic recession.
Self-promotion also isn’t his forte. Long is much more of a music man, consumed by the soul and message of the music as opposed to the business aspects of running a tour. He credits his success to the many mentors who have helped guide him, including Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis, who championed his music.
Long will once again be returning to the Jazz Fest stage May 7, and he’s also slated to appear before a hometown crowd at the Baton Rouge Blues Festival April 8. Playing at Jazz Fest is a surreal experience, he said, but there’s something special about playing for the hometown folks that saw you through the birth of your career.
“It’s good to play for your hometown and the people that you love and that love you,” Long said. “Without that [local support] I would’ve never had the confidence to step out anywhere other than my bedroom.”
After wrapping up his festival appearances, Long said he’s settling in to begin work on two new albums. The first, a blues album with southern rock edge, is expected for early 2018. The other is more of a slow burn, a soul-baring country and folk passion project close to Long’s heart.
Long said regardless of genre, his goal when writing is to bring his audience on a journey through the lyrics and leave them with a positive message. Even with his more emotional songs, there’s a reason and deeper meaning behind the tunes.
Once recording is wrapped, Long said he hopes to get back out on the road. He’s a road warrior at heart, and wants to continue bringing his music to new audiences.
“My goal is to stay on the road for as long as I can,” Long said. “Until I’m dead I’m going to play music. It’s just the way I’m wired.”