Walking into his store, gold and platinum-certified records and CDs would engulf you. On any given day, Dedry Jones, the owner of The Music Experience, might be there, too.
Jones had a particular presence about him. Did he know he was a big deal? He sure did, friends said. But as much as Jones understood his value to and impact on Chicago, he was also accessible.
“You could stop by his store and sit down, and he would help you,” said Terisa Griffin, a singer and local philanthropist. “He had a wealth of knowledge, and if he didn’t know something, he’d say, ‘Well, let me call somebody.’”
The Music Experience opened near the corner of South Jeffery Avenue and East 73rd Street in 2002, Jones’ second store.
Jones was discovered unresponsive Thursday in his home on the South Side, where he spent most of his life. He was 64. To his closest friends, he was a curious confidante, an unyielding supporter and champion of music artistry.
His death, sudden and jarring, signaled to them a close to the way music was consumed in the past. Those days were marked by huge album releases and long lines for records. It was a time when music was sold from shelves, not phones, and played in record stores, not through earbuds.
Now music exists largely via digital, but Jones navigated the changing industry with grace and on his own terms, injecting his vision to keep music both approachable and intimate.
At the start of the new millennium, The Music Experience was in good company. But by the late 2000s, it was clear that many record stores were disappearing for good. By 2023, the number of record stores operating in the U.S. could drop to a little more than 1,000, according to Ibis World.
Will Downing, Jones’ longtime friend, said The Music Experience’s continued existence, unassuming in its South Shore storefront, is a testament to Jones’ ability to see a dream through.
“He was able to sell what was unsellable,” Downing said. “The CD market is damn near dried up, and to be able to sell in a time like today, you’ve got to have a pretty special talent to do that.”
A passionate fan of music but no artist himself, Jones was a vocal critic of new industry trends.
While online streaming and the sudden drop of digital albums affected his sales, friends say Jones was more offended by his inability to support artists he respected.
His devotion to the art birthed The Experience, an intimate mix of performances and interviews that started in 2002 with one musician in a library and grew to a televised program, the first season of which began airing on WTTW in July 2017.
The first guest back in 2002 was Downing. Back then, Jones had reached out with a crazy idea, and Downing went along.
Fifteen years later, Jones had interviewed more than 90 artists, all in Chicago, classic icons like Natalie Cole, local trailblazers like Frankie Knuckles, timeless groups like Earth, Wind & Fire, and heavy-hitting vocalists like Patti LaBelle. The Experience transcended genres, delving into rhythm and blues, swinging through jazz, stopping by gospel before hop-stepping through 80s dance and dabbling in hip hop.
A history enthusiast as a teen at Hales Franciscan High School, Jones was a sharp interviewer who would uncover overlooked details and strip even the biggest celebrity musicians down to bare, raw emotion.
“I always ended boohooing … every time,” Downing, also a singer and songwriter, said of his seven appearances with Jones. “He’d talk about things that touched his soul.”
The Experience provided a rare opportunity for music fans now accustomed to the sometimes superficial familiarity found on social media.
Jones also owned Track One Records located in the 7200 block of Jeffery Boulevard in South Shore, where he would close the store on Martin Luther King’s birthday.
“You shouldn’t work on this day,” Jones told Billboard Magazine in a 1995 article.
Artists like Griffin noted Jones’ ability to make them feel seen in an industry quick to chew them apart. The Experience, though his dream, was a shared stage for artistry, for Chicago – and perhaps more.
“He brought a lot of artists to Chicago, but bigger than that,” Griffin said, “we were excited. This was a new phase for his life: to take The Experience to a new platform. That’s gone. So quickly.”
Pre-memorial repast will be held at 6 p.m. Aug. 8 at the DuSable Museum, 740 E. 56th Place. A memorial service will begin at 7 p.m.
Contributing: Evan F. Moore