“These were the happy days. The salad days as they say.” So sayeth the sage, H.I. Mcdunnough (aka Nicholas Cage in Raising Arizona for the uninitiated). Well, Doug Jones is a hell of a lot smarter than ole’ Hi, but the fictional character had a point. There are times in life that are high, and times in life that are low. Doug seems to have a better grip and understanding of those places in life than most folks from this writer’s way of thinking.
What I’m speaking of is Doug Jones’ life and times in his full throttle, full tank, fully fueled, and full steam ahead days of Cravin’ Melon.
Uh oh…I need a new paragraph after one sentence, and Doug is going to kill me for this. Though I have over six pages of notes from our interview over a fantastic lunch at Pomegranate in downtown Greenville this week, I just did the unthinkable…I checked to see if Wikipedia had anything on these boys. Well, they do. And, interestingly, in an unlikely factual manner, they had a very nice synopsis, so I thought I’d cut and paste a “sharing.”
Cravin’ Melon was formed at Clemson University in 1994 after the dissolution of two other local South Carolina bands, Doghouse and The Next Move. The band gained popularity on the regional live scene, and after a self-pressed EP and full-length, they signed to Mercury Records and released Red Clay Harvest, in 1997. The album spawned a minor radio hit, “Come Undone”, which peaked at #37 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. The band’s style and geographical roots prompted frequent comparisons to contemporaries and tourmates Hootie & the Blowfish and Edwin McCain. After a 1998 EP, the band was dropped from the label and recorded a final LP in 2000 before breaking up on May 19, 2001; a double live CD of one of their last performances was subsequently released. The band reunited in 2008 for a reunion tour that went very well. They are continuing to do shows in 2010. Lead singer Doug Jones released a solo album in 2007 Doug Jones Everybody Doug Jones. At their December 26, 2009 concert at the Wild Wing Cafe in Greenville, SC, the band announced plans to make a new album in the near future. The band has recently regained some of its past regional popularity, headlining several events including the 2010 Rock Hill, SC 4 July Festival, the 2010 and 2011 Virginia Cantaloupe Festival.
Why did I include that? Because Doug lived it, and still does, and though that is a decent synopsis, it’s not nearly as cool as the detail and delight that is hearing Doug recount the days of Cravin’ Melon as young men shooting for the stars. And so the story goes….
Okay, follow this. Band one – Doghouse. This is Doug, J.J. Bowers, and Scott Moore. Band two – The Next Move. This is Jimbo Chapman, Rick Reames, Anthony Kelly and Ray Keys. Both of these bands were formed in the early 90s. Both of these bands were having a lot of fun and a lot of local success. Both of these bands were made up of a group of friends. For example, Rick from The Next Move and Doug were old pals and played lots of b’ball together. Every now and then, with Doug and the Doghouse boys supporting The Next Move by attending shows, Rick would ask if Doug would join them for a tune or two and take the lead singing. As Doug tells me with a friendly, nostalgic, and wry smile, “Jimbo would reluctantly give me the mic for a couple tunes.” Not too long after that happened a handful of times, Rick and Jimbo chatted with Doug and suggested starting up a third band. They weren’t quitting their others, but hey, that’s music, and musicians like to doodle about with other musicians if they are feeling the groove. Well, these guys felt it.
Doug bluntly disclosed that starting a different group cherry picking two bands caused some friction, but anyone that has ever been in music knows that’s the nature of the beast. But he also was quick to say that this group of people was ultimately very gracious in accepting alternative groupings of artists in seeking a sound and having fun (after all, if music making and playing isn’t fun, why do we do it?).
So was born Cravin’ Melon. Doug Jones on lead vocals and acoustic guitar rhythm, Jimbo Chapman on vocals and lead guitar, JJ Bowers on bass, and Rick Reames on the kit. Doghouse and The Next Move had good followings on their own, so this Clemson, SC based band had a pretty nice beginning bringing their collective fans together. They started out playing cover tunes, but it didn’t take more than a couple months before they each started bringing their own individuality to the band. At any given rehearsal, someone would show up with lyrics, or a melody, or a riff, or all of the above, and the guys would rally around it and build a song (well, they didn’t ALWAYS rally around it – (see Democratic Nightmare, infra).
I’ll shorten things just a bit here. Wherever the guys played, people came – pied piper-ish. Doug quipped, “we’d have 70 girls and 30 guys show up at gigs, and we knew that was solid, because wherever the women go, the guys are sure to follow.” No doubt, no doubt. And it was so. Because when they left the comfortable grounds of the SC home turf to NC, the first time at new venues was often played to crickets. The return to the same venue saw full houses. Did I mention the salad days? This is how it felt for Mr. Jones, and us musicians know what he means.
After a few short months of grinding it out, the band headed into the old Marshall Tucker Band studio in Moore, SC for their first EP. 5 songs. I mentioned the Democratic Nightmare earlier. This was the first salt and pepper of that concept. And anyone that’s been in the studio with a full band of equals knows exactly what I’m about to say. That situation can be both euphoric and insanely frustrating. Every musician has a strong opinion, as does the producer. Getting out of there alive can sometimes be difficult as you seek to create a recorded vision and leave with something everyone is proud of. Cravin’ Melon, from what Doug divulged, was actually quite good at surviving that Democratic Nightmare. And I’d say history has proven that to be true.
