It figures that Anthony Ray, better known by his hip-hop handle Sir Mix-a-Lot, is constantly inundated with requests to check out new artists. When you’ve won a Grammy and have one of the most instantly recognizable rap songs ever recorded, it goes with the territory.
So, he can be forgiven for being less than enthused when a friend insisted that he come hear Ayron Jones and the Way. Still, Ray agreed and found himself in the University District on a sleepy Wednesday night, where he discovered the man he believes is the Next Big Thing.
“I never will forget it,” Ray said. “I heard them from outside and I thought it was like three 50-year-old white dudes, you know, just based on the sound.”
Instead, Ray found himself staring at three young black guys playing a wicked mix of blues and rock. After watching Jones, now 27, leap off the stage in the middle of a guitar solo to grab a drink at the bar, Ray said it was love at first sight.
That was about a year and a half ago, and Ray has been helping the band ever since, producing its debut album “Dream” (self-released today, with a Saturday party at Neumos and Ray on hand to open the show) and acting as a mentor to Jones.
The album draws from some pretty obvious source material: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana and a host of other grunge-era bands — and even hip-hop. Those comparisons are easy to make, but Jones, who grew up in the Central District, prefers to associate his sound not with other artists, but with the city itself.
“Being from Seattle is everything to me,” Jones said, his words pouring out in staccato machine-gun bursts. “It’s my heart. I really wanted to be the best representative of Seattle and the sound of Seattle that I could.”
Part of that meant deciding early on that his band should have only three members — DeAndre Enrico plays bass, Kai Van De Pitte, drums — mirroring famous Seattle bands like The Presidents of the United States of America and Nirvana. It provided Ray with a challenge in the studio as he worked with the group, pro bono, to create the right sound.
“My job was to make [the sound] huge,” Ray said. “I had to make it big enough to where if it was on the radio it could measure up to the other songs that are out there. And there’s no overdubs. But it worked out.”
What Jones and Ray were left with were eight tracks that capture the essence of the blues, but thanks to Ray’s production, as well as Jones’ litany of local influences, manage to avoid being defined by it.
Two of the strongest cuts are the rocking lead single, “Feeding From the Devil’s Hands” and “My Love Remains,” which Ray said is his favorite track. “Feeding” recalls Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” while “My Love Remains” is a potent ballad that lets Jones show off his surprising vocal chops and more nifty guitar work.
“I’ve taken that culture, that essence of where I’ve come from, and put it into this rock music,” Jones said.