The legal profession’s loss was East Coast music’s gain. Given her strategic skills and determination to do what’s best for her clients, we’re betting Sheri Jones would have been a top-notch lawyer. Instead, she has managed a highly impressive roster of Maritime artists to a great deal of success for nearly three decades.
In an interview for this FYI Industry Profile yesterday, Jones recalled that “I never had any big aspirations about working in the music business. I had just graduated from university and thought I might go back to school for law as that was always of interest to me. I was looking for an office management position in between.”
That position came in 1986 in the office of famed Halifax-based music entrepreneur Brookes Diamond, where Jones notes “I was thrown into everything headfirst. Brookes was managing Rita MacNeil, and this was when [hit MacNeil album] Flying On Your Own was taking off. I worked with him on Rita and in several other divisions in the company.”
Jones also worked with local manager/promoter Michael Ardenne prior to flying on her own, setting up Jones & Co in 1993. “I had no desire to be a manager, but it was Ron Hynes who turned me into one,” she explains. “I worked with Ron for about a year and we put together his album Cryer’s Paradise. I hired a young fiddler to play in Ron’s band for his release tour.”
The fiddler was Ashley MacIsaac, and it was Jones who was on hand as his manager as his career took off in rapid ascent.
“It became the Ashley years then,” she says. “They were equally exciting and nerve-wracking. We worked with some great people at A&M, Allan Reid and Joe Summers, to this day two of my favourite people in the music biz.”
“Ashley and I probably worked together for 4-5 years til it got too crazy. I felt that by continuing I was enabling his destructive behavior, so I stopped doing that.” Jones has remained friends with MacIsaac, terming him “a good guy.”
She also began managing a MacIsaac discovery, Mary Jane Lamond, plus singer/songwriter Gordie Sampson (both remain Jones & Co. clients). “I had known Gordie since he was just a kid. I asked when he was going to do his own record, and he said ‘me? I can’t sing.’ He helped produce Ashley’s record and was writing some songs, then we put out Gordie’s own record on my label, turtlemusik, distributed by A&M."
Founded in 1997, that label is still active, and is occasionally used as the imprint for artists on the Jones & Co roster. “Management has always been Number One. The label has been rather a means to an end,” Jones stresses.
Next to join the roster was Kim Stockwood (“already a dear friend”), then Damhnait Doyle. “Gordie produced a record for Damhnait, and when they called me, I started working with her,” Jones recalls.
Stockwood and Doyle then joined up with Tara MacLean to form Shaye, who had a very successful run, from 2003 to 2009. Jones says “that the gang at EMI [Shaye’s label] were all so fantastic. Deane [Cameron] always put his money where his mouth was. We had lots of fun with Shaye until Tara decided to dedicate herself to her young family.”
Jones still works with Stockwood ( “on more projects-based stuff”) and Doyle (“though I don’t manage her band The Heartbroken”).
Another turning point for Jones and her management company came around 15 years ago.
“I was introduced to the amazing Joel Plaskett by Mike Campbell, and I was immediately a fan,” she recalls. That was the start of a business partnership that is still going strong. “I talk to Joel three or four times a week. That man is so full of creative ideas.”
By this point, Sheri Jones was quite happy with the size and composition of her management roster. “I thought ‘well I will now grow old gracefully with that,’ but then I went to an ECMA show in 2008. Shaye was involved in a tribute to John Allan Cameron, and at the Metro Centre I heard an amazing song that made me look up. It was David Myles, and I started working with him, my first new client in six years. After that, I thought 'I’m seriously done in taking anyone else on.'"
That resolve would not last long, thanks to what Jones laughingly terms “the friggin’ Gordie Sampson Songwriting Camp.” She and Sampson started this in 2010 to mentor young writers, and some of the talents unearthed there quickly became management clients.