So where are we? Ah yes, we are still pre-label. But the guys were doing great, selling out shows around the southeast. How did they spend there time? It was not unusual for the band to play between 18 and 36 holes of golf during the day and roll straight to a gig that would last until 2 a.m. (not to mention load out and after-parties). In frank tone, Doug remarks, “I don’t know if I could exist in that world anymore…I’m too fragile!” In 1994, a call comes in from Dick Hodgin, a producer/manager out of Raleigh (hailing from Greenville, SC actually). He had done a little work for an unknown but growing band called Hootie and the Blowfish, and had come across Cravin’ Melon’s EP. He dug it. The short end to the story – he came to Greenville to see the guys, loved them, wanted to manage them, signed them, and they worked together throughout it all. It was a great start and lots of fun, growing every day.
Thus was born the first LP, “Where I Wanna Be,” which included probably the band’s most well known tune, “Sweet Tea.” “Cause on the eighth day, God made sweet tea!” How can you not love that line? The band recorded in Durham, NC, and Hodgin produced it. It was a beautiful mix no one knew what to do with. Rock, folk, country – a stew of wonderful sounds. But even if it didn’t fit nicely in a genre “box,” it was true, it was southern, and it was soulful.
Cravin’ was killing the southeast and having a ball, and around the same time, Hootie and the Blowfish were making some serious waves and gaining momentum with their album (as yet unsigned), Kootchypop. Any of our readers know how that story progressed. The cool thing is that SC enjoyed a great kinship among musicians in the early nineties, and the Cravin’ boys were pals with the Hootie boys, and they had a wonderful unspoken mantra of “no man left behind.” One night, Cravin’ Melon was playing Rockafellas in Columbia, and it just so happened that Hootie was doing their thing just down the street at the Elbow Room. They bumped into each other, and Darius and company told the guys to stop by and play a tune if they could. They did – to a full room and to a well-deserved raucous response from the crowd. Until then, Cravin’ Melon hadn’t had a great following in Cola, but they sure did after that.
Not long after, the labels, as Doug recalls, started “sniffing” around. Still, the big question was ‘where do they fit’? In those days it was all still standard radio, and labels had to wonder what format they could place a band to maximize sales. Cravin’ Melon was a bit of a round hole in a square peg at the time (if ever one wished for a flash forward to XM, maybe that wouldn’t be so, who knows). Around this time, Hootie was signed to Atlantic and blowing up with “Cracked Rear View.” Danny Goldberg, who had been with Atlantic (I think he was President), had left that company and joined Mercury Records. He knew about Cravin’ Melon, and he put one of his A&R guys, Jim Ferret, on the hunt. He flew down south and headed to a Cravin’ Melon show The Attic in Greenville, NC. According to Doug, there were ten inches of snow on the ground and the house was still sold out (is it just me, or does that sound like the story your dad tells about walking up hill both ways to school in the snow?). He must not be teasing me too badly, because Mercury loved them, and, drum roll please, they were signed! The dream of dreams for aspiring bands at the time. And Mercury! That was big time.
Let’s not forget. This article is about Doug, not Cravin’ Melon, and I cannot speak for any other members. But here’s where it gets interesting. If you know Doug, you know his honesty and integrity as a musician, but also his no nonsense BLUNTNESS about how he feels about pretty much any topic. Don’t get me wrong, he loved a lot of things about the label days, but if our readers take anything from this article, take this – Doug Jones never once spoke about fame or fortune in our interview. He never once spoke about things not working out. He never lamented the things one expects. Instead, he said, “It was a great time for comradery. It felt like an innocent time. We didn’t get much tour support at all, and a 15 passenger van and 8 stinky guys is hard to do. But we loved it.” Unfortunately, he didn’t love what the label pushed in the studio, and he felt like the live energy was almost stolen from the band as the label pushed them into a corner. Still, “Red Clay Harvest” debuted on the Mercury label and had a modicum of success. The thing about Doug, though, is that success has never been measured by sales alone, but by heart and dedication to authenticity.
During this time, Cravin’ Melon toured the country on their own and also had some great tours with Hootie as those fellas were topping the charts. Doug is friends with all of them, and he has no compunction about stating that playing with them “helped us like you can’t believe, but on the flip side, it hurt us too, because some people felt like we were copycats. The truth was that we were all the same age, from generally the same geography, had similar musical influences, loved being where we were from, and both bands were just doing our thing. Any comparisons were pure coincidence.” But let me be clear – Doug has always celebrated the successes of his musical friends, consoled the lack thereof of others, and always stayed true to his rather metaphysical mantra of music for music’s sake. What a breath of fresh air.
There is far more to the story. The band did a couple albums with Mercury, then left the label and released “The Great Procrastinator” on their own, and ultimately disbanded in 2001, with many reunion shows between then and now. There were ups, downs, lots of fun, lots of fights, lots of all of things that families go through. And make no mistake about it, a long-standing band is a family above all else, and it ain’t always easy. Doug Jones and his band of brothers will always be Cravin’ Melon no matter what other musical paths they journey. Doug still hopes and intends to make another record with his band outside of his current solo and ensemble career, recognizing that life, age, experience and wisdom might just help them create the best thing in their history as a group. To sum it up and hopefully encapsulate the essence of Doug Jones during the Cravin’ Melon days, he said his greatest compliment was from a fan that saw Cravin’ open for a very big major label artist. The fan said, “I’ve seen this headlining band play a dozen times, but I’ve never seen them play that well or with that much energy, and it was because of what you guys brought to the stage.” Of course I extrapolated …when Cravin’ Melon played, you better bring your “A” game if you were playing with them. There’s a reason Doug and many fans and peers are still Cravin’ after all these years.