In his book, Earth Wind and Fire singer Philip Bailey dedicated an entire chapter to Perry "P.J." Jones. Known for his smooth style, confidence and connections in the music industry, Bailey aptly titled the chapter on Jones “The Most Interesting Man in the World.”
Jones is willing to take that compliment. He did, after all, live a life of glamor after becoming the first African American promotions director for Warner Brothers Records in 1970. Long before he got that title, Jones was already in the music industry—dancing in local performances and getting groups’ records played on the radio. But on one night in Denver, he made a discovery that would help shape the style of music.
“One night, I was out cruzin’ in my little T-R-6 with my equestrian boots on and my maxi coat,” he said with a laugh. “And I went into this club called the 23rd Street east… There was one guy who was particularly standing out with his vocals that was Philip Bailey.”
Bailey was with a different musical group, then. But Jones would connect him with Maurice White to become one of the lead vocalists of Earth, Wind and Fire. Jones served as the group’s tour manager for years. As their manager, he remembers encouraging the group’s desire to take their sound in a different direction from the R&B style that the record company wanted. The group, instead, blended elements of rock and shared a positive message that uplifted listeners at a time when the country really needed it.
“We had all these protests, we had the civil rights going. All this was going on,” he said. “And it was brewing into a whole incredible new America. It was us, the young folks who were delivering it to America.”
Jones saw the crowds grow and include people of all colors bonding over a common love of Earth, Wind and Fire’s music and its positive message.
“The message that we were sending out was one that would be able to move us and transcend us to a whole ‘nother level,” he said.
Jones worked with another artist who had that same power: Prince. The young artist first encountered Jones early in his career, when Warner Brothers sent Jones to Minnesota to meet with Prince at his home. Jones recalls prince creating his music in a moldy, no-frills basement. But he already knew what type of image he wanted to project.
“He says ‘I want an open image that the public cannot pigeon hole me or put me in a category.’ So that’s how we got the Prince album,” Jones said.
Jones still has platinum and gold copies of the 1979 album in his home.
Jones continues to be in touch with members of Earth, Wind and Fire. And though he stopped working with both Prince and Earth, Wind and Fire long ago, he’s proud of what both musical acts were able to achieve.
“We made our mark,” he said. “And (for) that, I am very grateful and happy.”