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Jerry Douglas

A Conversation with Jerry Douglas (continued)

PM: Have you ever gotten serious about another instrument, or do you consider it from time to time?

JD: I never have. I mean, I love guitar. I started playing steel guitar for a while. And some people would think, oh, that's logical, doesn't everybody who plays steel guitar play dobro?

PM: Uh, no.

JD: It's a completely different animal. You're holding a bar, and you've got picks on your right hand, and that's where it ends.

PM: Right. It's like guitar and banjo, though, they're not the same thing.

JD: I messed with the steel for a while, but to do that right you have to have a different physical touch than I have playing a dobro. And it started to interfere with my dobro playing. So I just figured if I want to hear really good steel guitar, I'm not going to play. I'm going to call Lloyd Green. Lloyd played on my first Haul of Fame show last week. I think that was the highlight for me, to hear him. He played the old Johnny Paycheck song "Jukebox Charlie"--it was incredible, and it brought people to their feet.

PM: Holy jeez.

JD: It was so cool to hear Lloyd can play again like that, in that setting.

PM: Unbelievable.

JD: People don't hear that anymore. It's gone.

PM: No. And the youngins don't even know that it ever existed.

JD: They don't know how to do it.

PM: No.

JD: They know how to play backup and make a nice bed underneath the vocal, but they don't know how to take a solo. They don't know how to be a singer.

PM: Right.

JD: Lloyd is the guy. He's the master.

PM: Wow.

JD: He's knows exactly what to say.

PM: With your busy schedule, did you get to watch much of the Olympics?

JD: Yeah, some. Michael Phelps, I tried to catch as much Michael Phelps as possible.

PM: Right.

JD: I missed the one where he almost lost. I'm glad. I would have had a heart attack.

PM: Oh, where he won by a hundredth of a second?

JD: Yeah, a fingernail.

PM: I mean, it was unbelievable, because it looked like the guy out-touched him.

JD: Yeah.

PM: But really, the other guy glided too long. He kind of glided for a full second, and in that second Phelps brought his arms from the back to the front. And when he brought them to the front he hit the wall. It was so freaky.

JD: [laughs] Well, he's got a long body. Yeah, when he touches it's six feet later.

PM: Because they cut to the faces of his coach and his mother, and both of them thought he'd gotten out-touched.

JD: Yeah.

PM: Because that's how it looked. And so everybody was amazed.

JD: Wow. I'm glad I missed that part.

PM: Yeah. [laughs] It was pretty freaky.

JD: I like the sprinters, too. That Usain Bolt--

PM: Oh, yeah, the guy from Jamaica.

JD: He did that with such ease.

PM: He didn't even look winded.

JD: That guy is a real Olympian. Just like Michael Phelps, it's not the people who win certain things, but people who win like that, like they do.

PM: Yeah, who just dominate.

JD: Dominate.

PM: Yeah, I mean, he just pulled away from everybody in a race as short as 100 meters in a way that was unbelievable.

JD: Yeah. He just kind of laughed when he was going across the line. And he's like four or five people ahead, lengths, like a horse race.

PM: People lengths, yeah, right.

JD: He was like ten lengths ahead. That's incredible. To me, that's what the Olympics are about, somebody like that. You see somebody that is so much better than the rest of the world.

PM: And the gymnasts, too, were great.

JD: It was incredible.

PM: I sure did like those gymnasts, too.

JD: I always liked that, too. I can do without the speed walking.

PM: [laughs]

JD: And for all purposes, they're really running--the top half of their body is running.

PM: Right.


JD: And the ribbon Olympics--ah, come on--I'm surprised that there are Olympics that sort of kill time or something.

PM: Oh, yeah, all these ceremonies, yeah.

JD: And the BMX bike racing, I don't think the Greeks had that.


PM: And they're taking out baseball and softball. It's like, uh, no!

JD: Put basketball in!

PM: Yeah.

JD: Oh, man.

PM: It's crazy. So Johnny Thunders from the New York Dolls once said, about music, that "you've got to have the beauty and the terror."

JD: Absolutely.

PM: Would you comment on that from your musical experience?

JD: Oh, God, the terror--you've got to have the terror. You've got to have the deer in the headlights to really understand what improvising is about. Because true improvising is: You don't know what you're going to do.

PM: Right.

JD: If you know what you're going to do, you're not improvising. Because you've got to surprise yourself in order to really surprise other people.

PM: Wow. So you've really got to step off.

JD: You got to saw it off.

PM: [laughs]

JD: You got to get out there on the edge of it and turn around and take that saw and start whacking.

PM: That's beautiful.

JD: Yeah. You've got to try to paint yourself into a corner. That's the beauty of improvising. I had a conversation with somebody the other day about Stuart Duncan.

PM: Yep.

JD: That it's not what he plays, it's how he paints himself into a corner and gets out of it.

PM: That's the very thing I've often said about Rawlings as well.

