‘Cowboy Ed’

Country singer Aaron Jaqua still playing the classics three days a week

JUST A MAN AND HIS GUITAR <br>Aaron Jaqua performs at one of his weekly gigs at Café Flo.

Aaron Jaqua performs at one of his weekly gigs at Café Flo.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Preview: Aaron Jaqua plays Mon.-Wed. at Café Flo, 7-8:45 p.m. Jaqua is also a member of local group Wounded Pickup (formerly Country Folk); their new self-titled CD will be available in stores soon.

Country singer/songwriter Aaron Jaqua (pronounced “JAKE-wa")—outfitted in a black cowboy hat, maroon-striped pearl button shirt, brown loafers and a crisp pair of blue jeans—carried his minimal gear into Café Flo about seven minutes till starting time. At 7 o’clock, after a few friendly hellos to familiar faces in the audience and a mic check, the 49-year-old Jaqua, with his old Silvertone acoustic guitar, launched into “a little country music,” as he put it. More specifically, it was Clint Black’s poignant break-up song “A Better Man": “Things I couldn’t do before, now I think I can / And I’m leavin’ here a better man.”

People continued to trickle into Flo’s while Jaqua’s 4-month-old son Edwin occasionally fussed on his mama’s lap (mama is Café Flo events booker Liz Gardner) and the usual bits of café clatter and chatter went on behind the counter as Jaqua sang. But Jaqua’s sincere, resonant voice and warm guitar playing appeared to transport those in attendance to a place of calm and effortless attention.

Jaqua played all kinds of good’ns—Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, George Strait, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler’s “When It Comes To You” ("How come I always get a hard time / Honey when it comes to you"), Rodney Crowell’s lovely “’Til I Gain Control Again"—including some originals, like the funny “Meet Us in Milpitas,” as well as a heart-tugging little love song by Bruce Gunn, “who hangs out at the Cornucopia in Oroville.”

Jaqua has a noticeable knack for recognizing a good song, whether it’s written by himself, a guy from Oroville, or a big-name artist, and delivering it in his own thoroughly satisfying way, enunciating lyrics with an honesty and just-right touch that gets into the listener’s heart. With seemingly little effort Jaqua made “Red River Valley,” that old American classic found in virtually every campfire folk songbook, sound completely new and beautiful, while evoking old Great Plains cowboy life.

Simply put, Jaqua is a gem, and we’re lucky to have him here in Chico considering he could just as easily have gone to Nashville where his younger brother Paul Jefferson lives. Jefferson is a successful singer/songwriter who co-wrote the No. 1 hit “That’s As Close As I’ll Get to Loving You” with country artist Aaron Tippin in 1995, co-writes with Keith Urban and had one of his own recordings, “Check Please,” make the Top 40.

The two brothers came to Chico from the Bay Area 13 years ago to play a gig at the Elks Lodge—Jaqua ended up sticking around.

“I asked the cocktail waitress, ‘Where can a man get a cup of coffee around here?’ That was [my 13-year-old daughter] Jane’s mother, and basically I never left.”

Jaqua was known on the local scene as Edward Aaron Smith or sometimes just “Cowboy Ed” until about a year ago, when he went back to using his real name. “My theory,” he said half-jokingly, “is that if you haven’t changed your name five times, you’re not trying hard enough!”

Jaqua is also a secret trombone player of sorts (well, no secret to his upstairs neighbor). About three years ago, he took up the trombone, from scratch, because he “wanted to try something a little different.”

He views his regular unstructured practicing of the trombone as “an experiment with no guidelines” and describes it as “wide open spaces.” He said he’s deliberately steered away from scales, songs and even melody, but feels that it enhances his singing ability, as playing the trombone strengthens his vocal cords. But Jaqua assured: “I would never bring it to that gig [at Café Flo]. … The average 10-year-old would probably get as good as me in about a month with a half-hour a day of practicing by the traditional method!”

People, however, should hear Jaqua sing and play his guitar.

As his brother Paul puts it: “Aaron is a great guitar player and entertainer. … He’s a great singer, too. Aaron puts tragic comedy in the songs he writes, and I’ve always been a fan of that. In a day when entertainment is so competitive with Internet games, DVDs and MP3s, going to hear Aaron is still a better way to spend an evening.”