David Jonathan Ebanks Jr., the firstborn and only son of Virginia Lovella and David Jonathan Ebanks Sr., was born in the Cayman Islands Hospital on June 1, 1960.
His father was a seaman and, like most Caymanian fathers at that time, he would be away for long months, sometimes years of his son’s childhood. His mother, Virginia, was a hard-working woman and a live-in cook at her employer’s home on Seven Mile Beach. Eighteen months after Jon was born, he was joined by a little girl, Emma Lou. “EmmLou” as he called her, would be his only sibling and close companion for life.
Jon was an energetic Caymanian boy. He could not keep still and was always outdoors playing with his cousins and friends, riding a bike, playing with a toy truck, marbles and gigs, which he made himself. He was beloved in the neighborhood of the Hutland, always doing something, with a full head of black hair and a noticeable cow lick.
It was discovered very early on that Jon was born with a special musical gift. From the day he received his first guitar for Christmas when he was about six, he found his purpose in life. It was a little plastic toy that had no strings but Jon made music, even if it was just the scraping sound of him using the plastic tie from a loaf of bread as a pick. From those first imaginative, soundless moves came a musical legend. He loved to beat the arms of the metal chairs in the house, but when he had destroyed all the chairs, his parents bought him a set of drums. At Sunday School at the North Side Pilgrim Holiness Church, he got his hands on his first real instrument – a harmonica.
With their parents often away from home for work, Jon and Emma Lou spent most of their childhood in the house of their paternal grandparents, Alvernie and Bertram Ebanks. Miss Alvernie saw Jon’s passion for music and encouraged it, sending him to piano lessons with Dr. E. Mellino McCoy every Saturday morning at the Presbyterian Church in North Side.
Jon treasured these early lessons and spoke very highly of Dr. McCoy’s training well into his adulthood, giving him credit for the only formal musical education he received, which would lead to a life dedicated to musical performance.
Jon was a natural. He could pick up any instrument and play a tune. However, his true passion was the guitar. His Aunt Pat taught him the basic chords and his Uncle Paul showed him a few more. Perhaps one of the happiest days of his life was when he received his first electric guitar and amplifier. As one of his friends recently said, it was a joy on a Saturday morning to open the front door of their house and listen to Jon lighting up the whole Hutland with the sound of that guitar.
While his musical education began early and he dedicated himself to it, his guardians recognized that he would need other skills for life. Jon was sent first to the North Side Primary School for two years. He was moved to Cayman Prep School for the rest of primary school and then to Cayman Islands High School. In school, it was discovered that he was not only a talented musical artist, but highly gifted in language arts as well. Already growing into the giant of a man that he would become, he also played football in high school in the position of center back.
However, without question, music, even then, was his first love. From the day that Jon played his first gig with Mel McCoy and Ronnie Miller at a garden party at the North Side Town Hall, he was on the path to become one of the most prolific professional musicians in the Cayman Islands. At that first gig, they had no means of transportation and they ended up transporting their equipment on Ronnie’s S90 motorbike. They had no microphone stand, so playing their instruments meant that their hands were not free. Therefore, they had to hang the microphone from the ceiling. Their set list for that event was “Bad Moon Rising,” “Hey Joe,” and “Honky Tonk Woman.”
Anyone who knew Jon knew of his admiration for Jimi Hendrix. It is believed that he first heard Jimi’s music on WGBS radio station broadcast from Miami. Jon and whoever cared to join him would listen to WGBS on the radio under the mango tree or the naseberry tree in the yard in the Hutland. He would practice on his guitar for hours and hours hanging out with JR (Cloden Douglas), Denver Douglas and Richie Smith, to name a few.
After high school, Jon joined his dad in the family business. The elder David Jonathan was a contractor and Jon followed in his footsteps for many years. He believed he did not belong behind a customer service desk or a computer watching accounts grow. His job was behind something else – a guitar. During the day, he worked with his dad tearing houses down and putting them back together.
At the end of the day, he put his daytime tools down for his first love – the guitar. While he would go on to make a career out of music, after working first with his father, he later moved on to doing maintenance at Lacovia Condominiums and the Grand Caymanian hotel on West Bay Road. Jonathan also did his own contracting, working on numerous projects, the largest of which was contructing a retention seawall for Esso at the Jackson Point Terminal. With the help of his father and Rodney Rivers, he also built his family home in Midland Acres.
After that first gig at the North Side garden party, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of gigs would follow.
In the early days, he would play at Cayman Kai with JR Douglas and Linsford Whittaker. In 1978, he began playing with the legendary Memory of Justice Band, known as MOJ, hitching rides to George Town to team up with Lammie, Greg and Gigo. This was usually the easier leg of the journey. Having to hitch back to North Side after practice was no easy feat. He would often find himself arriving home in the early hours of the morning having walked large stretches of the journey between town and North Side – thick with mosquitoes. Music was his passion and quitting was not an option, despite the challenges.
