"One of the jobs I had when I was trying to get somewhere with my music was running a fruit and veg stand from the back of a truck with my wife Janet," says technopop star Howard Jones, who performs tomorrow night at the Patriot Center.
"One night we were parked on the side of the road and Jan was serving a customer behind the truck and a drunk driver hit the front of the truck. It rolled backwards over Jan and damaged several vertebrae. Obviously, I decided to quit doing that for a living. I chose to commit myself entirely to my music. Janet got 3 1/2 thousand pounds' compensation, and we decided to put it towards my music -- towards equipment. It was a very fateful thing."
That was just four years ago. Since then Jones, who plays all manner of electronic keyboards and until recently toured as a one-man band, has seen his career take off so fast that he found himself playing alongside Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock and Thomas Dolby on this year's Grammy telecast. His first album, "Human's Lib," went platinum in Britain and shortly afterward yielded his first Top 40 single here, "New Song." His latest collection, "Dream Into Action," has already achieved gold status in the United States and spawned several American and British hit singles.
Jones has no quarrel with writers who've dubbed him pop music's reigning optimist, pointing to the numerous songs he's written that are filled with positive messages extolling human potential. But his lyrics, he says, cut deeper than some might suspect.
"Mainly, I like to write about personal politics, if you like, rather than dealing with bigger subjects, because I think the larger things change when the individuals change," he says.
"I suppose that one of my main themes is questioning things and not just taking everything at face value. Not just accepting a life style simply because it's been thrust on you by circumstances or conditioning," he says. "And the other thing I go on about, I suppose, is being positive and not allowing cynical elements to drive you away from your ideals, from what you really want to do during your next 60 years on this planet."
Besides, Jones says, he's seen enough clouds reveal their silver linings to really believe in the kind of sentiment expressed in his recent Top Five hit, "Things Can Only Get Better."
Born in Southampton, England, to Welsh parents 30 years ago, Jones was schooled in classical piano as a child but soon became fascinated with pop music.
"From the age of 9 I began to try out my own tunes, write my own songs," he recalls. "I began playing blues piano around 10 or 11. I don't really know where I picked up the influence . . . maybe listening to the Stones or the Animals. From then on pop music was my love and classical music was a secondary interest."
At 19, Jones enrolled in the Royal Northern School of Music in Manchester, only to find the academic atmosphere stifling. "I originally thought going to this college would help my rock 'n' roll playing and my song writing," he says. "But when I got there I was really disappointed. There was this snobby attitude. People upheld this idea that the only kind of serious and proper music was classical music, which to me is a lot of rubbish . . . I stayed for two years and I used to play between six and eight hours a day, so I really did get a lot done. But I wasn't very happy at all."
The experience was bitter enough to dissuade Jones from recording his own songs. He taught piano for a few years and began operating his produce business. Oddly enough, his big break involved another mishap, though it was far less serious than his wife's injury.
In 1983 he was appearing on London's "Loose Talk" show, his first time on live television. "I did two numbers and the first went really well," he recalls. "I started the second number and halfway through the equipment just gave out. There was this awful silence and the production people were flying about everywhere. For about 30 seconds, I was stuck there trying to get it all going. Finally I did. I managed to finish the song and the public's reaction was very interesting. People talked about it a lot, and because I didn't panic it did me quite a lot of good. It helped me make a name for myself through a very unusual circumstance."
For now, he says, his one-man band days are a thing of the past. "There's seven of us all together on stage now -- myself, drums, bass, three backup vocalists and Jed Hoile doing mime. I still do a couple of numbers like I used to do them as a one-man band, but this tour is going very well. I was apprehensive about sharing the stage at first because I had such a closeness with the audience when I was up there alone. I hoped that wouldn't change with a band, and fortunately it hasn't. I'm delighted with it."
Jones says he'll record a track with Phil Collins in a couple of weeks and then prepare for his third album, which will be recorded in New York in February with producer Arif Mardin. When asked if Mardin, best known for his work with Aretha Franklin, will play a role in changing his music, Jones is quick to respond and sounds like someone who's not afraid to toy with success. "I certainly hope so," he says. "That's why I want to work with him. The instrumentation will be the same but the sound should be different."