By the Time I Get to Phoenix: Courtney Marie Andrews Is the Biggest Star in the Valley's Blooming Pop-Folk Scene

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However, Andrews wasn't exactly enthusiastic, dismissing Jones' dreams of documenting her music as another all-talk, no-action plan she'd heard before. Says Andrews, "I didn't take it seriously. Even when he was doing these free recordings, I was like, 'Yeah, whatever.'"

Over time, though, Andrews noticed that Jones actually knew what he was doing. Plus, studio time was free, with an agreement that part of the recording cost would be recouped from sales. The sessions turned into Urban Myths, an album that wasn't even mastered because the label didn't have the money.

Despite the disc's anonymity, the CD-release show for Urban Myths was a huge success, thanks to Andrews' blossoming songwriting and a heavy online marketing campaign engineered by Jones. Because fans of all ages packed Modified Arts, many were turned away. Andrews and Jones couldn't believe it, especially considering that a startup label had released the record.

Soon, the circle of musicians Andrews had built since age 14 began working with River Jones Music. Since then, more out-of-state artists have recorded at Jones' home/studio.

Brent Cowles, who goes by You Me & Apollo, moved here from Colorado Springs, Colorado, after finding River Jones Music's MySpace page. The Pioneers of Prime Time TV, one of the label's only full bands, want to move here, but they're tied down in New Mexico (the lead singer heads a construction company); instead, they make trips to the Valley regularly to record and play shows.

The hyperactive Jones, who has signed more than a dozen artists in the past few years, shuns the spotlight. He insists that he's about the music, rather than the money and notoriety. Because it's a full-time gig that doesn't turn a profit, his fiancée "keeps the lights on," says Jones, who spends up to 16 hours each day recording, mixing, marketing, and making sure his artists' albums are stocked in independently owned record stores across the country. He's especially found success building the brand through social-networking outlets, including Facebook and MySpace.

The seeds of Jones' artist know-how were planted in west Phoenix, where he was born and raised by his single mother. In his teens, he played shows and organized gigs in unoccupied desert areas around 99th Avenue and Jomax Road.

After high school, Jones — who claims that at the time he knew only how to "play drums and deliver pizza" — moved to L.A. for a music-production job. When he wasn't sleeping on a mattress in the kitchen of a West Hollywood apartment, he was making connections in the music biz, thanks in part to Chester Bennington, the Linkin Park frontman, whom Jones had met at Greenway High School.

Jones has some crazy tales from those days. He says he got drunk on straight vodka in a parked car and sang oldies with Grammy Award-winning artist Fiona Apple. He says Apple went to kiss him, but he was so freaked out that the star was going in for a smooch that he turned his head. "I never heard from her again," Jones says.

After settling into the fast-paced lifestyle, Jones started playing high-profile gigs on MTV's Total Request Live and The Sharon Osbourne Show. As a touring drummer, he shared the stage with N*E*R*D and Avril Lavigne.

After two years of madness, the gigs, which paid $1,000 per week, tapered off and the cutthroat drama of the entertainment business increased. Though Jones loved L.A., the circumstances started to wear on him. "I got to go through the entire rock 'n' roll lifestyle by 28," Jones says. "Now I know what it's really like to be a musician."

In 2007, Jones moved back to his mom's house in Phoenix and continued to write and record his own music. For income, he worked odd jobs, ranging from busing tables to washing dishes. He thought about leaving Phoenix again.

That's when he met Andrews, and Urban Myths — an album Jones put together mostly on the living room floor of his childhood home — was born.

A year later, thanks to some turmoil and a randomly thrown dart, Jones discovered another talent comparable to Andrews.

In 2008, nearly 2,400 miles from Phoenix, Michelle Blades pondered her Plan B.

The 17-year-old senior at Felix Varela High School in Miami was all set to leave a frantic home life for school in Hawaii, where she and her boyfriend would begin anew. At 16, she'd moved out of her parents' home and in with her grandparents because of problems with her dad. She was willing to try anything, no matter how rash it sounded, to get out of Florida.

Then Blades and the boyfriend broke up. Poof went the island dreams.

One day during Blades' senior year, Les Rose visited her high school. Rose, a cameraman for roving journalism correspondent Steve Hartman of CBS News, talked in depth about Hartman's way of discovering news: He would throw a dart over his shoulder at a world map, and wherever it landed, he'd go there and find a story — the idea being that you can find something worthwhile anyplace you go.

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Steve Jansen
Contact: Steve Jansen