Ted L. Jones, a veteran guitar-playing lobbyist in Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C., who could trace his Louisiana political lineage back to Earl K. Long, died early Sunday. He was 85.
He died of heart failure at his home in Baton Rouge, said Ted W. Jones, his son, a partner at the Jones Walker law firm.
Ted L. Jones spent a lifetime combining his twin loves — Louisiana politics and country music with a bluegrass flair.
He played guitar for the gubernatorial campaigns of Earl Long and Jimmie Davis.
As a lawyer/lobbyist, he persuaded Congress to change tax law to benefit LSU football season ticket holders.
He helped keep the gubernatorial campaign of then-state Rep. John Bel Edwards on track at its lowest moment in 2015.
In recent years, he liked to deliver to friends bushels of tomatoes he harvested on his Washington Parish farm.
For at least 50 years, he helped organize the massive bash in the nation’s capital known as Washington Mardi Gras.
Jones carried out many of his activities wearing his trademark Panama Jack hat while speaking in a drawl from his native Georgia.
“He affected this good old boy, country demeanor, but he was a skilled lawyer who knew a little about everything,” said Bob Mann, an LSU Manship School professor who first met Jones in Washington when Mann was an aide to then-U.S. Sen. Russell Long in the 1980s. “He was really kind of a renaissance man.”
Jones grew up with his grandparents on their farm in Georgia but came to Louisiana periodically to spend time with his father in New Iberia. When he was 14, Jones played guitar in the band that warmed up audiences for Earl Long during the 1948 governor’s race, which Long won. He performed the same role for Long when he was re-elected governor in 1956.
Jones twice backed up Elvis Presley at Louisiana gigs before Presley hit it big.
Jones spent some 50 years playing guitar in the band that performed with Jimmie Davis, a popular singer and songwriter who was elected to a second term as governor in 1960.
Jones favored the thumb-picking style of guitar-playing that made it sound as if he were playing more than one instrument, said his son Ted.
In 1962, Jones began working as a lobbyist in Washington, specializing in tax law before the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.
In the 1980s, he shifted his focus to Louisiana, teaching at Southern University in Baton Rouge and serving as the counsel to East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Pat Screen, as a special counsel to Gov. Edwin Edwards and as the general counsel to the Louisiana Democratic Party, a position he held for 24 years.
In the 1980s, Jones won a ruling from the U.S. Tax Court that allowed buyers of premium seats at LSU football games to deduct the expense on their taxes, and in 1986, he helped persuade Congress to let them deduct the portion of their season tickets that went to the Tiger Athletic Foundation. Congress eliminated the latter deduction in 2017.
“He had a well-known reputation of being able to work with everybody,” said Trent Lott, the former Republican Senate majority leader from Mississippi. Lott first met Jones when both were students at the University of Mississippi, while Lott was an undergraduate and Jones was a law student.
By the late 1960s, Jones had become one of the five Senior Lieutenants of the Mystick Krewe of Louisianians who organize the annual Mardi Gras gathering that promotes the state among political insiders in Washington. For decades, he also served as the group’s counsel and treasurer.
“He’ll be sorely missed and appropriately honored,” said former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, who worked closely with Jones in Congress and the Washington Mardi Gras for nearly five decades.
In July 2015, Jones hosted a meeting in Baton Rouge at the lowest point of John Bel Edwards’ long-shot gubernatorial campaign. Louisiana Democratic Party Chair Karen Carter Peterson and former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu had just met privately with Edwards to urge him to get out of the race, saying he could not win.
As Edwards recalled Sunday, “He not only said I shouldn’t get out of the race, he said I was going to win the race. He helped get the other attendees at the meeting behind me. I came out of that meeting buoyed.”
Edwards went on to win the election, and as governor used Jones as a trusted sounding board.
When they visited, most recently two weeks ago at the Governor's Mansion, Jones would bring his guitar and thumb-pick while Edwards sang country favorites, such as George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
“His repertoire was right up my wheelhouse,” Edwards said. “I just enjoyed knowing him.”
In 2018, LPB honored him as a “Louisiana Legend.” Jones was inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame in 2007 and immediately afterward became its board chairman.
“If he was going to be involved, he would be involved at the top level in making things happen,” said Randy Haynie, a lobbyist who served with him on the Washington Mardi Gras and hall of fame boards.
Surviving Jones are his son Ted; another son, Claude, who lives in north Louisiana; his third wife, Carmen; and four grandchildren.
Funeral and visitation plans are pending.
On Thursday, two days after undergoing an angiogram, Jones visited at home with Russell Mosely, a Baton Rouge lawyer and friend. Jones told some of his favorite Earl Long stories.
On Friday, he insisted on going to work, although he could stay only an hour, said Katie Hopkins, his executive secretary.
On Saturday, lobbyist Dan Robin Sr. picked up Jones at his farm and took him to breakfast at the Golden Pear in Bogalusa.
Knowing that he wouldn’t live forever, Jones told friends that he didn’t want a memorial service. Instead, he wanted a big party with music to send him off.