Cincinnati’s Keith Jones and the Makeshifts are having a rough time. While playing at a local bar their PA system keeps tripping a breaker, causing the microphones to cut out, along with Jones’ guitar and Kyle Rowsdower’s upright bass. This leaves the band to rely on Gary Turner’s drumming and Jeff Porada’s saxophone, along with the pipes that Jones’ mama gave him to finish out a song and fix the problem. For a less experienced band, this technical issue would cause some choice words to fly into the nonfunctioning mics. But the Makeshifts just turn it into a beer break before returning to the stage and getting the crowd on their feet.
Jones has had plenty of time to perfect his stage show and his band’s homage to Bill Haley and the Comets-era Rock & Roll and Rockabilly.
“It’s been four years total for me doing (the Makeshifts). It’s been a year and a half with these guys — they’ve stuck with me,” Jones says. He had the music prepared; all he had to do was build a band around him that could play the material.
“I always hire for potential over immediate skill,” Jones says. In fact, Porada, Turner and Rowsdower each joined the band through chance encounters. Turner caught Jones’ eye when he was called onstage by a friend after 10 years away from the drum throne. Porada was asked to play after Jones heard him perform with a Jazz big band (he was initially confused about the lack of sheet music and had to wing his first Makeshifts set). Rowsdower played with no practice when Jones needed a fill-in for a show.
Jones wasn’t necessarily looking for members who knew all of the classics that he wanted to perform; he wanted members who could match their playing styles to his vision.
“These guys were committed to it; they were able to see the potential,” he says.
What Jones ended up with was his most stable lineup ever (though Rowsdower just recently moved on to other endeavors and Jones’ childhood friend Martin Eastman has stepped in). For a year and a half, Keith Jones and the Makeshifts have been relentlessly hitting the road playing their uncompromising style of 1950s Rockabilly.
The band’s collection of originals and covers are a refreshing symbol of their devotion to the true nature of Rockabilly, which comes from an honest love of the music. For Turner, the love blossomed at a young age when he was gifted his father’s old 45s.
“The music, I grew up with it. This music I play, I feel 8 years old again. My parents have come to see us and just love it,” Turner says.
But the Makeshifts also pull in many fans that may not even know what a 45 is.
“One thing that I think is funny is that we play this ’50s music but most of the crowd is younger people. They’re 30 and younger,” Porada says.
A major part of this success can be tied into the Makeshifts’ live show. The genuine feel of the music is the first part of the equation, whether it’s an original or a cover.
“There are a lot of songs where we’ve worked out our own arrangements to them to make them sound unique instead of just a note-for-note copy,” Jones says.
Rowsdower agrees, saying, “We’re not trying, it’s never been a struggle, it just flows.”
The Makeshifts’ stage presence is so authentic, the dance floor practically packs itself. Filled with traditional flourishes like old school bass tricks and wailing sax solos, the Makeshifts transport their fans back to the old bandstand show days, even if they don’t know it. The band members put an emphasis on their look, with matching suits and ties, along with period-correct hair and shoes.
Because of their eye for detail, Keith Jones and the Makeshifts have been accepted by both traditionalists, like Swing dance clubs, and neophytes, like the Saturday night crowd at Japp’s.
“One thing that makes us marketable is that no one else does it,” Porada says.
“That’s why our CD still hasn’t come out,” Jones adds, “because a lot of what we do comes from word of mouth and not from recordings, because our live show is what we focus on.”
The band is finally working on a debut album and is looking at a September release. They’re currently crowdfunding the process via Kickstarter to help pay for the recording. But until the day comes when they can actually sell the music they’ve so artfully mastered, they intend on doing exactly what they’ve been doing: getting in front of eager crowds and playing Rockabilly and Rock & Roll their own, original way.
For show dates and more info about KEITH JONES AND THE MAKESHIFTS, visit themakeshifts.com.