Jonathan 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 and Joel Henry were playing that night and their unique, bluesy take on Billie Jean instantly captivated the attention of the room.
It would take an extreme amount of certainty in ones 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. In his own words, Timber describes himself as such: “I’ve always been a ham. 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 like 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,” said Timber. “My grandfather, George Timber, was on what would be the Billboard Top 100 in the ‘40’s and Little Four was the name of the band. He was a singer in this quartet and they travelled. He was a phenomenal singer and acclaimed for it. My grandmother, his wife, played piano and organ at church, Lois Timber.”
“I’m also half Colombian, and on my mom’s side, my grandfather sang in traditional Vallenato bands and also sang in church and my grandmother also played piano. My mom can dance unlike anything else, but I think that’s just a little Spanish lady. 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 heritage influenced what would later inspire his artistry: “I grew up listening to whatever my dad was listening to. He was born in 1935 and he passed away when he was 81. The music that an 81 year-old man would listen to was what I grew up on, 50’s doo-wop. But this was grainy recording doo-wop, not super digital… You were lucky if you got records. The Orioles, they always wore the slickest suits, and obviously Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Teddy Pendergrass, all that Motown world, Etta James; then there was jazz. He was huge into jazz, so that was always in my ear. And then my mother, it was all traditional music from where she’s from.” 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.”
J. 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,” insert another dramatic pause here, “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,” he paused. “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 ten years of feeling each other out vocally, guitar-wise.” And that 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 and 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. Said Timber, “I kept going to their shows, finally met up with them afterwards, and then we hit it off, and now Joel and I play music together every day. 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. Said Timber, “His loyalty has been inspiring. 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?”