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Jerry Douglas

A Conversation with Jerry Douglas

Puremusic: So Glide, man, I'm happy to see another solo record come along. And this is a particularly good one.

Jerry Douglas: Oh, thanks. Yeah, I'm pretty happy with it. It seems to be getting legs of its own. That's a good thing.

PM: Yeah, I feel the push and the momentum from my little corner of the world. As busy as you are, it's got to be hard to juggle and prioritize your solo stuff with studio dates and touring. Right?

JD: Yeah, yeah. It's increasingly harder. But right now I'm concentrating on...well, that. [laughs] At the same time, I'm thinking, well, I've got these Hall of Fame shows, too. And I just got back from New York yesterday evening. I played with Charlie Haden--

PM: Wow!

JD: --at Lincoln Center at Damrosch Park, a sort of bandshell thing they've got at Lincoln Center.

PM: Amazing.

JD: And I ended up playing with Patti Smith as well.

PM: [laughs]

JD: It was really kind of a mixed up evening.

PM: Wow! Played with Patti Smith and Charlie Haden in the same night. How did that happen and what--

JD: Sam Bush and I ended up playing with Patti Smith that night, yeah.

PM: So what was that like?

JD: We played tight. We played "Teen Spirit" with her--

PM: [laughs]

JD: --and a couple of other songs. It was wild. You just kind of get into her--under her gaze, you know?

PM: Unbelievable.

JD: You just go into a trance up there with her.

PM: It's the great thing about stepping on stage with somebody else's band, that anything can happen.

JD: Oh, yeah. We didn't know what to expect. I mean, the bandleader told me, he said, "We've got this sort of bluegrass section in the song." And I kept waiting for it to happen, but it never really did happen. I think that we were it.

PM: [laughs] Oh, my God.

JD: I think it was just by us being there, that's when it happened.

PM: They've been calling you the world's greatest dobro player for a long time now. Is that sometimes de-motivating, to have nobody that you're chasing down?

JD: It's hard to be motivated if you're not chasing somebody down. I find my inspiration in other places. By being a dobro player it's sort of no man's land there. You don't really have anybody. After I kind of did my Josh Graves time learning how to play bluegrass dobro, and then started playing with all these other people--some of that worked, some of it didn't. I had to sort of figure out my own way through that. But I had a good foundation, and the instrument allowed me to do a lot of things that any other instrument coming from the bluegrass genre wouldn't give you.

PM: Right. Certainly not a banjo, for instance.

JD: All this slide and all this blues and everything is just inherent.

PM: Right.

JD: So it allowed for me to go a lot of different places without really thinking about it. It's more of an attitudinal change than it is a shift in playing style.

PM: Right. Well, at least once you get to that level of playing; then it's, as you say, attitudinal. Once you’ve really got your instrument under your hands, then you can just be yourself.

JD: That's right. Once you've got your encyclopedia down, you're just a conduit, then, from that point on.

PM: Do you feel yourself still getting better?

JD: Yeah, I do. I do. I sense these pulses every once in a while that feel like "I don't remember doing that before. I think I just did something that I've never done before.”

PM: Right.

JD: And I don't really think about it until it's all over with and I have time to think about it. While it's happening you just adapt, you're a chameleon in all these different situations, and you adapt to them. And then later on you'll either think of it or somebody will say it.

PM: Yeah, or you see the video.

JD: [laughs] Well, yeah, there you go.

PM: Do you think there are more good dobro players now than ever there were?

JD: Oh, there are. There definitely are. It's so nice to be able to hear the instrument in someone else's hands as well. And to me--Rob Ickes and Randy Kohrs and--

PM: I mean, those guys in particular are just pretty amazing.

JD: Yeah. And it just seems like the next logical step, to me,to be able to do that. And now they're not afraid to try other kinds of music, to try to go a different place with it.

PM: Yeah, Ickes plays good jazz and stuff.

JD: Yeah.

PM: I like it.

JD: Yeah.

PM: Growing up in a musical family, one of the albums we wore out most certainly was called Dobro by Mike Auldridge.

JD: Oh, yeah.

PM: Was his music very important in your development?

JD: Oh, absolutely, yeah. He was the white collar dobro player, okay?

PM: [laughs]

JD: You know what I mean?

PM: Oh, I never realized that.

JD: He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, which is inside the Beltway, up there in DC, where those guys were. The Seldom Scene were a bluegrass band that were all lawyers and doctors. And Mike was a commercial artist who worked for the Washington Star at the time when I first met him. And they all had degrees.

