J. Timber talks music, influence and his roots
Jonathan “J. Timber” Timber, is what some might consider to be a Greensboro legend. The first time I heard him play was on a balmy evening last summer, and the conditions couldn’t have been more ideal. I was at a crowded Joymongers, and above the happy chatter and clinking glasses came a soulful sound. Timber’s voice is as deep as a river, and a primal yearning personifies itself within the rasp of his viva voce. This person, quite plainly, has the music in his soul.
It would take an extreme amount of certainty in one’s self to embark on the adventure that has lead Timber to his successes. He dropped out of high school to play music full time and competed in Triad Idol, and has since gone on to open for Boys II Men and Coolio, and has gone on tour with some of the biggest names in the music industry. For Greensboroians, he has become a household name through his near-residency at Joymongers, and his frequent gigs all over town. Like many “rock star” personalities, Timber presents an interesting mix of showmanship and introspectiveness. “I’ve always been a ham,” Timber said about himself. “In the last year, I’ve accepted that. It’s a thing. I’ve been very confident most of my career. I know how hard I work. I know I should work harder, but I know how hard I do work to have what I do have, vocally and as far as what I’m able to do.”
Although it may seem like a huge leap to focus solely on pursuing a passion such as music, it wasn’t an entirely alien concept to Timber, who comes from a long line of musicians. “Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a musician. I don’t remember anything else. My family’s musical, but it skipped a generation,” Timber said. “My grandfather, George Timber, was on what would be the Billboard Top 100 in the 1940s and Little Four was the name of the band. He was a singer in this quartet, and they traveled. He was a phenomenal singer and acclaimed for it. My grandmother, his wife, played piano and organ at church, Lois Timber.”
Timber said he was half Colombian on his mom’s side, and his grandfather sang in traditional Vallenato bands and also sang in church. His grandmother played piano, and his mom can dance. “But I think that’s just a little Spanish lady,” he said. “It’s a huge part of the culture. My father loved music. It was all day every day. It was something him, and I would talk about, but he also played percussion. He would play conga and all those Afro-Cuban instruments. I guess that fits in with drumming since the conga is another thing that I do. I haven’t known anything else. I just want to play music all the time.”
Timber’s music choice depended on what his dad listened to. He said he grew up listening to Motown Jazz and Doo Wop icons such as The Orioles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Teddy Pendergrass and Etta James. But, “the thing that kickstarted everything for me was a band in town. They’re called House of Fools and,” he paused dramatically, “they are amazing.”
Timber’s introduction to House of Fools would mark a cataclysmic change in his career. “It was August 26, 2007. It changed my life,” he said. “Prior to that, I was all about hip-hop and R&B. I thought I was going to be the next Usher, Pharrell. I wanted to do that and then,” he said and paused dramatically again, “it was the last week of August.” Timber had gone to Greene Street Nightclub, and the air had gone out in the club. He wasn’t interested in seeing a “rock ‘n’ roll band,” but quickly changed his mind when he heard the first chords strike up.
“I’d never seen anyone in person play guitar the way my friend [Joel Henry did],” he said. “Now he’s my friend, which is really crazy. He performs with me; he is my right hand. I don’t like playing without him; we’re just so comfortable. It’s 10 years of feeling each other out vocally, guitar-wise.” That fateful night represented the beginning of this partnership: “The first time I saw him, I was like, ‘holy shit, I want to play guitar like that.’ I’d never seen anybody rock out. You go to an Usher show, and there’s a band behind the curtain and all that stuff, but with a rock ‘n’ roll band, you see it, you feel the elements, you hear it, and he had so much emotion.”
After getting the band’s poster autographed, Timber went to every show they had in town, and eventually, Henry’s wife made an introduction. “I kept going to their shows, finally met up with them afterward, and then we hit it off, and now Joel and I play music together every day,” Timber said. “I’ll have a moment where I’m sitting there, and I’m like, what? These are my heroes. I call it little brother syndrome, I guess. We’re all family now. We’ve been through so much together, highs and lows, they helped me produce my first album, they did some songs on it. Now Joel and I are doing an album.” Timber even has a tattoo of Henry. “His loyalty has been inspiring,” he said. “It makes me want to be like that for anyone.”
Now, Timber’s band has become a local institution. With a grin, he said to me at one point, “I get to play music every day. What’s better than that?”
Lauren Davidson is the editor-in-chief of Woven Greensboro, a weekly e-love letter to the Gate City. You can find more of her stories about the people and places that make up our town on wovengreensboro.com.