JesseLee Jones, once an outcast, a stuck-in-a-rut poor boy from São Paulo, Brazil, came to America in 1984 with hopes of a new life. Through many trials and tribulations, JesseLee has endured to become the epitome of the classic American success story.
JesseLee’s first day in the United States was very trying to say the least, after being robbed of his belongings just hours after arriving in Miami, Florida. Fate would soon lead him to Peoria, Illinois, where he began his new life in earnest. He was taken in by a wonderful church family from Morton, Illinois, who helped him learn English and put him on the path to make something meaningful from his dream of living a new life. While embracing this new American culture, JesseLee began to work numerous jobs to make ends meet, from delivering newspapers and working odd farm jobs to doing maintenance and living at the Wildlife Prairie Park.
JesseLee’s musical talents were ever-present in his life, and eventually he began to play the local bars and music venues in and around the Peoria area. With the continued support and encouragement of loyal and faithful new friends, he went on to play bigger music venues in the area, including several sold out shows at the Apollo Fine Arts and Entertainment Centre. He became a regular guest on the Orion Connection Ministry live television broadcast, and performed with an all African American choir, even singing with them at the welcoming ceremony for Rev. Jesse Jackson at a magnificent church downtown Peoria, during the 1988 Presidential election.
Continuing his growth, JesseLee became an American citizen in 1990, being sworn in at the Peoria, Illinois, Federal Court House, assisted by the office of then Senator Bob Michaels. During the ceremony he had the great privilege of singing “America the Beautiful” while standing next to the presiding judge. Soon after becoming an American citizen, the office Senator Michaels suggested that JesseLee take a trip with his band to represent the Central Illinois area and the Department of Defense by entertaining the American military men and women fighting the Gulf War.
Upon returning from the Middle East, JesseLee began attending an adult education class and secured a GED diploma and was given a partial scholarship to attend Illinois Central College. There, he pursued a career in Law Enforcement and Criminology and served as an intern at the Pekin, Illinois Police Department. JesseLee’s music, however, never let him go, and with the encouragement of family and friends, he decided to embark on developing a real music career and move to Nashville, Tennessee.
Finally making the move to Nashville in 1994, JesseLee did whatever it took to make ends meet, always keeping his dreams and goals in the front of his mind. He worked as janitorial/maintenance staff on the General Jackson Showboat, eventually stepping up to serve as one of Opryland’s security officers, where his knowledge of four languages would ultimately become useful. Using all available resources and time to network and integrate musical opportunities, JesseLee began performing in many retirement homes, and joined an old-time country band as a drummer. An opportunity arose to perform the piano bar at Shoney’s Inn, across from Opryland on Music Valley Drive. This was just the beginning of his musical career in Nashville.
During a visit to Nashville, Daryl Hartwig, a professor of Criminology at Illinois Central College and close friend, gave JesseLee a gift — a box set of Marty Robbins’ Greatest Hits, which was to become the “great awakening” to Jesse Lee’s new perspective on life in Nashville. He became well-versed in the history of Traditional Country Music, and the roots of its conception. The Mother Church of Country music, the Ryman Auditorium, the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and its Midnight Jamboree, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Historic District of lower Broadway, Sho Bud Steel Guitar Company, the stars of the Grand Ole Opry of the 50’s, and Hatch Show Print all became JesseLee’s life from that point forward.
In the early 1990s, Robert Wayne Moore, then-owner of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and several other businesses in the lower Broadway historic district, started a western clothing and apparel store three doors down from Tootsie’s, and called it Rhinestone Western Wear. This store evolved over time into the world famous Robert’s Western World honky tonk. Robert Moore took JesseLee under his wing and nurtured his music by offering him a spot on stage as a solo guitar/vocal act, and eventually allowed him the opportunity to work in all areas of Robert’s Western World, from scrubbing toilets to book-keeping and everything in between.
When Robert Moore decided to retire and thought about who could adequately continue the legacy of Robert’s Western World, the first person he thought of was JesseLee, even though there were many more lucrative financial offers on the table. BR-549, the Robert’s house band at that time, began referring to JesseLee as the “Brazilian Hillbilly,” which in time evolved into “Brazilbilly.” On August 5th, 1999, JesseLee purchased Robert’s Western World from Robert Moore, officially starting a new chapter of discovery and self-growth as a business owner in his adopted home of America.
JesseLee, the Brazilian/Italian new American citizen, has long held an unwavering belief that traditional country music is the music that built Music City. He has committed his life to preserving the integrity of traditional country music and everything it stands for.
Robert’s Western World, known as the “Home of Traditional Country Music,” is considered the number one honky tonk in Nashville, Tennessee, as voted by the Nashville Scene for many years running. It has received accolades and has been featured in hundreds of magazine articles, television commercials and was recently mentioned in the Wall Street Journal as the #6 reason to visit Nashville, Tennessee. It has been the location of many video shoots and even movie shoots. Resting in the shadow of the Mother Church of Traditional Country Music, the Ryman Auditorium, Robert’s is directly across the street from the world famous Ernest Tubb Record Shop, and once the home factory of the Sho Bud Steel Guitar Company and showcase store.
The band Brazilbilly was established in 1995. They have been the house band at Robert’s Western World for the last 18 years and have been the longest established band in the history of lower Broadway. They are distinguished by their attire, their character as a group and by their desire to keep traditional country music alive and well. Brazilbilly consists of highly-respected Nashville musicians and singers, including JesseLee Jones (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), David Tanner (lead guitar, vocals), Maxwell Schauf (drums, percussion), Aaron Till (fiddle, guitar, vocals) and Jared Manzo (upright bass).
An ordained Reverend, JesseLee Jones, is also a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason, and a member of R.O.P.E., (Reunion of Professional Entertainers), which is a Nashville-based organization of Grand Ole Opry members and musicians, focused on keeping the old country music alive. JesseLee also owns and operates Honky Tonk Chauffeurs (a fleet of 50’s and 60’s classic automobiles), and various other business ventures.
JesseLee has recently finished recording a new album called “Bringin’ It Back,” on which he collaborated closely with his long-time close friend and mentor, Maestro Joseph Guercio, whom JesseLee refers to as “Papa.” Guercio was the musical director and orchestra conductor for Elvis Presley for many years, as well as the musical genius behind so many incredible artists, such as Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Anne Murray, Gladys Knight and the Pips, just to name a few. Guercio passed in early 2015, but left an indelible mark on JesseLee’s life, both musically and personally. Look for the release of the new album later this year.
A documentary about JesseLee’s life is currently being produced, and a book called “BRAZILBILLY: The JesseLee Jones Story,” co-written by JesseLee and Mary Jane Holt, Atlanta-based radio and TV host, author and columnist, will be released later this year. For more information on the book, please click here.