JD: Oh, yeah, he does it too. He doesn't know how he's going to--he doesn't know he's headed into it. It's like he's got blinders on, and then somebody takes them off right before he hits the wall.

PM: [laughs] And the way he turns the corner without putting on the brake is really funny.

JD: Yeah. He just knows when to pull the stick.


PM: Yeah, but Stuart Duncan, too, yeah, he can play himself out of anything.

JD: Absolutely. I think he does it on purpose.

PM: Oh, yeah, I think those guys do.

JD: At this point I know he does.

PM: Yeah, because that's the way--

JD: I heard him do it--we played with Charlie Haden up there the other night.

PM: He was on the Haden gig, Stuart Duncan.

JD: He was standing right beside me. And I heard him do it every solo. He doesn't want to play anything the same. If he does that, then it's called country music.

PM: Wow!

JD: But if he's really playing and he's out there standing on the edge of the bridge, and he jumps, then it's exciting for him.

PM: Wow. I had no idea he was prone to that kind of playing.

JD: Oh, listen to any record he played on--I mean, not Alan Jackson, but--

PM: Right.

JD: He's got so many toys and tricks up his sleeve, too. He's always--he's bored, totally bored. I used to see John Jarvis, the great piano player--

PM: Oh, he's incredible.

JD: We'd do a session, we'd be doing a Hank Jr. session or something. And he would read almost an entire book while we were doing the songs.


JD: And he'd lay down these amazing tracks and solos and everything. But in between he was drawing cartoons and reading a book. He was so detached from everything else that was going on. It was too easy for him. He was bored. The same with Stuart. He keeps himself entertained by these little gadgets that he'll put on his fiddle. He had this thing that was like an alligator clip, and then it had a wire off the clip, and it had a big ball on the end of it.

PM: [laughs]

JD: And he'd clip it to his fiddle until he'd play a note, then he'd hit that ball and it would go wow-wow-wow-wow, like a wah-wah pedal.


JD: And then he had this other thing that sort of vibrated on the top of the bridge, it was like a mute, like a fiddle mute, but he put that on, and then he'd pull the bow across it, and it'd sound just like a distortion pedal. And I actually heard him playing with it. And we got into this one song--it was a Bruce Hornsby song on the Charlie Haden record that's going to be coming out in November. And Bruce is singing the old Jimmy Martin song "20/20 Vision"--

PM: Right.

JD: --and I just heard, it's like a hurdy-gurdy kind of sound. That's what I was hearing in my mind. I said, "Stuart, put that distortion thing on your fiddle." Not telling everybody he was going to do it, just "do it." And it was like, oh, my God, this other worldly sound coming out of the fiddle. And it makes the track for me.

PM: That's unbelievable.

JD: I heard him playing around with it. He wouldn't have put it on. He was just messing around.

PM: Right.

JD: He'd be scared that somebody would kick him off a session.

PM: That's right. He's too shy.

JD: But I said, "Stuart get the ball, put that thing on there."


PM: "Tell 'em I said to do it."

JD: Yeah, blame me. And it's on there, man. It's a great sound. But I'm lucky to play with these musicians, too, and I get a lot of inspiration from them, especially Stuart, and Sam Bush.

PM: Oh, yeah, I mean, just the best guys.

JD: Yeah. This Hall of Fame show I'm doing tomorrow night, we sort of don't tell anybody who's doing them ahead of time. But tomorrow night is Bela and Sam and Edgar and Bryan Sutton.

PM: So can I get in? Or is it sold out?

JD: I don't know. Check it out.

PM: I'll go to the press guy.

JD: Yeah, yeah. Go check with Jesse.

PM: Yeah, I'll check with Jesse, because I'm in town.

JD: Then the second half I'm doing with the Whites.

PM: Wow.

JD: So everybody can leave there going, "Ah, oh, my God." We don't want them to be leaving and driving too fast.

PM: Is that really like--

JD: Leave them with the nice subtle--a real nice comfortable feeling.

PM: Is that an 8:00 o'clock, like an early show?

JD: It's a 7:00 o'clock show.

PM: Oh, great.

JD: The second show will be around 8:30. We split them in two, because of the seating there, it's straight across, it has to... But Emmylou was there the other night, the first one. And I didn't have anything for Emmy to do. I hadn't called her or anything. But she called and said, "I'm available." And I went, "Oh, God, Emmy, I don't really have a place for you." But she came anyway. She stayed all night long, sat there. And she told me later it was the best night because she didn't have to do anything, and it's so rare that she gets to do that. And she had a good time. And I feel better about that than if I'd had her get up and sing "Blue Kentucky Girl."

PM: She never gets to do nothing.

JD: She never gets to rest. So she rested. And she was there, Paul Kennerley was there, and they were having a good time. They stuck all night long. And I talked to her through the show. I'd say, "Hey, Emmy, remember..."


JD: And it was fun! It was my Dean Martin thing.   continue

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