PM: Amazing.

JD: And the people they played to were from the House of Representatives, from Congress. That's who lived there, professional people.

PM: They want to have a drink, too, yeah.

JD: And they were playing bluegrass, but they were playing it for those people. They were playing it at a bar, but the bar was full of doctors.

PM: Amazing.

JD: Not auto workers.

PM: Right. And the chicks that were chasing doctors.

JD: Yeah. None of them had tramp stamps or--

PM: [laughs]

JD: --nobody rode a motorcycle, you didn't see any Harleys parked front.


JD: But Mike was the first guy that I heard that played with a cosmopolitan flair, you might say. And the subject matter of the songs they were playing was also different. So that allowed him to--you didn't have to conjure up the cabin or the barn--


JD: --or the little girl and the dreadful snake, or any of that stuff.

PM: Unreal.

JD: So that freed him from that world. And that has a lot to do with how you play, what you're playing about.

PM: It's very interesting what you're saying, because all those times I spun that album, nothing of the kind ever occurred to me. But yeah, he was a much more kind of an urbane person.

JD: Yeah, there was a conservation going on of notes and movements. Not like Josh, slamming from one end of the neck to the other.

PM: Right. It was never about chops.

JD: Auldridge was real conservative in his movements, and he made one note count for four.

PM: Right.

JD: I learned a lot from him.

PM: Have you been or are you influenced by the great slide guitarists as well as dobro and lap steel?

JD: Yeah, of course I am. I mean, Duane Allman and George Harrison.

PM: Is Cooder in there much, or--

JD: Cooder, absolutely. I just got his new record the other day. I love hearing him play slide, but I love the tone of his guitar.

PM: He's unbelievable.

JD: Have you heard his new record?

PM: No.

JD: Oh, God, you've got to go get it. It's hilarious.

PM: Is it the one about the dog or something?

JD: No. This one is called I, Flathead. It's got a picture of a guy with like one of those who set the world's speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats kind of a car.

PM: Right.

JD: And he says in the notes that his inspiration came from a driver named Dick Nixon--not the president. But there was a speed racer named Dick Nixon.


PM: He's always got such obscure things that he's concentrating on.

JD: You've got to get this record. He's got a song on it called "I Want To Go To Steel Guitar Heaven."

PM: Wow.

JD: And there's a couple times when Spade Kooley's name is invoked.

PM: Amazing.

JD: It's in that song, and also he's got a song called "Spayed Kooley," but the Spayed is spelled S-p-a-y-e-d, it's about a dog.


PM: What a knucklehead.

JD: Yeah, but it's great. It's a really good record. It's the first studio record he's done in a long time of that kind, of his own, of himself.

PM: But you get off on him, or Sonny Landreth, and all the slide guys just as well.

JD: Derek Trucks is my favorite, Sonny Landreth is another favorite.

PM: Yeah. Trucks is--yeah, he's serious.

JD: There are so many great guys. When I first heard Derek play, though, it was like--and I standing there with his wife, Susan Tedeschi--

PM: Yeah, she's amazing, too.

JD: And I said, "That's the sound that I've been hearing for years, but I wasn't loud enough to make it."

PM: Oh, yeah, you've got to be loud.

JD: He's doing it.

PM: Yeah. Did you--I'm sure you did notice--what's his amp du jour? What's his setup?

JD: Super.

PM: He's just playing through a Super.

JD: A big Fender Super, with four tens.

PM: Well, that's just one of those magic things, the old Supers.

JD: It is. It is. I had him over here to overdub on my record, the one before this one. And I got the best Super that I could find in town and bought it.

PM: From who? [I certainly doubted that Kenny Vaughn, who lives in the neighborhood, would be cutting loose with any of his Supers.]

JD: Jack Silverman.

PM: [laughs] Yeah, Jack would have a good one.

JD: Yeah. And I played through it, and I knew it was a great amp. I brought it over and Derek loved it. And we just turned it up and slammed.

PM: Wow. Now, what kind of a cat is he? Is he a good dude?

JD: Oh, he's a great dude. He's one of the boys. Yeah, he's a band dude. I'm the boss, listen to me--he's not that kind of person.

PM: Wow.

JD: He's a band guy, just like me. And it's the sound of the band, you play to the band, you don't play to the instrument, you play to the band.  continue

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