It was during a gig at the Bodden Town Pirates Week Heritage Day that he met Cindy Wood. They were both very young and very soon in love. In 1986, Cindy and Jon welcomed baby girl Jonellé. She was his pride and joy. In 1989, he decided it was time that they got married and he and Cindy tied the knot. Jonellé was joined by their only son, Jordan. Jon and Cindy built their home in Midland Acres and moved in with their little girl and newborn son. Jordan was followed by Justine, the final addition to the young family. All three children were smart, strong, and as musically talented as their father. It was one of Jon’s favorite things to have his daughters join him on stage to perform together as a family.
From that first plastic toy guitar, Jon began his collection of guitars and got his hands on some very special prizes. There was an acoustic six string that was dear to him. He had numerous electric guitars and bass guitars over the course of his career, and a little piano. However, his signature instrument and prized possession was an 11-string Dyer Model harp guitar that was 115 years old, purchased by his sister-in-law Burnadette as a special thank you gift after he had completed a major renovation project for her.
From 1978 to 2016, Jon played in several bands, including Cayman Kai House Band with JR Douglas and “Booga,” MOJ, Mel & Jon, Frenz, Hi Tide, the Gary Ebanks Quartet and many more. At the time of his passing, Jon was the lead guitarist in both the JR Douglas Band and the Swanky Kitchen Band.
He was also a highly sought-after session musician and worked with various producers, including Gary Vandy, Jim Wirt, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Jason Gilbert and Stephen Dowd, to name a few.
Jon was also a song writer with 32 song writing credits on albums recorded from 1978 to 2016.
With a career spanning more than 40 years, Jon played in some of the foremost venues and events in the Caribbean and opened for acts like Chaka Khan, Third World, Ziggy Marley and Maxi Priest. He played with MOJ at Reggae Sunsplash in 1984, performed with Kymani Marley’s band as lead guitarist at the singer’s Cayman concert, and appeared with his own band, the Jonathan Ebanks Band, and with the Gary Ebanks Quartet and Hi Tide at various Cayman Jazz Fests.
In the early 1990s, he went on tour for six months in the U.S. with local band UBU. In 2011, he spent six months on tour in the U.S. with Michael LeClerc. He performed in Panama and New York in 2012, Barbados for CARIFESTA in 2017 and London in May 2018 presenting Cayman’s indigenous culture in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with Swanky Kitchen Band.
Jon received several acclaimed Music Awards including CMEA Guitarist of the Year, CMEA Long Service Award, and the Order of the Cayman Islands, Medal of Merit Gold (GMM).
He was a man who lived his passion, fueled by the influences of his grandmother Alvernie Ebanks, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Allan Holdsworth, Anoushka Shankar, Ravi Shankar, Earth Wind & Fire, Burning Spear, Santana, The Beatles, John Coltrane, John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, Eric Johnson, Eric Gales, Bob Dylan, Doobie Brothers and Led Zeppelin.Despite his many accomplishments and travels, David Jonathan Ebanks Jr. was one of the most humble men one could ever come to know. As he went about diligently creating a life filled with love and music and becoming a natural legend, he would avoid calling attention to himself as much as possible.
In January 2016, Jon’s dad David Jonathan Ebanks Sr. passed away after a year-long battle with cancer. For his only son, this was a life-changing event. Jon deeply cared for his dad, doing what he could to ease his pain, and began to reflect on his own mortality. He had several conversations with Cindy about the way he would want his own arrangements to be made. He told her that if he had a choice, he would like to go quickly, sitting down in his favorite chair on his porch looking out over his mahogany tree.
For many years, Jon suffered with chronic pain in his neck due to what would eventually be diagnosed as cervical spondylosis. On Nov. 14, 2017, he underwent surgery at Health City Cayman Islands and experienced immediate, but not total, relief.
Exactly one year later, Jon came home after rehearsal and walked onto the porch with some difficulty. He told Cindy that he had a terrible pain in the back of his neck and he just needed to sit in his chair on the porch for a minute. Not long after he sat down, around 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 14, 2018, Jon took his last breath.
David Jonathan Ebanks Jr. was preceded in death by his father, David Jonathan Ebanks Sr., his grandparents, and his nephew Liam Wilson.
He is survived by his wife Cindy; three children Jonellé, Jordan and Justine; mother Virginia; sister Emma and her husband ‘Bugs’; nephews Jon-Michael and Jair, niece Kirstin, aunts, uncles and a host of relatives and friends.
As we mourn, let us be reminded of Jon’s musical philosophy that extended to his legendary life. “Music is a river. There will be rapids. Follow the music.”
Submitted by Cindy Ebanks.