But for Ken “Dakota” Jones and his wife, Missy Davis-Jones, it ultimately took leaving California to turn dreams into reality.
After spending many years working in the music industry in California, the couple moved to the Pee Dee about four years ago.
Since then, the couple has been making big waves in the local music scene.
So how did this rock n’ roll story end up in the Pee Dee?
Well, it wasn’t an accident.
A native of Darlington, Jones grew up in the Pee Dee and graduated from Dillon High School. Jones’ dad was a pastor. His mom taught at Florence-Darlington Technical College
Jones first picked up a guitar when he was about 13. Three months later, he was in a rock band.
“It was called Sabre. We were just your basic classic rock band,” Jones said. “But we actually played Parker Music’s grand opening, which was a pretty big deal back then.”
When Jones graduated from high school, he immediately packed up and headed to Los Angeles to go to school at the Musicians Institute.
He played in a hard rock band for a couple of years until that group broke up. Then he joined a funk band called Wuditiz. The band developed quite a following in Southern California and regularly packed the famous Roxy and Troubador.
“We were very popular in the Los Angeles area,” Jones said. “We just never got that break to go national.”
Eventually, that band also broke up and by that point, Jones said, he was interested in learning a different side of music.
“Playing live was great, but when the night was over, it was over,” Jones said. “I got into the recording side, because I wanted to capture the moment and branch out into different aspects of music.”
And that’s exactly what he did. He began training with Dave Jenkins at Valley Center Studios and learned everything he could. He did sound for television shows, some movie tracks and even a popular beer commercial that ran prominently during a Super Bowl.
Eventually he got into recording at home and also was working for a company that manufactured music accessories. It was through the second gig that he met his wife, a New Jersey native who’d relocated to Los Angeles to work as a buyer for Hot Topic.
“Someone introduced us, but we didn’t do business together, because I was a music T-shirt buyer. I didn’t have anything to do with accessories,” Davis-Jones said.
“Ken always says, ‘I was buying. He was selling. But I wasn’t buying what he was selling,’” Davis-Jones said, laughing. “But it was through our jobs that we met.”
The two hit it off and eventually got married.
Though not a playing musician, Davis-Jones said she’d always been a fan of music and even took photos of local bands for their album covers when she was a teenager. Though she enjoyed her job at Hot Topic, she said, she always yearned for a career in music.
“I loved what I did at Hot Topic, but I was not as big a part of the creative process as I wanted to be,” Davis-Jones said. “I never felt like I was truly creating anything or hand anything to show for what I did.”
That was until the couple decided to move back to Florence to be closer to Jones’ parents.
Jones had contemplated selling his recording equipment several times through the years but never followed through with it. And when the couple got settled in Florence, that recording equipment came in handy. The couple decided to make their dreams a reality.
Earlier this year, they opened Southern Harmony Recording Studio. And just last month, Davis-Jones launched her own music label, Yonder Music.
“It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing,” Davis-Jones, who also works in sales at Monster, said. “We said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And we went for it. The studio is Ken’s project. I help out when he needs me, but that’s really all Ken’s deal. Yonder Music is my baby.”
The risk is already paying off tenfold, according to the Joneses. Several local acts already have recorded at Southern Harmony, which uses analog equipment, including Morgan’s Road, James Scott Bullard and the Late Night Sweethearts, Stephanie Fagan, Slug’s Revenge, Donner Party, Jazz Plus and I Deserve Hell.
Jones said he is open to recording all kinds of music and sound but is most known for his work with live musicians.
“I like to say I record living, breathing human beings,” Jones said. “We do analog, which is a niche for live musicians. I don’t do beat production and that sort of stuff.”
Davis-Jones also likes working with live musicians, which is what prompted her to launch her own record label. She signed local musician Stephanie Fagan earlier this year and is working to promote Fagan’s new release, “Heart Thief.”
She hopes to sign more musicians in the future, but right now wants to focus her efforts on Fagan.
“The label was just a natural progression,” Davis-Jones said. “I’ve really been amazed by the talent I’ve seen in this area. It’s so much better that most of what I saw living in Los Angeles, as far as local bands. There’s a whole lot of talent here, and it’s worth getting it out there for other people to know about.”
The local talent is just as impressed with the Joneses and the way they do business.
“I’m impressed with them not only for their work but as people,” Bullard, who is working on a new album at Southern Harmony, said.
“Ken is just so laid back, but he’ll say, ‘Hey, that’s great, but let’s try this’ and by the time you’re done, you don’t realize you’ve done it four times. It’s not work with Ken. And Missy’s just a wrangler, which most musicians and artists need. She’s the person who can look over the forest and say, ‘Go this way or that way,’” Bullard said.
“As far as a team, you’d never know they were married because they work so well together. They’re not at each other’s throats like most married couples who work together. They’re just awesome.”