“The first time I ever heard Mo Kenney was there and I was immediately captivated,” Jones recalls. “The second year, I said to Wayne O’Connor [his company More Than Booking works very closely with Jones' acts on the live music side] ‘don’t let me come home with another artist.' The second day there I said 'I won’t do it but if I did it’d be Dylan Guthro.’
"I resisted until four months later someone called and said ‘Dylan has a record coming out and he needs help,’ so we started working together.”
Another East Coast singer/songwriter signed to Jones & Co. for management was Molly Thomason (now T. Thomason), but that relationship is no longer in place.
One recent addition to the roster was rock band The Brood. “That was a big departure for me as most of my roster is are very solid songwriters. The Brood is more an eccentric rock 'n roll jam band. They’re fantastic live and wacky in the most harmless way possible.”
Jones just helped them secure a European record deal via an Austrian label. “An EP will come out there this summer, with a full release in Europe early next year. It may well end up on my label for Canada as well. I’m convinced they’ll have a massive radio hit sometime in the next three or four years.”
She helps secure foreign distribution for her artists on an individual basis. Mo Kenney’s two albums have come out in the UK and Germany, with her second album coming out in the US recently (she’s on Pheromone Recordings in Canada). David Myles’ last album also came out there, leading to some touring.
“It is more about them getting set up for their next records, which we’ll shop for a label when they’re finished. My preference is to find the right partner in each market, but if no-one else will do it we won’t sit around and wait,” says Jones.
Both Myles and Kenney are writing their next albums, with Myles set to record next month.
The newest addition to the Jones & Co. management roster is Port Cities, a new trio that has quickly created a real buzz. Jones informed us the group signed to Warner Canada last week, and she flew to Toronto yesterday to have meetings with the label and catch Port Cities NXNE showcase at The Horseshoe.
She explains that "through Gordie’s Songcamp I’m meeting all these talented young songwriters like Carleton Stone and Breagh Mackinnon, and we do what we can to help them out. About 18 months ago, the three of them [Stone, Mackinnon and Dylan Guthro] came together to me and said ‘we tour together all the time, we’re best friends, we love playing together and we’re going to form a band. Will you manage us?’ Of course I couldn’t say no.”
There is a publishing component to Jones & Co, and Jones explains that “I’m talking to someone about outside investment and potentially expanding that. I signed an amazing writer from Nova Scotia, Steven MacDougall, about three years ago.”
She stresses that “I’m by no means into empire building but I’ll do whatever it takes to further the careers of the artists on my management roster.”
That was behind the decision she and Joel Plaskett made around five years ago to start up an independent record distribution network. “It rather started because Joel would be on tour and would go to an independent record store, drop off five records, forgot to tell me and we may never get paid for then. That made me realize there were some indie record stores across the country that were not being serviced. The network is a break even proposition, a way to get our records everywhere we can and to support independent retailers.”
Jones & Co. operates from offices in Jones’ house in the country, a 20 minute drive from downtown Halifax. “I have two employees with me full-time here and a couple of contractors, plus Grace Russell [publicity and promotion] in Toronto. I adore Grace. She’s my retirement plan, as she’ll do more as I do less!”
Sheri Jones has certainly earned the serious respect and affection of her clients and industry comrades over her long career. Kim Stockwood tells FYI that “Sheri is one of my favourite people on the planet. She was the first person I ever spoke to in the music business, almost 25 years ago, when I called the ECMA office for advice. She has been a constant in my life ever since.... She is my friend, my manager, my sounding board and my mentor. Her vision, integrity, and humour never ceases…. She’s also a great cook, and makes a mean rum and coke….”
Head of Pheromone Recordings Kim Cooke tells us “I’ve known Sheri for 25 years and have been working with her on Joel Plaskett for nearly 15 of those and Mo Kenney the last 5. She’s a true gem both personally and professionally, as smart, tough, hard working and loyal an individual as you will find in this business. God bless her and long may she run.”
Jones has no regrets about her career choice, declaring that “I consider myself very lucky that after 25 years I wake up every morning excited to be working. The people I work with have so much to do with that.”